Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Shinshu: Confronting the Heart of Darkness

For the August memorial service, I spoke about the 68th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, mentioning the loss of my paternal grandmother’s parents and siblings who lived within a mile of the Hiroshima ground-zero. The main content of my talk was about the public lecture my Otani University advisor, Prof. Shunsho Terakawa, gave in the mid-1980s. At that time Prof. Terakawa has just lost his old friend, a schoolmate who had died of cancer.

In his lecture Prof. Terakawa said he and that friend were attending a school outside of Hiroshima City. On a rare day off from classes, August 6, 1945, they decided to take a bus into the city to hang out there. The 8 o’clock bus was packed so they decided to wait for the next bus. Then at about the time that bus would have arrived in the city, they heard and felt the impact of the uranium bomb and saw the mushroom cloud. They started walking into the city urgently wanting to find out what happened. What they saw was utter destruction with overwhelming numbers of dead and dying people for blocks and blocks. Prof. Terakawa described the people walking out of the city as frightening sights with swatches of burned skin hanging off their bodies and eyeballs falling out of their sockets. For Prof. Terakawa and his friend it was an experience of utter helplessness, knowing there was nothing they could do for any of the people crying out in pain and fear. As a teenager it was too much for him to process, but memories of that day shaped the direction and depth of his study of religion.

[Detail from print “Atomic Bike” by David Tanimura ( Note as of 2016, the artist is now known as Danielle Tanimura]

I remember the title of his public lecture as Ningen no mumyo, “Humanity’s Darkness.” He spoke of the atomic bombings not as America’s doing but as the vicious actions of all of us as human beings upon our fellow human beings. In this way Prof. Terakawa had entered the mind of Prince Siddhartha sitting under the pipal tree. In his self-examination, the prince was forced to confront himself as the cruel warrior, no different from his father and all the kings before and after him, commanding their armies to rain down destruction on any clan, village or kingdom that posed a threat to their prosperity.

When the prince saw the blood-thirsty horror in the depth of his being, he shouted “Avidya!” What Buddhists call the Awakening arose with that shout, but there are different interpretations of what that shout meant. In an article Rev. Gyomay Kubose wrote early in our temple’s history, he translated “Avidya!” as “Oh, how ignorant I am.” He was following most English writers in portraying Buddhism as the striving to overcome “ignorance.” But I really believe at least for that particular time (1950s to 1970s) Rev. Kubose was deliberating softening the meaning of mumyo, so he wouldn’t scare away the Americans attracted to the “peace and love” message of Buddhism. I am sure that Rev. Kubose, as someone partially schooled in Japan and a live-in student of Haya Akegarasu for many years, well knew that mumyo is more accurately translated as “darkness.”

Prince Siddhartha became Buddha, the Awakened One, when he saw his own avidya – his own dark, dark heart/mind. What he confronted wasn’t some abstract notion of “ignorance,” lack of knowledge, but a visceral realization of his ready willingness to wreak pain and death on other lives. It is this presentation of his Awakening that the Buddha gives us in the Larger Sukhavativyuha Sutra. How do we come to grips with our warrior nature? We aspire to keep investigating all the ways we separate ourselves from others and dismiss the worth of their lives. We aspire to “own” all evils, so that we cannot use morality as a yardstick to justify our condemnation of other living beings.

Jodo Shinshu emphasizes this radical stance more so than other paths that claim you can practice your way out of the heart of darkness. When Shinran says (Tannisho, Chapter 13) “Given karmic conditions, I could do anything,” he means, “I could be Adolf Hitler.” In our study group sessions, I used to ask, “Can you see Hitler being born in the Pure Land?” but now I realize the real issue is ONLY when I can see myself as Hitler will I truly be born in the Pure Land. Namu Amida Butsu is the calling to me to come just as I am, dark heart and all.

1 comment:

  1. Good writing there. As I say Namo Amitabha I try to bring all hitlers into the infinite Light and Life of Amitabha. Not easy but when the Other power helps out it can be done.....