Bishop Eric Matsumoto
June 17, 2020
A further reflection on our troubled nation from a Jodo Shinshu perspective
Today, further reflecting on the situation of racial discrimination and law enforcement in our nation which continue to, in some instances, involve violent acts and most tragically the continued loss of human life, may we go to the Buddha-Dharma for guidance. In Jodo Shinshu (or Shin Buddhism), the 18th Vow of Bodhisattva Dharmakara/Amida Buddha is the Primal Vow which unconditionally promises Supreme Enlightenment. But, currently, my thoughts also dwell on the significance of the 3rd Vow: “If, when I attain Buddhahood, the humans and devas in my land should not all be the color of genuine gold, may I not attain the perfect Enlightenment.” Several of Bodhisattva Dharmakara’s 48 vows address the stark reality of samsara with suffering and inequality that is born from anger, greed and ignorance.
In Buddhism, the approach and goal is the advancement of each unenlightened being through a transformation of each person’s heart and mind culminating in the attainment of supreme enlightenment. In the case of a total and immediate transformation, the person becomes enlightened like Prince Siddhartha did to become Sakyamuni Buddha. In the case of a “spiritually foolish being” (bonbu) like myself, total positive transformation awaits at some future point. However, illuminated by Amida Buddha’s Light, there results a new awareness of oneself and the awareness of a Wisdom and Compassion which unconditionally embraces — the Buddha’s aspiration for the peace and happiness of all sentient beings.
On one hand, knowing that Amida Buddha’s Compassion reaches out to all nurtures within oneself the understanding that all life can be happy and at peace — thus, I can identify with those who are suffering/hurting as victims of ignorance facing inequality and discrimination. On the other hand, the Light of Wisdom allows me to relate even to those who are manifesting unwholesome actions by making me understand that if conditions were different, I might find myself in their shoes and unable to see life differently and how my actions were causing harm.
If we continue to see ourselves only in the polarity of exclusive opposites, we will remain divided and it will be difficult to come to resolution. There is a saying, that the wise seek neither victory nor defeat. This is an opportunity for both personal and societal transformation through critical self-reflection and compassionate action. Buddhist teachings have always addressed suffering and inequality, from the rejection of the caste system in India, to occupational discrimination in Japan, to support of LGBTQ rights in the United States, etc.
Today, we, the people, including the Buddhist Sangha in communities across our nation and the world, are particularly addressing the suffering of Black people. Black Lives Matter! As we bring about changes to the external conditions of our society with new laws, policies, procedures and reform, it is essential that we also address the deep causes of suffering which arise from ignorance and its manifestations, including arrogance, pride, self-centeredness and fear. Let me emphasize that it is the inner transformation of each of us that will result in true harmony and the lasting positive change that we seek. Each of us must change for a true transformation of our society, nation and world. We need a transformative revolution of our hearts and minds. This is how we will dismantle systemic racism and uplift those who have been left at the margins of our society for too long. As a Buddhist saying reminds us, “Human beings tend to move in the direction of their thoughts.”
However, it is indeed challenging to bring about the kind of awareness and change that we are speaking about on our own especially in this Last Dharma Age. Hence, the Pure Land Tradition speaks of Amida Buddha’s Light of Wisdom and Compassion which illuminates, nurtures and embraces. For a “spiritually foolish being” like myself, my ultimate transformation takes place at the end of my finite life with birth in the Pure Land of Enlightenment made possible by the Buddha’s Compassionate 18th Vow.
Guidance and insight can be derived, however, on how I should try to live each day even in my unenlightened state of being by the Pure Land of Amida Buddha. Let me state clearly the intent is not to create the Pure Land on Earth, but we can gain a vision of what we should aspire to now and forever. The 3rd Vow addresses our tendency to discriminate based on skin color — racism — thus vows that all in the Pure Land will be of the same precious golden color. The color gold is not to be taken literally and is not implying that other colors are of lesser importance. Instead, the significance of gold is that almost universally it is appreciated and valued throughout the world as being very precious. I fully realize that this “spiritually foolish being,” Eric, is unable to live perfectly, but the Vows provide me with guidance on how I should try to live, that is, without discriminating, and in ways that help secure respect and equality for all. The Buddha-Dharma provides guidance, insight and encouragement.
As Shinran Shonin said in one of his letters, “One must seek to cast off the evil of this world and to cease doing wretched deeds; this is what it means to reject the world and to live the nembutsu.” Let us deeply self-reflect and, while lamenting our imperfections and deeply appreciating Great Compassion which unconditionally embraces, gratefully respond by trying to live in a way that one and all — but especially the disadvantaged and those who have been denied fair access to happiness without fear, equal benefits and opportunities, and freedom — can live fulfilled lives.
In recognizing that “Black Lives Matter,” may we address the real enemies of anger, greed and ignorance (the root causes of suffering and inequality) and peacefully and thoughtfully transform the conditions which perpetuate suffering, inequality and the use of excessive force against the marginalized and minorities. Again, in grateful response to All-Inclusive Wisdom and All-Embracing Compassion, let us find ways we can contribute to be(com)ing a more peaceful, equitable, and harmonious world. Let us each ask ourselves “What can I do?”
As a closing reflection, please join me for “Our Pledge” by Gomonshu Kojun Ohtani.
Reaching out to others,
I will share a smile and gentle words.
Just like the Buddha, who always calls out with Aloha.
Breaking away from my greed, anger and ignorance,
I will try to live in peace and harmony.
Just like the Buddha, who shares tranquility and kindness with all.
Moving forward from self-centeredness,
I will share a life of joy and sorrow with others.
Just like the Buddha, whose caring heart always embraces us.
Realizing that I live because of others,
I will strive to live life to the fullest with an attitude of gratitude.
Just like the Buddha, who promises to embrace us all.
Namo Amida Butsu/Entrusting in All-Inclusive Wisdom and All-Embracing Compassion
Thank you. In gassho/anjali,
Rev. Eric Matsumoto, Bishop