As many temples do, our temple has a service on New Year’s Day but hardly any of the regular Japanese American members come because they have their own family gatherings to attend. I was always late to the service because my husband’s family has their New Year’s Day ritual to do on that morning (each member drinks a ceremonial cup of sake, then everyone has ozoni, clear soup with mochi, rice dumpling). It never finished in time for us to be at the temple when the service started. This year I skipped out on my in-laws so I could be at the temple early to open up for people coming to set up for the lunch.
Since the New Year’s Day service is attended primarily by non-ethnic Japanese members, I didn’t see the need to feature Japanese food. But I worried there might be a crowd of visitors (non-members who show up only for this occasion) and hardly any food. As it turned out, a few Japanese American members not obligated to morning family rituals and many of the newer non-Japanese members brought generous portions of a variety of colorful dishes. There were even plenty of leftovers for people to take home.
In between the service and the feast, there is the ringing of the outdoor hanging bell 108 times – the number symbolizing the many defilements from last year we need to cast off. At first we only had ten people lined up to hit the bell with the wooden mallet, so I was told to do the first eight and each one afterwards would do ten. But then there was the arrival of three visitor families – all with a Japan-born mother, American father and a couple kids. They all wanted to join in, so I told them to do five hits each. Was I or anyone else counting to see if it added up to 108? Nah. Our defilements are beyond counting and no amount of bell ringing will get rid of them.
For those visitor mothers, our retired head minister and his wife, it might have been disappointing to start the new year without the traditional Japanese food (but that didn’t stop any of them from piling up their plates at the buffet table). For me, it was an event evoking so much gratefulness – to open up the new year with the multi-ethnic camaraderie that sets our temple ahead of other Buddhist groups in North America. African, Latin, Asian, European and Native Americans all together wishing the best for each other, starting off anew on the path of seeking.