Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fans of Each Other: Mutually Supporting

I was in Los Angeles for a ritual training workshop at the Higashi Honganji Betsuin and my husband was trying to get a hold of me. When I didn’t answer my cell phone, he left messages with two of the ministers also attending the workshop. One was Rev. Nori Ito, Bishop of the North America District. He asked me later what that was all about and I told him a family who belonged to the Midwest Buddhist Temple scheduled an ashes burial service and found out their minister, Rev. Ron Miyamura, wouldn’t be able to do it so Rev. Ron suggested they call me. Rev. Nori thought it was strange that me as a Higashi Honganji minister would do a service for a Nishi Honganji temple but I told him we (BTC and MBT) cover for each other all the time and also give and get help from the Jodoshu minister. Rev. Nori might have been more surprised if I mentioned that the Shingon minister has done services for our members and when he was unavailable he told me to go ahead and do the ashes burial service for a Shingon follower (I chanted Hannya Shingyo and read Kukai’s “I-ro-ha” poem).

In a place like Los Angeles, there are plenty of ministers within each Buddhist sect and denomination so they never have to ask for help from ordained people of other sects. But in Chicago the Buddhist clergy cooperates in helping out other temples’ members. Sectarian differences don’t come much into play for most memorials or weddings – people just want a ceremony that feels Buddhist.


(Above – photo from June 2009, Chicago Sun-Times. Think of Rev. Ron as low-keyed Lou and me as hot-headed Ozzie.)

It’s always hard to give a talk at a memorial service when you didn’t know the deceased. The only thing the family of Mr. W told me was that their father was an avid sports fan and everyone was asked to come to the memorial service wearing jerseys of their favorite teams. I went to the service at the funeral home hoping to learn more about Mr. W. It was a Christian ceremony conducted by the pastor from Mr. W’s daughter’s church. The family wanted him to deliver a Christian message for the sake of Mrs. W who is Christian. The minister showed a graceful respect in talking about visiting Mr. W during his illnesses. He didn’t come out and say Mr. W was a Buddhist, but said he always asked Mr. W if it was okay to pray for him and Mr. W cheerfully consented. In his closing prayer the minister asked that God draw Mr. W nearer to Him which I think is a nice way of saying, “There’s still hope even in the afterlife for this person to find Jesus.” It may not be what the hardline Christians believe, but I’ve heard it expressed by Asians who know their many ancestors died as Buddhists.

Mr. W had made it clear to his son that he wanted a Buddhist ceremony, so at the gravesite before the short ashes burial service, I did a Dharma Name presentation. Only that morning I picked out a phrase from San Sei Ge (Juseige to you Nishi folks) – “that my Name is voiced throughout the ten directions.” It occurred to me that hearing the Name, Namu Amida Butsu, is like hearing the cheering of sports fans for their home team. So I explained Mr. W’s Dharma Name “voice [heard] throughout” as hearing him continuing to root for his family and friends, that he will keep guiding and inspiring them. In Namu Amida Butsu, they will hear his voice and the voices of all the Buddhas, enlightened teachers, and Bodhisattvas, spiritual guides. As players on the field of our own life, there will be setbacks and challenges, but we will hear the cheers from the stands, telling us to keep going forward.

Doing the service for the MBT member was a hoyo (Dharma-event) for me, a chance to gain a little more understanding of the nembutsu and receive the encouragement of Amida (Unbounded Light and Life).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Compassion Across the Board: Not OK to hate the haters

I attended the “Chicago Rally” for the Southern Poverty Law Center with my husband who’s been a long-time supporter of the group and I came away with a similar feeling that I had when we went to hear SPLC’s co-founder Morris Dees speak at a suburban college a couple years ago. It’s that discomfort with hearing that it’s okay to despise other human beings if we put them in the category of violent racial bigots. I get that same feeling when I see some historical movies and docudramas where the white people beating up on the black people are acting like zombie monsters that deserve to painfully dismembered. It’s the depiction of racism as something like rabies that makes an animal go on a rampage and killing them is the only way to stop them.

Of course SPLC doesn’t condone violence against the perpetrators of hate crimes. Besides wanting to see bullies get sentenced in criminal court to imprisonment, SPLC has the legal strategy of using the civil court proceedings to sue white supremacist groups into bankruptcy. In his PowerPoint presentation at the rally, SPLC’s Richard Cohen said in court he tries to be cordial towards the men who’ve preached terror against minorities and conspired to destroy SPLC’s offices and personnel. Yet in the images he chose to show us and in his description of the hate crime perpetrators, Cohen wanted to evoke our disgust towards what seemed to be hulking sub-human creatures.

The Buddhist teachings remind us that it’s an egoistic indulgence to point out how awful other people are so that we feel justified in dismissing the worthiness of their lives. In our study class we read some excerpts from Haya Akegarasu’s Lectures on the Larger Sutra (an unpublished translation by Rev. Marvin Harada) which included the following passage:

… the Buddha does not say that everyone is no good. The Buddha says everyone is wonderful, splendid. There isn't anyone who is no good. Everyone is noble. Those who break the precepts are noble. Murderers are noble. Shakyamuni Buddha saw all beings as noble. He looked up to all beings. This is the shout of "all beings have Buddha-nature!”


A newcomer in the group said he knows Buddhism teaches compassion, but how can you respect someone who’s done terrible things such as murder? But that’s the point the Buddha conveys to us in texts such as the Larger Sutra – it ain’t really compassion unless it means looking up with respect (not downwards with pity) at all beings, to not pick and choose only those we think are worthy. Yes, we take action to stop those who are hurting others, but all the while we see them as beings of worthy Life, knowing their present actions are the result of causes and conditions of myriad forces of their personal and society’s past. The reality is that each life can and will change from one moment to the next – any of us could end up committing a crime, just as a former criminal can turn out to be an effective activist in helping young people to overcome the negative influences in their communities. There is no justification for hating the haters -- they are exactly the same as us – driven by ego-selfishness yet at bottom calling out with the innermost aspiration for Life.