A New Hope

The Taste of the Nembutsu cover image

A message from Rev. Bruce Nakamura which appears in the book, “The Taste of the Nembutsu,” published in 2016 by the HHMH State Ministers’ Association. The book is a collection of dharma messages by each of the active ministers.

To extend the reach of the dharma within these messages, we will publish one per week on our website.


A New Hope

Rev. Bruce Nakamura

The following reading is written by Mathew J.T. Stepanek, best known as “Mattie”. Mattie has been writing award-winning poetry and short stories since the age of three. While his young life ended a struggle with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, Mattie’s path offers us rare wisdom and insight, touching thousands upon thousands of people, even today. Home schooled, Mattie moved readers through his journey of courage with poems and short stories about living and dying, love and loss, faith and hope, innocence and joy. This rare and beautiful innocence, of a child’s heart and spirit, still shines through in Mattie’s legacy of peace. His appearances on Oprah, The Today Show, Good Morning America, along with his pieces in major readerships won him the Melinda Lawrence International Book Award for inspirational written works by Children’s Hospice International in 1999 and a variety of ambassador-ships for Muscular Dystrophy. The poem, “A New Hope” from his book, Journey through Heartsongs, c.2001, was written in May of 1999:

I need a hope… a new hope.
A hope that reaches for the stars and
That does not end in violence or war.
A hope that makes peace on our earth, and
That does not create evil in the world.
A hope that finds cures for all diseases,
And that does not make people hurt,
In their bodies, in their hearts,
Or most of all, in their spirits.
I need a hope… a new hope,
A hope that inspires me to live, and
To make these things happen,
So that the whole world can have
A new hope, too.

Good morning Dharma brothers and sisters. I hope this special poem, “A New Hope,” written by Mattie, inspires you as it does me. In this seemingly, innocent and naïve, yet profoundly pure insight into a child’s prayer of hope for himself and for the world, we shall explore an important concern brought to our Hongwanji’s Teaching of Jodo Shin—the True Pure Land Path.

At the 2010 Annual Honpa Hongwanji Legislative Assembly, a resolution authored by the Honpa Hongwanji Committee on Social Concerns will speak to the need for Shin Buddhists—you and me—to seriously reconsider the basic human privileges, rights and responsibilities for everyone, regardless of race, creed, gender or sexual orientation under the laws of the land.

The resolution title reads, “Establishing the Rights of Same-Gender Couples”. While I found the content hard pressed to meet the specific intent of its title, the State Social Concerns Committee is to be lauded for their courage in “outing” both ministers and lay.

I am using the term, “outing” because for many years, the Hongwanji in Hawaii has been skirting socially engaged issues such as abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, same-gender unions (marriage), etc. While there were those who argued that the State organization could not speak for the individual, we should note that the Buddhist Churches of America have taken a variety of united positions through verbal and written educational materials. Why have they done so, while we in Hawaii remain passive and unwilling to do the same?

One major reason is, unlike us in Hawaii, the mainland Jodo Shin (Shin) Buddhists are a true minority who early on had to assert their rights. While particular leaderships in Hawaii were singled out for the internment camps on the mainland interior, literally all Japanese Americans living and born during WWII on the mainland were forcefully relocated. This internment reflected a very dark time in our social and constitutional history.

Out of that period of racial, social, and political injustice, the integrity of the American judicial system was brought to bear as Japanese Americans demand a symbolic gesture of remuneration and an official apology by our government be made for this grave betrayal committed against its own citizenry. The shared experiences of Japanese Americans during and after the war, not only required a retelling of American history, also but a reclaiming of social justice and the safeguarding of equal protection under our Constitution, not just for most Americans but for all Americans.

No person or group should limit, deny or circumvent the broader rights, privileges and responsibility for equal protection under the law for any person or group, based upon race, creed, religion or gender. The law of this land is compelled to protect the choice for any person or group who make fools of themselves in the public square, so long as it does not violate this same equal protection for all its citizens. You see, you and I are now required to participate in a public forum; we will need to stand up and be counted by how we apply our religious doctrines to the real world of pain, brokenness and disparity in a larger and necessary conversation that cannot be muted or one-sided.

Not only as Shin Buddhists, more clearly as members of a world community, are we called to responsibility to speak for those who cannot necessarily speak for themselves—those whose bodies, minds and hearts, and even spirits, whose psychic pains are exiled to the wilderness of the lost and abandoned. Was this not after all, the essential point of Amida Buddha’s Vow of True-Entrusting directed to us and reminded to us by our brother Shinran Shonin?

For all people—men and women, of high station and low—
Saying the Name of Amida is such
That whether one is walking, standing, sitting or reclining
Is of no concern; and time, place
And condition are not restricted. (Hymns on the Spiritual Masters)
My eyes being hindered by blind passions,
I cannot perceive the light that grasps me;
Yet the great compassion, without tiring,
Illumines me always.

For sentient beings of extreme evil,
Profound and immense,
There is no other way:
Wholeheartedly saying the Name of Amida,
We will be born into the Pure Land.

No matter the valuation we make based upon our own moral compass, to debase and devalue other human beings through any form of discrimination exposes our worst impulses as human beings. While there are those, even Buddhists, who find it difficult to fathom same-gender union-marriage, we as a society cannot deprive our fellow human beings the basic dignity of love, shared commitments and civil/legal responsibilities. As long as there is greed, anger, and deceitful arrogance in this world, we are recipients of Mattie’s enduring legacy for hope, not for some or many, but for all, just as we are recipients of the universal working of Amida’s Buddha’s Great Compassion.

Namo Amida Butsu.