Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Transforming the Summer of Sorrows

When religion cannot find a meaning for human suffering, human beings far too often become cynical, bitter, negative, and blaming. Healthy religion, almost without realizing it, shows us what to do with our pain, with the absurd, the tragic, the nonsensical, the unjust. If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.
                                    -- Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality

This summer it seems like we hear of one terrible tragedy after another in the news – here in the U.S. and around the world. I wonder what can any of us do to transform the painful sadness we feel over events such as the shooting in Orlando, the killing of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, the killings by police of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the massacre in Nice, France, the crackdown on dissidents in Turkey etc. Some people believe we need to be more politically involved but I personally don’t have much faith in the two-party system right now.

As someone involved in religion, I want to talk about how our religious traditions, particularly Shin Buddhism, give us the guidance for transforming our pain, but I must dig deeply and widely to get beyond the fuzzy platitudes and find the sharp wisdom I need to hear.

In the Shoshinge class at our temple, I said the translations of Shinran’s verses about Honen are all way off. So I tried my hand at putting into English what the words say to me:
My teacher Genku [Honen], who clarified the Buddha’s teachings,
Identified and empathized with the “good” and “evil” foolish ordinary beings.
He established in this remote [from the continent] land, the true essence from the great Teaching [Practice, Shinjin] to Realization [i.e. kyogyoshinsho]
For the spreading of the selected Primal Vow [aspiration to awaken to oneness] in this defiled world.
[paraphrase of Honen’s Senchaku-shu:]
“The repeated return to the [stifling little] house of turning around in birth-and-death is decidedly caused by getting stuck in feelings of doubt.
The swift entrance into the [expansive] community of tranquility and unforced joy is inevitably brought about by shinjin [entrusting heart/mind].”

[photo from the Tent City Love picnic that some of our temple members helped with earlier this month]

What I think Shinran heard from Honen is how we must be continually opening our hearts to others and catching ourselves when the ego tries to erect any kind of barrier. In the killings, injuries and incarcerations in the news (and for many folks, it’s happening to their own families and communities), our sorrow should remind us to open our hearts wider and not hunker down in our exclusive tribe, blaming the outsiders.

Buddhism for some people becomes that gated community to keep out the riff-raff with their evil influences. Honen realized the “refuge” of the monastery was actually an encampment in denial of our interdependence with other lives, especially those who are judged as inferior. Like Prince Siddhartha leaving his family’s palace, Honen had to leave the fortress of aristocratic priests and seek out the truth that the Buddha awakened to – the truth of life as it really is: a flow of myriad elements, diverse outlooks and behaviors, a kaleidoscope of bodies and hearts/minds shifting, stumbling and soaring.

In each “Namu Amida Butsu,” we hear the scolding for our divisiveness and the insistent invitation to become more aware of the unbounded life that embraces all. How this will play out in concrete detail for me and the temple is yet to be seen.

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