Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Overcoming the Distaste For Dependency

Akegarasu Haya wrote his Dokuritsu-sha no sengen (“Declaration of an Independent Person”) to express spiritual liberation, free of the ego-created delusion of a divine genii who grants our wishes and takes us to the “good place” after death. Much of the translation of Shout of Buddha is from Dokuritsu-sha, focusing on the theme of appreciating our own unique life and freeing ourselves from the expectations of other people and institutions. But spiritual independence doesn’t mean existing as an independent being. In the essay, “I Am the Last to be Liberated” translated by Dr. Haneda, Akegarasu describes being so ill that he needed constant care from everyone around him (which at the time included Rev. Gyomay Kubose and his wife Minnie). In his state of total dependence on others, he appreciates the spirituality manifested in each one of them, declaring that they will all attain awakening before he does.

Becoming independent is for most people a passage into adulthood. One should be able to do things on their own, such as getting a job and paying for housing. But the problem in taking pride in our independence is we look down on those who because of thousands of causes and conditions cannot do the basic tasks of living by themselves. We may take pity on the disabled but somehow see their lives as less than complete. We may see those with obstacles such as racism and poverty as somehow just lazy and looking for handouts.

I always took pride in my independence but since being on this cancer “journey” I find I can’t do as much as I want and I require the help of others. I can see why people get sucked into these wellness regimens – “If you pay for these (supplements, exercise machines, spa retreats etc.), you’ll be so healthy that into your old age you’ll continue to enjoy an independent lifestyle with no need to rely on hospitals, nursing homes or your family members.” We have a deep-rooted distaste for dependency but the reality is our ableness is transient and anyone at anytime could lose it for a while or for the rest of their lives.

Less than a month after I was released from the hospital I went back in. As before I went to the emergency room with a high fever but I didn’t feel as sick as last time, just some mild cold symptoms of coughing and runny nose. But two nights later in the hospital, I felt sicker than when I went in. My body fluctuated between chills and fever and I felt too weak to do much physically or mentally. Even though not much improved, I lobbied the doctors to get released – I might as well be sick at home and not in a place that makes you sicker.

[Saiho-ji in Hekinan near Nagoya, temple of the Kiyozawa family]
This year will bring more incapacitation once I’m well enough for surgery, then radiation treatment. I won’t be getting much done for the temple or any of the community groups I belong to. Kiyozawa Manshi called himself “December Fan,” the useless person and Shinran thought of himself as the evil person. The useless person is evil because he can’t do the pure good which is consistent and continuous. In Kiyozawa’s case, his poor health made him useless during the time he had to live with and be supported by his wife’s family. Yet later when he recovered enough to administer Shinshu College in Tokyo, he didn’t “make himself useful” but instead as the useless person he was grateful to do whatever work that causes and conditions allowed him to do.

So as much a blow to my ego it is to be thrown in a state of dependency, not being able to do “good” is a big frustration as I see all the work that could be done to improve things for people suffering right now – the homeless, the harassed, those struggling to pay for basic needs. I just have to settle into the awareness of myself as the useless, evil person.

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