From March 27-30, the Dharma Realm Buddhist Youth (DRBY) Conference 2003 was held at Gold Sage Monastery in San Jose, California. Conference 2003 is the fifth annual gathering of young people exploring the questions of life through a Buddhist framework. As DRBY’s most comprehensive annual event, the conference was designed for both beginners to Buddhism and for practicing young Buddhists. For others born into Buddhist families, the conference was also an opportunity to take a look at what Buddhism means to them. The conference also offered a taste of living in an authentic Buddhist monastery and exposure to monastery traditions and practices.
The conference was imbued with a positive energy that could be seen in the warm smiles of the participants. Around a hundred people from diverse backgrounds gathered to spend a weekend learning wisdom and sharing stories. Some were introduced to the teachings of the Buddha, others found a new perspective on reality, and others found answers to the fundamental questions in life. Dharma Master Heng Yun observed, “Although there are differences between our two generations, I’m happy to find that the pursuit of truth remains the same.”
The backbone of the conference was the workshops, which had topics ranging from
Faith and Rationality to Faith, Vows, and Pure Land; from
Relationships 101 to Monastic Life; and from
Buddhism and Spirituality in America to Understanding Mantras. The workshop discussions took place in a circle with the speaker starting with a short primer and then opening the dialogue for questions. Sandra, a 17-year-old girl attending Mission San Jose High, commented that this was an opportunity to get her questions answered by knowledgeable people. Another highlight of the workshops was the topic
Seeking World Peace One Bow at a Time where Rev. Heng Sure and Dr. Martin Verhoeven shared their stories of bowing over six hundred miles for two years and nine months outdoors. Their heartfelt journey brought tears to Franklyn’s eyes. Afterwards, he explained, “I’ve heard these stories before, but just being in there with Marty and Heng Sure—it’s like… wow.” Another participant, new to Buddhism and hesitant about bowing at the beginning, said how learning about why Buddhists bow made her feel more comfortable with the practice.
The music performance on Friday night was also something not to be missed. Since it was Marty’s debut in public, a few DRBY organizers joined him in a song. Later on, joined by Rev. Heng Sure, they played some old folk songs. Max Track and Anthony gave another perspective to Buddhism with Buddhist rap saying how they have made it their mission to bring Dharma to the streets because that’s where the people need it most. Featuring songs like “New Sun Born,” talking about living in the present and renewing yourself everyday, gave a glimpse of how Max and Anthony were forging into new territory: Buddhist hip hop. At the end, everyone joined their palms together and sang the newly written English version of “Dedication of Merit,” wishing that the goodness of the gathering could be spread throughout the universe.
On the following night, the Buddhist Storytelling Circle again returned with stories on peace. One participant mentioned how she really enjoyed the Funga-Alofia story where two tribes of people ended up solving their differences through song and dance because she could relate it to her own experience at home. Brian Conroy, the leader of the group, told a few extra stories at the end: “Hunting the Wild Broccoli,” “Nick Bodhi: Dharma Investigator,” and “Captain Enlightenment!” were all filled with Buddhist puns and brought smiles to everyone’s face. Brian also promised that the Buddhist Storytelling Circle would be back for the next DRBY conference.
As for personal lessons, Peter, a conference organizer, reflected that the most difficult aspect of the planning was putting up posters. Mild-mannered and a bit shy, Peter felt a bit afraid that he was imposing on other people by asking them to put up posters in their stores. Estee, another conference organizer, said she began to get frustrated with Peter. She had all but given up hope, but then Peter called her saying that he had put up posters at an entire shopping area. Estee was touched. “People are really growing and changing.” This was one of the reasons Estee found her work with DRBY so meaningful.
For the participants, many walked away with many of their questions answered about Buddhism and life. One participant commented on how he came wanting to learn some of the Buddhist teachings and he found that what he learned in one weekend could not have been encompassed in just books. Some found helpful guidelines to apply in their lives. For instance, Doug Powers, in
Relationships 101, explained clearly how cultivation is inseparable from having healthy relationships with all the people in one’s life.
Each person took away something unique, but something shared by everyone was the gratitude for the amount of heart and energy the organizers put into the event.
The feeling was mutual. “I also would like to thank all the people who worked with me and attended--it reminds of the Venerable Master’s song saying how lucky we are to have each other.” With a goofy smile on his face, Peter starts singing, “I’m really lucky to study Buddhism… (I couldn’t help but join in) I’ve met good friends…my Dharma friends and I together will go to perfect enlightment.”
Swo po he—may it be so.