Sunday, July 30, 2017

Come Out of the Bomb Shelter

The person [i.e., our teacher Honen] who has awakened to the jewel of shinjin in his heart does not wander in the darkness of birth-and-death; hence, the heart illuminates beings of illusion. Possessing the jewel of shinjin, the person [our teacher] sweeps away the darkness of our ignorance, and casts a bright light upon us.
            -- Shinran explaining the quote on a portrait of Honen in Songo-shinzo-meimon which is one of the passages Dr. Nobuo Haneda cited in his critique of my Tricycle article “Confronting the Heart of Darkness.” He felt my article made it sound like we’re hopelessly trapped in our ignorant heart of darkness while Shinran points out that through the light coming from the teachers in our lives, that darkness is swept away.

There’s already too many cliché metaphors tying physical health to spirituality but I can’t help drawing a parallel between the bomb shelter mentality of the wellness movement and the acceptance of social isolation in religion.

In the wellness world, people are offered ways to avoid disease and death for 120 years or more. It’s like building a cold-war era bomb shelter in that you’re told to shield yourself away from the stupid hordes of people who consume junk food, contaminated water and polluted air and who expose themselves to germ-laden public spaces, radiation from medical exams and electric waves from TVs, radios and telephones (but keep your computers on so you receive news of the latest wellness products).

In religion there is a similar sounding message of “We have the good stuff that will earn us peace of mind/heaven/union with God etc. We must avoid contact with everyone else destined for hell, those depraved beasts concerned only with base desires (such as for adequate food and shelter).”

During my chemotherapy treatment, I’m supposed to avoid gatherings of people because my immune system is weakened. But though it’s a convenient excuse to get out of boring get-togethers at odd times and locations, I feel with my decreased life expectancy it’s a time to be making more connections with people and not withdrawing from the world to “rest up.”

One gathering I’m sad to be missing right now is the annual Maida Center retreat in Berkeley. The other night I reviewed my notes from last year’s retreat with the question in my mind, “What would Dr. Haneda say about my wanting to be more involved in the world instead of hunkering down in a Dharma-study bunker like Maida Shuichi or Shinran in their later years?” I thought I would hear him saying, “Stay home in your study bunker,” but instead I received insight from his discussion of kuyo 供養 which I’ve hear many times before.

For years I’ve heard Dr. Haneda point out that the term kuyo used in Tan Butsu Ge didn’t simply mean “making offerings to various Buddhas.” Kuyo is a process of going out of your way to seek out teachers to learn from and upon receiving wisdom from them you can’t help but show your appreciation by “making offerings” – giving praise, donating, volunteering, getting PR out on social media etc.

In the retreat notes, Dr. Haneda didn’t say the Buddhas we go to visit have to be “Buddhist” or recognized “teachers” or even human beings. He said we can learn from all kinds of lives as demonstrated by the seeker Dharmakara who became “Namu Amida Butsu” – the one who bows down (Namu) to all lives (Amitayus), receiving enlightened wisdom (Amitabha Buddha) from them.

Of course, I should keep going back to the great texts of the Jodo Shinshu tradition but those teachings only come alive when I experience being in contact with the real lives around me. There’s so much for me to learn from the people whose lives are so different from mine, so I’m grateful for the opportunities though ONE Northside and other community groups to hear from those people and join in support of their struggles.

[Rico and Mark, two activists for affordable housing in Chicago]
The above photo is from the July 6 rally at the Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago demonstrating against the proposed cuts to HUD (Housing and Urban Development). It was invigorating to see and hear all the feisty protestors from the Jane Addams Senior Caucus – seniors from all over the city, black, white, Latinx et al. And the other day our temple hosted nearly a hundred people of various ages and ethnic backgrounds concerned about the Chicago Police Department’s lack of community accountability. These are examples of my experience of kuyo.

Working at the temple is what I’m being paid for, but I feel I’m a more well-rounded minister when I do things beyond my temple duties. Besides the regular temple members I see week-to-week, there are people coming for funerals, weddings, consultations etc. who are new to me. I hope that my being involved in the community outside the temple helps me to be more receptive to the new people who come into the temple.

And it is my hope that in witnessing my kuyo, going out to learn from various teachers, that others are encouraged to get out of their bubbles and discover the great wisdom to be received from the lives around us. It is our continual encounter with tariki, the others-power, that sweeps away the constrictions of our ego-attachment. Then we are liberated into the Realm of Flowingness (Jodo) and not stuck in some stifling bomb shelter.