Watsonville Youth Dharma Program:
For many years the Buddhist Churches of America have relied on the Protestant formatted Sunday School or Dharma School. While this format worked in the past a new generation of families and lifestyles demands a new approach to presenting the teachings of the Buddha and Shinran Shonin. While it is still true that part of the future of the temple is an active and robust youth program, it is a multi-pronged approach that must be taken. This is particularly true for smaller temples like Watsonville located in a more rural setting.
Education should be at the forefront of any religious program that should address all ages including the parents of youth. The formation and encouraged use of a lending library with magazines, books and videos relevant to Jodoshin Buddhism needs to be one aspect of a religious program. Another feature is a program of study classes introducing Jodoshin Buddhism to the general public and re-educating the current membership. In addition, our website and newsletter needs to be updated with specific pages addressing the diverse groups we hope to reach.
The third component is the concentration on the youth in the form of dharma school. In the past the teaching of “school” was relegated to the parents of children attending the temple. Armed with a modest understanding of Buddhism and little of Jodoshin Buddhism these dedicated parents did an inordinate amount of work for the children for many generations.
Perhaps part of the struggle for both the teacher and student was that the concept was formatted from a Christian design. We should break away from the idea of a “school” and concentrate on education in the hondo and not in the classroom. Certainly activities can be offered relevant to the teachings following the service but in a less formal setting and not rely on adults to “teach” the Dharma. Open gym time can also be a element of after service activities.
Departing from the term “Dharma School” may be the first step in re-establishing a youth presence at the temple. What is proposed here is the establishment of a “Dharma Youth Program” that starts with a once a month “Youth Service”. This service will continue to teach the Dharma to adults but sermons and gathas will be specifically geared to youth. These gathas will not necessarily take the form of song, but will include participatory readings of poems and prose relevant to Buddhism but addressing youth issues.
Attending youth will take an active part in the service with the ringing of bell(s), settaku and drums. This will serve as a way to teach the youth the meaning and significance of the ritual, but also demystify the service. Sermons will be geared toward the youth and issues of the day. Youth will be encouraged to share their thoughts and perceptions during the service.
Beginning in January 2018 one Sunday a month will be designated as the “Youth Dharma Program Service”. Below is a proposed schedule for 2018
Each year in June a retreat will be held for the youth at a location to be determined.
Please note that dates are subject to change.
Being well aware that time, and volunteers are needed for portions of the program it is my hope that those who see the value of a youth program will volunteer their time.
Thank you for your consideration.
 Dharma: Teachings of the Buddha
 Shinran Shonin (1173-1263) Founder of Jodoshin (True Pure Land) School
 Gathas: poems, songs and readings
 Settaku: wooden clappers