Zen Center of Sunnyvale hosts luncheon for Buddhist Global Relief’s "Walk to Feed the Hungry" (18 Miles / San Jose to Palo Alto) on September 11, 2011
“The gift of food is the gift of life” -- The mission of Buddhist Global Relief (BGR) is to provide relief to the poor and needy throughout the world regardless of nationality, ethnicity, gender, or religion.
To read the whole article-- Words from Ajahn Guna and Venerable Sister Santussika (Walk organizers)
This project began on August 8th when we received a message from Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi saying:
Please bring forth a heart of generosity and compassion and support Buddhist Global Relief's "Walk to Feed the Hungry" on Sept. 10th, 2011. In New York the walk is at Riverside Park. There will also be a walk in Michigan, at Kensington Park near Ann Arbor. But whether or not you can attend, please donate, and donate generously. The walk is one of our annual fundraising events, so much depends on your generosity. See our website and the link below for details.
With thanks and blessings,
Taking Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi's request to heart and seeing that there was no walk scheduled for the Bay Area, we made a clear and quick decision to create an event, even though the preparation time was short, and to simply do what we could do. We never imagined the results that were to come about.
More than 200 people participated in the walk,collecting over $27,000 in donations and more is still coming in. More than $1500 was collected on site and, at this writing, $25,677 on-line from more than 400 donors, bringing the total to over $27,000. There is no way to express the depth of gratitude that we feel for everyone's participation and generosity.
More than a dozen Buddhist sanghas were represented. Throughout the walk, people had a great time getting to know one another. Also, people came who simply read about the event in their local newspapers or heard about it through activist networks. In some cases, old friends appeared not even knowing they would see familiar faces.
There were many very sweet moments. There was joy and a quiet determination, a sense of stretching to meet a challenge and to go an extra mile, actually or metaphorically, through walking or giving or serving. It was an extraordinary day. A day of doing more than we thought we could do and all with hearts full of compassion for people who really need our help.
Before arriving to the event there was a phone call from a participant from the BBM community who said that she had a fever and could not do the walk as planned. Despite her fever, she insisted on arriving at the starting point of the walk to pay respects to the monastics and bring her donation to BGR.Also, before the event an 85-year-old great-grandmother said to a participant that she would like to go to but didn't feel up for the walk. The participant said, "I will take you on my shoulder, and you will be in our thoughts as we walk”. It was very touching.
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Of course, there were those who were able to join at the lunch who didn't have the strength to walk. One woman who has had a hip operation came with her walking sticks to do a couple miles. She really gave it all she could. It was inspiring to see people giving the event 100 percent effort. From the starting point it was about 8 miles to the lunch gathering and 18 miles to the ending point. There were over 100 who walked 8 miles and 20 who walked the whole way. And to add, although there was a volunteer with a first aid box, there were no injuries. In fact, it was a great time of exercise and inspiration for people to do more walking in the future.
As the walk was a day-long event actually stretching over 18 miles, it was never expected that everyone would walk together the whole time. There were children and there were people in their 70's as well as everyone in-between. I checked-in with some of the older folks and asked how they were doing as they walked forward with determination. I asked one of the older "aunties" if she had the coffee at the Buddhi Vihara because she looked quite energetic. 115 started walking strong from San Jose. People took turns carrying the large banner in front saying "BGR Walk to Feed the Hungry". Volunteers helped walkers cross with the lights in an orderly fashion. The group rested at the Buddhi Vihara where 3 monks live. Fruit and drinks were provided for walkers to refuel as people explored the beautiful temple grounds complete with a grand Kwan Yin statue. The kind abbot Venerable Amarabuddhi gave a short speech explaining what the Vihara had to offer the public and then the monastics all gave a blessing chant from the words of the Buddha. Participants were encouraged to take a moment of silence and make an intention. People were encouraged also to use the walk as a practice, and not fall into the typical competitive American spirit of "keeping-up with the Joneses", but to use wisdom in conjunction with mindfulness of the body.
Along the way walkers had a chance to ask the monastics questions about Buddhism and also meet other Buddhists who were from their same area that they knew existed. People enjoyed visiting places where Dharma is locally taught, as a pilgrimage. Some young people had questions about Dharma, too. As we walked, traffic on the street many times responded with friendly and encouraging “toots” from their car horns accompanied with waving or a shout. There were only friendly interactions with the public. Walkers had the intention to follow traffic lights and courteously let cars go by as they walked with the intention to be a presence of peace on 9/11, while other civilians rekindled negative thoughts from the past as evident in newspaper headlines. Many participants felt that having the walk this year on 9/11 was meaningful for them. Also, as Venerable Drimay from the Tibetan tradition and other monastics and lay practitioners of various denominations were present, it was inspiring for people to see all these groups working harmoniously together.
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Venerable JianHu, abbot of Chung Tai Zen Center Sunnyvale graciously and generously lead his community in providing a free vegetarian lunch to about 200 walkers, advertised the event to his community which raised many funds for BGR, and opened the doors of their beautiful center for the event providing everything from spiritual inspiration to clean restroom facilities.
As people finished their meals, gratitude was expressed for the meal and everyone's efforts to serve for this event. Ven. Dharma Master JianHu welcomed us and told us a little about the Center. A message from Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi was read out and we offered inspirational messages. Thanks to a friend with an iPhone, we were able to announce the latest fundraising total from the website: $23,154. (It is great to see how the number has risen since then and continues to rise.)
Another group photo and we were on our way again. Chung Tai Zen Center added many walkers as we started out after lunch, including JianHu Shifu, helping carry the energy forward. JianHu Shifu said that his community would very much like to do this every year! We said that we would like that, too.
About 60 walkers started out from the Chung Tai Zen Center on the long stretch of the walk all the way up to Palo Alto. We slowed down a bit as the day passed and our support vehicles came by more often to make sure we were all OK. We were indeed much more than OK, enjoying the beautiful weather with a perfect temperature and the kind company of friends, old and new. There were tender "good-byes" along the way as people came to their personal end of the walk and caught the bus that ran all along our route to get back to their cars. And, there were bright "hellos" for the new walkers coming from the towns we were moving through. The group stopped for a break at Whole Foods Market in Los Altos, one of our official bathroom locations, pre-arranged with the management. It was time for a snack: grapes, juices, and some chocolate appeared.
A few people walked their bikes along the route, making it easy to return to wherever they needed to go when the time came. Our final stop, Sarah Wallis Park was a welcome sight for the 35 of us left. About 20 of us had walked the whole way. Happy, tired, feeling proud, not only because of what we had done, but because of what everyone involved had done, with such generosity and grace. Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu
And now, one day later, emails are coming in with expressions of gratitude and delight ... and hopes for next year.
Yours in the Dharma,
Ajahn Guna and Sister Santussika