Who Am I? The Search for Spiritual Self in the Digital Age
By Steven Tamekuni, San Jose Betsuin
The 5th Annual TechnoBuddha conference took place on March 2 to 4 at the Jodo Shinshu Center in Berkeley, California. This year we had about 62 attendees and were fortunate to have a great keynote speaker in Rev. Dr. Mark Unno. This year’s theme was: “Who Am I? The Search for Spiritual Self in the Digital Age.” We wanted to examine personal identity and how it can become lost in the sea of technology that surrounds us daily. With our busy lives, daily routines, and constant access to digital distractions, it’s very easy to cruise through life without stopping to reflect.
Rev. Unno (who came down all the way from Eugene, Oregon) gave a very thoughtful and inspiring Dharma talk. He spoke about how easy it is to lose sight of oneself in all of the digital glitter of technology. He emphasized the extreme importance of taking the time to dive beneath the technological noise and take in your surroundings. Above all, he stressed the importance of living in the moment. He presented the idea “First time, last time” – in that, whatever it is you do, you should understand that it could be both the first time and last time you may experience it. One of the many personal stories Rev. Unno shared with us was directly related to this topic. He told of how he drove with his father from Eugene to Palo Alto. At one point, they stopped by Mount Shasta. When they got out of the car to stretch their legs, he noticed how full and bright the moon was. “Look, Dad,” Rev. Unno said to his father, “Look at the moon.” His father looked up and a huge smile crept across his face. Rev. Unno told us that although he didn’t have his camera, he took a picture of his father with his mind’s camera. This was because he realized that he didn’t know how many more times he might be able to see his father smile in this way. It was a story and a message that struck a chord with all of us.
For this year’s conference, we tried to incorporate the theme of the conference into the entire schedule. We wanted more of the conference schedule to allow attendees to take a moment to ponder the “Who Am I?” theme, rather than just during the keynote. In order to do this, we worked very closely with Rev. Unno when planning the conference schedule. By doing this, we hoped that the workshops, discussions, and shorter religious talks would better revolve around the ideas that Rev. Unno presented in his keynote speech. We had workshops dealing with finance, dance, figuring out one’s self-identity, and even on comparative forms of Buddhism.
One of the things that one can look forward to every conference is the great food. Rev. Umezu made his famous curry for everyone on Friday night, ensuring everyone went to sleep with full stomachs and smiles on their faces. Francesca Lafayette, Mary Kikuchi, and Judy Kono planned out breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the rest of the weekend. Each year, the Saturday dinner gets better and better, and this year was no exception. We dined on quinoa salad and Asian tacos. All of these meals would have been extremely difficult to prepare without the help of some gracious volunteers who spent literally all day in the kitchen.
Another thing that everyone looks forward to is the happy hour and nighttime activity where we head across the street to a local bar. There we (responsibly) socialize over drinks and music. I believe this to be a very important part of the conference because it allows everyone to get to know each other. It gives everyone some free time during the conference to establish friendships outside of the people they already know. More than anything, it gives us a change to celebrate our connection to each other.
The TechnoBuddha conference started out as just a networking conference for those who grew up in the Jodo Shinshu community. From there, it was discovered that all of us had the same mentality – that we wanted to be active in the temple still, but that it was very hard to do. This is because it seemed that there was no community for our age group within the larger temple community. People would go to temple up until they graduated from high school and then would disappear until their first child was born. The conference became a way for all of us who existed in this “gray area” to reconnect with fellow Jodo Shinshu Buddhists, and, of course, to make some new friends along the way.
I cannot tell you how exciting it is to go to this conference every year. It’s truly exciting and heartening to be at a conference with 50 to 60 other individuals who are all at similar points in life. We’re all looking to be engaged in the Teachings and be involved in the temple, but we’re also looking for how these things can be incorporated into our current lives. Sometimes I forget how comforting it is to meditate or simply do oshoko with others who can better understand where I’m coming from. There is a definite sense of belonging.
If you’re reading this and will be eligible to join us next year, please do!! Look for us on Facebook or keep an eye on your temple’s newsletter. Tell friends and family who may be interested as well! There are new friends to meet, and connections to be made. We want to keep this conference going strong year after year, and serve as an example for similar conferences elsewhere.
I hope to see you at the 2013 TechnoBuddha Conference!!
Before I close this article, I must take the time to thank Judy Kono and Rev. Kodo Umezu. There is simply no way that we could have put on such a successful conference without their help. We especially want to thank Rev. Umezu for his curry and to wish him good luck in his new position as Socho!