Monday, August 13, 2012

Obon and the National Moment of Reflection

Our long-time member Janet L. sent me an e-mail from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship about the National Moment of Reflection and asked if our temple would participate. The American Sikh community suggested the National Moment of Reflection for religious groups throughout the U.S. to include in their Sunday services as a brief remembrance of the victims of last week’s shooting at the Sikh Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

That Sunday (August 12) was the service for Obon, a special observance in Japanese Buddhism to express our appreciation of deceased loved ones, particularly to those who passed away since last year’s Obon. By starting our Obon service with the National Moment of Reflection, we were reminded that Buddhism is more than a set of rituals to honor our own dead relatives and personal friends, but it is a teaching to nurture our awareness of the awakened heart-mind that embraces all lives, past, present and future.

In my Dharma talk, I said all too often tragic events occur in our country and at our temple services we neglect to mention them while at all the Christian churches the ministers are talking about the tragedies in their Sunday sermons. We should feel a sense of empathy with the Wisconsin Sikh congregation because our temple could easily be a target for white supremacist extremists. We’re not Christian and though we all speak English and dress Western, we’re a racially and ethnically mixed group with interracial couples and some LGBT folks. Wisconsin is close enough to us in Chicago, but closer yet was Friday’s shooting at the Islamic center in Morton Grove (no one was hurt, but the pellets that were fired could have mortally wounded someone).

The Buddhist teachings help us to confront our own heart-mind, to see that we are no different from those shooters with our harsh judgment of “other” people. To think, “the world would be a better place without those @#$%s” is to have the mind that feels justified in taking the lives of those who look or act differently from us. If we hear the Obon story of Maudgalyayana as his transition from hateful condemnation of his mother to his joyful appreciation of her, then we hear the nembutsu, Namu (stop clinging to your fixed notions) Amida Butsu (and move with Life as it is).

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