In Praise of Play

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In the month of April our temple turns its focus onto the youth. Not that we ignore the youth during the other parts of the year, but during the month of April, as we remember the birth of the historical Buddha, we turn our main attention to remembering and sharing in the joy and potential of our youth. In an era where we sometimes find ourselves wondering, “Is this the kind of world we want to bring our children into?” we are reminded of the innocence we used to have when there were fewer bruises and scars on our egos and we could just walk up to a total stranger and suddenly become “best friends” if even for an instant. We are also reminded that every child, each and every one of us, has the potential to become a Buddha.

Why are we so fascinated by youth? Is it simply because we feel that we have lost something important that we wish we could take back? Is this what we call innocence? Is this why we reminisce? I do not have an answer. However, in watching the young children at the temple play, even if it is after a funeral or memorial service, I find myself constantly awed and moved by how easily children can turn any location and any circumstance into a playground. I can’t help but feel hope when I watch children play. As adults we spend so much time fighting that it’s good to see people, even if they are little, playing with each other. Although, as we get older, we experience more and more of what we call the tragedies of life, and because of this we sometimes conclude that younger children are able to play because they do not really understand hardships including death, I find myself not wanting to make the mistake of forgetting how to understand and appreciate life.

At the temple I am a very lucky person. I am lucky because I find myself in an environment where even as I am constantly challenged by life’s hardships I am also exposed to all the things that make life so worth living and sharing. I am, for example, not only able to watch the young children play, but I am able to watch the older adults smile as they watch the children play. Their bodies may not be youthful anymore and not able to move like the children they are watching, but their eyes are oftentimes just as youthful. Their smiles are just as innocent, but mixed with a twinkle of wisdom, and perhaps even a sprinkling of joy that comes from knowing that they had a hand in helping to create a world, or at the very least a temple, where children can still play and grow up knowing that their full potential can always be achieved, that they too can Enlighten the world by becoming a Buddha, through Namo Amida Butsu.

Rev. John Iwohara
April, 2013