It was a study in contrasts at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas on Friday [April 4]. The tranquil atmosphere outside was occasionally punctuated by otherworldly cries from the band of tame peacocks roaming the grounds. Inside the main dining hall, in front of a large statue of the Buddha, three young men in dayglow wigs led an enthusiastic, multi-racial, multi-cultural crowd.
Welcome to Cherishing Youth Day 2003. Each year the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas hosts an annual event in honor of young people, and while there were many light-hearted touches at this year’s celebration, the underlying intent is serious, as Heng Yin, principal of the Girls School, explained.
“We have a day where we all focus on the children and let them know they are going to be important future leaders and citizens and they should develop their talents and go in a proper direction,” Heng Yin said.
By “proper direction,” she added, she meant the children should “realize they have an obligation, not just to pursue a career to benefit themselves, but also to benefit their families and community, and to live in harmony with people of all different cultures.” Heng Yin was pleased with the number of people who had turned up for the celebration. “Today we have about 500 guests, which is more than before, so we’re very happy.” She also pointed out that in addition to the students from the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas classes from approximately eight other local schools had shown up to make presentations.
The masters of ceremonies in the dayglow wigs, Justin Yan, 15, Tommy Huynh, 14, and Bobby Antalek, 17, clearly wanted their peers to have fun while they lived in harmony. 22-year-old Justin Hu, who teaches political science at the school, had helped plan the program. In so doing, he had come full circle.
“I used to go to school here,” Hu explained. “I graduated from Berkeley and came back to volunteer.” Returning as a teacher to the campus where he once was a student was “really, really challenging,” he acknowledged. “It really gives me a perspective on what my teachers were doing.”
As a teacher now himself, Hu clearly had a lot of respect for the work they put in. “All of the teachers here are volunteers,” he said. “They wouldn’t be here unless they really believed in what they were doing.”
Hu said, “We’re here today to try to make the world a different place by introducing the kids to different cultures and backgrounds, so they can appreciate each other a little better.”
“To me,” 17-year-old student Amy Bernacki said, watching the festivities with the rest of the audience, “it means it’s a day to show our talents, where we can just be ourselves. Because the Boys School is planning it, we don’t have to plan it, and I just get to kick back and watch, and cherish it, because it is my last time.”
Bernacki would be graduating from the Girls School soon, and moving “somewhere in California. I’m still in the process of deciding between college and university.” She was thinking of pursuing a communications major with an emphasis on public relations, but was still mulling over her options there as well.
No matter where she ended up, it wouldn’t be easy to leave, Bernacki admitted. “This is my fifth year and I’m a bit reluctant,” she said, “because I’ve made a lot of friends here and learned a lot of skills and I’m going to miss this place.”
Bernacki then abruptly bid her adieu, explaining “I’m in the next event, so...”
The next event turned out to be a performance by the City’s orchestra, led by conductor Agis Gan, which featured traditional Chinese instruments like the bamboo flute, which, he noted, went back 3,000 years. Bernacki played an enormous drum.
Other musical interludes included Taiko drumming, originating from Japan, and African drumming, performed by visiting students from the Redwood Academy.
There were also dramatic performances, including one based on writer James Thurber’s parable “The Last Flower”, co-produced by Jackie Kincannon and Julia Misri, the school’s dance and drama instructors, respectively.
“It’s really poignant right now,” explained Kincannon, “because its about the insane cycle of war and peace and the basic discontent of humans not cherishing what they have and always wanting more, never being content, falling prey to greed and avarice.”
Such themes resonate strongly within the Buddhist philosophy, as a prayer offered earlier had illustrated. “Of the poisons of the mind,” it read in part, “the most destructive one is greed.”
Unfortunately, the “Last Flower” presentation was plagued by technical difficulties. Microphones repeatedly cut out, leaving many of the young players’ lines inaudible, to their evident frustration.
In the end, however, the parable’s message about the folly of war came through loud and clear. The sight of one of the girls, made up as Death, cutting down the other performers with a sweep of her arm, their small bodies silently collapsing to the stage, spoke volumes in any language.