Some people have the idea that “oneness” in Buddhism means the world is in harmony with them. But actually awakening to true oneness is when we realize that no being – animal, plant or mineral, no matter how seemingly small or weak – is obligated to go along with what I or anyone else wants. For anyone who has been in any kind of relationship – marriage, employment, volunteer activity etc. – it doesn’t take long to discover this. Even if you believe you’ve got another person to go along with you by force or the power of your persuasion, that person is only complying in a bodily way but their heart/mind is full of plots of rebellion and subversion.
[from the movie “Stripes”]
It is a freeing feeling to recognize the freedom of all beings and cast off the delusion that one must control others. I’m learning in mostly painful ways at the temple that no one wants to hear me saying things have to be a certain way – whether it’s clean counter tops or having the folding chairs facing the same way on the storage rack. So I’ve been trying to keep my mouth shut and put things in order by myself without bothering anyone.
In Japan, the rugged American in me hated to hear phrases like “don’t rebel against the Buddha” or “be a slave to the Dharma.” But now I realize those phrases were meant for us to examine our own ego which insists on going against reality – for example, being in angry rebellion against a rainstorm because we had plans for an outdoor activity. But there are situations where resistance is called for – when some people impose their egoistic delusions on others to treat them as objects to use and abuse. Last Saturday there was a massive show of resistance to our government’s policies on immigration - a big hooray to those of you who marched in the 100-degree heat in downtown Chicago in support of migrant families.
When I was at the ritual training session at Higashi Honganji in Kyoto in 2014, I was surprised that the ritual department staff encouraged us (ministers from the U.S. and Brazil) to have ongoing discussions at our temples on how the rituals can be changed to be more appropriate for our times and places. Yet the staff expected that when we practiced rituals together during our training that we followed the traditional Japanese format to a T. Would you call them “oppressors” for wanting us all to chant in a particular way? Would you call a symphony conductor an “harasser” for cajoling the musicians to play their parts according to the conductor’s interpretation of the music?
I shouldn’t be surprised that people at the temple don’t want to be subordinate to me – why should they go along with the way I do chanting or study sutras? I’m the one as the paid employee of the organization who should be carrying out my duties as the organization dictates. Yet I can’t help being insubordinate. I won’t be the perfect mouthpiece for how some members and the potential members want Buddhism portrayed – as a simplistic smiley-face belief that will appeal to affluent young adults and bring back Japanese American families. Yes, I’m open to listening and learning from the members and people who visit our temple – but I also want to share the wisdom I’ve received from my teachers, people that the members don’t think much of (those gadflies Kiyozawa and Akegarasu and that gloomy-sounding Shinran). Perhaps the current crisis is a sign that the few years left for me should be spent being in touch with what moves me and not have my time and energy used up in the continual struggle of responding to the demands of others, however well-meaning they may be.