Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Liberation from Complacency: Post-Election Musings

I was going to write a post “Buddhists are Trump Supporters” about the many Buddhists, including a good portion of Japanese and other Asian Americans, who voted for Donald Trump for president. (I know because quite a few of my family members, friends and temple members have declared it.) But instead I want to share my personal feelings about the election.

I’ve heard and seen lots of people, such as my interfaith clergy colleagues, depressed about the election results. Our temple hosted ONE-Northside’s community discussion of post-election next steps and in our discussion the woman sitting next to me was trembling and in tears as she voiced her fears as a Mexican immigrant with many friends and relatives in the U.S. I think the forum was good for her and others feeling personally threatened by the election results – to know that many of their neighbors want to support them emotionally and morally in their struggle.

[from the meeting: whiteboard suggestions, mine is in pink]
Yet among all the distraught people, I feel buoyant about the election results. I’m glad that Clinton lost (I voted for Jill Stein, the only candidate who bothered to visit Standing Rock and support the protest against the Dakota Access Pipe Line). If Clinton had captured the winning Electoral College votes, the progressives would think “Yay, we won!” and be lulled into complacency while Clinton could get away with doing nothing for the progressive agenda or even taking actions (as she has done in the past) against it.

As I keep saying to people, the election results were a wakeup call to us, showing us that we have a lot of work to do with our fellow Americans in order to actualize the principle of equality throughout the country. We each have to feel empowered at the grassroots level instead of believing the wealth-accumulating elites* (whether their name is Trump or Clinton) know what’s best for our communities.

Am I getting too far off the track from Buddhism? No, I think the Buddha and the Pure Land tradition teachers such as Shinran recognized our own spiritual awakening develops and deepens with our interaction and appreciation of others, especially those who don’t fit our ideas of “acceptable” (groups disparaged for being “redneck,” “racist,” “uneducated” etc.).  Too many people in other Buddhist groups, and even some notable Shin teachers, have fallen under the influence of the elitist mindset. For many frustrated Americans, marching through the streets helps to blow off steam but a lot of the post-election ranting is about blaming and demonizing Trump and his supporters, creating more barriers and rifts between people. Teachers like Kiyozawa Manshi realized we need to do the hard work of self-examination - challenging our own elitism - and reach out to the people beyond our bubbles of like-mindedness.

*Postscript 11-18-2016 - I know not everyone can see or will read the comments below, but I hope some of you will. I appreciate that Ann called me out for my over-generalizing about Clinton supporters and being too dismissive of them, since just like the Trump supporters, they are a varied mixture of people with different concerns. At the same time I'm calling for more understanding of others, I see that I have a long way to go in understanding people, particularly those I interact with often (I'm assuming Ann is one of our temple members, but I haven't checked with all the Anns and Annas yet). Based on the comments, I could write the whole post over but for now I put the asterisk after "wealth-accumulating elites." The phrase doesn't quite capture what I meant and could be misleading. There are families of modest income who are building up their nest-egg for retirement and emergencies, so you could say they are accumulating wealth. But I meant the less than 1% who take in money and assets way beyond conceivable need/use for it all.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

End of An Era, Ahead to Uncertainty

After last night’s celebration of the Cubs’ incredulous world series victory, today I’m feeling a somber sense of loss and lostness. Our temple’s long-serving minister, Rev. Ashikaga and his wife just left for the airport where they will board a plane taking them back to Japan. Around sixty years ago, Rev. Ashikaga arrived in Hawaii to start as a kaikyoshi (“missionary”) for Higashi Honganji in Hilo and a few years after that, settled in Chicago to serve as one of several ministers at our temple. Although he and his wife spent almost all their adult lives in the United States, they are now returning back to the country of their citizenship, Japan.

[photo by Y. Fujiwara]
After Rev. Ashikaga officially retired in 2013 and I became the full-time resident minister, he was a constant presence at the temple, showing up to almost every Sunday service. I was grateful that he would conduct the services during my frequent absences to speak at other temples and attend conferences out of town, but he wasn’t one to play a subordinate role and I felt like the one who had to meet his expectations. Some of this tension was the usual “former boss not wanting to answer to the new younger boss” situation that many ministers have found themselves in (unlike Christian churches, the Buddhist temples don’t banish their retired ministers from the premises). But some people have told me that some of it looked like the “man doesn’t want to take orders from woman” attitude that is especially entrenched in Japanese culture. So after Rev. Ashikaga announced that he and his wife decided to finally return to Japan, my main reaction was one of relief. “Now I can run the service as I want instead of always worrying about Rev. Ashikaga having a cow if I try this or that new thing.”

After waving goodbye to them as they were being taken to the airport, I can’t help having a mournful feeling. Two people who were part of my life helping and working at the temple now are gone. I may see them both again – either in Japan or if they return here on a visit – but for the days and months ahead there will be a lot of adjusting to their absence. Despite the relief I felt knowing I’ll be free of their meddling, I know there will be many moments when I wish I had them around.

It’s the end of a long era and the beginning of my having to take some very uncertain steps ahead for the temple’s future. There are too many questions and worries for me to spell out here, but there are those passages in the old Buddhist texts that predict the downfall of the teachings once women join the ordained ranks. I may be just the kind of female those scripture writers feared that will bring the whole structure down – lacking both the strong identification to past culture (language, rituals etc.) and the swaggering resoluteness that people expect of a spiritual leader.