Memorial Day is About Reconciliation

2016 Hawaii Buddhist Council Memorial Day Message by Bishop Eric Matsumoto of Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii


Today, as we gather for our Hawaii Buddhist Council Memorial Day Service, let us revisit the significance and purpose of Memorial Day. Memorial Day is a time when we remember and honor those who died in our Nation’s service. For me, as an American Buddhist clergy, observances like Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, and Armed Forces Day, is a time to remember, honor and express gratitude to those who dedicated their life and especially gave their life so I can enjoy the benefits of democracy including freedom especially religious freedom and freedom of speech which our country protects. However, it is also a reminder that we live in a troubled world. A world that, in too many places and times, is still divided and at odds with one another. This is the reality of our samsaric world in which we still heavily depend on wars and weapons to bring about peace. Is it not ironic that we resort to killing and violence to ensure peace?

Pieper Toyama and Bishop Matsumoto hold a wreath to be presented on behalf of the Missiona at Punchbowl
Mission President Pieper Toyama and Bishop Eric Matsumoto at the 67th Mayor of the City and County of Honolulu Memorial Day Ceremony at Punchbowl, holding a wreath presented on behalf of the Mission. (The Mayor’s event was May 30, one week following the Hawaii Buddhist Council event at Punchbowl where the Bishop delivered the accompanying message.)
A true religion tries to make us go beyond our own individual self, race, culture, country and even religion. But many times, this point is missed or in the popular mind, this is not how religion is understood. In many cases, we find that our love and compassion is limited in that it includes those we like or are similar to ourselves and does not extend to encompass those who are different or who are opposed to us.

Returning to Memorial Day, the first Memorial Day was observed on May 30, 1868 and according to an article I read it said, “Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.” Memorial Day began as a day to honor and pay tribute to those who died fighting in the (American) Civil War and on that first Memorial Day in 1868, “flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.” As I say this I remembering Arlington Cemetery which I just visited in April with the Hongwanji Mission School 5th Graders on their East Coast Study Tour.

But getting back to Memorial Day, on that first Memorial Day, the emphasis is that flowers were placed on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers. To be sure, Memorial Day is a day that we honor all those who have fallen in service of our country. However, if we understand the true intent of the first Memorial Day tribute, it should also be a world-wide observance in all nations throughout the world in which all countries or people throughout the world honor and remember all those who sacrificed so much for the sake peace and happiness with a remembrance. It should not be limited to only those of one’s own nation or country and should include all people of the world. The intent of Memorial Day is not to glorify war, but pay our respects to those who died and (to me) also embraces the aspiration of a world, free of war.

I would like to continue by sharing that I personally feel that it is not enough to remember and honor those individuals and their families who sacrificed so much with only a moment of silence. Our true goal should be peace for all people of the world. We should strive for a truly peaceful world, one in which we mutually respect each other and no one has to go to war, most of all in the name of peace. This to me, would be the true way in which we honor those who have given their lives in the armed services. If we can move even one step closer to a world free of violence and fear, one in which no one has to go to war, then we are truly honoring those who gave their life in the name of freedom and peace.

Rev. John Heidel in the November 20, 2004 Issue of Honolulu Advertiser said in an article entitled “Diversity need not be divisive” that “It’s time for people of all spiritual traditions to seek reconciliation and harmony. …if we would seek areas of commonality, incredible opportunities would become available for national healing, politically and spiritually; for solving problems of social justice and human need; and for becoming an international model as a peaceful and compassionate nation.” “If people of different faiths can worship and work together, perhaps nations can find a way to live together in peace.” “It’s time to put aside our religious differences and explore a nonviolent path toward the challenges before us.”

Dr. Rev. Alfred Bloom, says “We need a different perspective, something out of the box that goes beyond simple differences of belief, ritual or organization. We must find the true essence of religion in principles that enhance and fulfill the life of all people without discrimination, not only followers of a particular religion.” “In Buddhism, a person on the path to enlightenment does not harm “living beings; through his harmlessness towards all living beings is he called an Ariya (Noble). Vocabularies may differ with history and culture, but true religion brings out the deepest awareness of interdependence and the oneness of humanity within the world of nature. These are not simply unreachable ideals but necessities in our modern world.” “Any religion that promotes these principles and works to bring people together in exalting life is a true religion.”

Today, I remember the words of Prince Shotoku, when he said,

Let us cease from wrath and refrain from angry looks. Nor let us be resentful simple because others oppose us. Every person has a mind of his own; each heart has its own leanings. We may regard as wrong what others hold as right; others may regard as wrong what we hold as right. We are not unquestionably sages, nor are they assuredly fools. Both are simple ordinary men. Who is wise enough to judge which of us is good or bad? For we are all wise and foolish by turns, like a road that has no end. Therefore, though others may give way to anger, let us on the contrary dread our own faults, and though we may be sure that we are right, let us act in harmony with others. (Article 10).

According to Nakamura, Hajime “Prince Shotoku saw that his people needed a religion to govern their actions and inspire their leaders to humbly self-reflect.”

In Christianity, there is the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

From other Asian Traditions like Hinduism and Jainism, we can find inspiration in the words of people like Mahatma Gandhi. He said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” This is such a powerful statement in which two words “gentle” and “shake” that conjure two different images in the mind are used together to share with us how significant change can come about through peaceful and non-violent ways. He also shares with us goals and ideals, but is also very practical and realistic. For example, he says “We may never be strong enough to be entirely non-violent in thought, word and deed. But we must keep non-violence as our goal and make strong progress towards it.” Further, “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”

Returning to Buddhism, Buddhism always emphasizes “Hatred is not overcome by hatred. Hatred is overcome by love. This is an ancient rule.” Amongst the world religions, Buddhism is probably the religion that speaks the most about peace and thus is closely associated with peace in many people’s minds. The Buddha was quite clear in his renunciation of violence: “Victory creates hatred. Defeat creates suffering. The wise ones desire neither victory nor defeat…Anger creates anger…Revenge can only be overcome by abandoning revenge. The wise seek neither victory nor defeat.” “There is no greater happiness than peace.” The ultimate goal for a Buddhist is to reach the peaceful state of nirvana and the means to reach this goal must be peaceful.” “In conflict situations (too), nonviolence is the desired end as well as the means to achieve it.” “Conflict resolution depends on awareness. Buddha said “There is no one in the world who is completely blameless.” “In conflict situations, nonviolence is the desired end as well as the means to achieve it.” “When we make nonviolence a part of our daily lives, we water the seeds of a nonviolent society.” (From “Seeds of Peace” by Sulak Sivaraksa).

Today, as we observe Memorial Day, let us all continue to endeavor towards world peace for all people of all lands. As a concluding Reflection, I would like to recite part of The Golden Chain of Love.

I will try to think pure and beautiful thoughts, to say pure and beautiful words and to do pure and beautiful deeds knowing that on what I do now depend not only my happiness or unhappiness, but also that of others.

I go to the Buddha for guidance,
I go to the Dharma for guidance,
I go to the Sangha for guidance.