Dharma message on Florida mass shooting by Rev. Toshiyuki Umitani

Moiliili Hongwanji Mission Sunday Dharma Message

March 4, 2018

Rev. Toshiyuki Umitani

Today, I would like to share my thoughts on the shooting rampage that happened at a high school in Florida about two weeks ago.  Needless to say, it was such a sad incident and we extend our thoughts and condolences to the victims, families, students and teachers of that high school, and many other people in the community.  Maybe you have discussed the incident with your family members and friends, and I think many feelings arose within you such as sadness, anger, alarm, disappointment, heartbreak, etc.  In this time of difficulties and uncertainties, let us turn ourselves to the teachings of the Buddha.  Let us listen to the voice of Amida Buddha, the Buddha of all-inclusive Wisdom and all-embracing Compassion. 

Rev. Umitani at Moiliili Hongwanji - video still with YouTube play button
Rev. Toshiyuki Umitani at Moiliili Hongwanji.
A video of Rev. Umitani’s talk is available on the Moiliili Hongwanji website.

As a Buddhist, one of the teachings that came to my mind after hearing about this incident was one conversation which was held in between Shinran Shonin and Yui-En (Shinran’s disciple). 

According to Yui-En, there were several individuals who misunderstood the teaching of Amida Buddha.  They said that because Amida Buddha saves all beings without exception, they were unafraid of committing evil acts.  But Yui-En said that this statement fails to understand the influence of good and evil as the product of past karma.  He said that good thoughts arise in our minds due to the effect of past good, and we are made to think and do evil because of the working of karmic evil.

Once, Shinran Shonin asked, “Yui-En. Would you agree to anything I say?”  Yui-En replied, “Of course, I will.”  “Are you sure that you won’t disobey me?”  Shinran Shonin repeated, and when Yui-En again agreed, he continued, “Go, then, and kill a thousand people and your birth in the Pure Land is settled.”  “Even though that is your order,” Yui-En protested, “and even with the capacity for evil within me, I cannot kill even a single person.”

“Then why did you just say that you would not disobey what I, Shinran, said?”  And then Shinran Shonin went on, “By this we know that if we could act according to our thoughts, we could kill a thousand people for the sake of birth in the Pure Land if so required.  We do not kill, not because our thoughts are good but because we do not have the karma to kill even a single person.  Yet, even though we do not want to injure anyone, we may be led to kill a hundred or a thousand people.” 

The point of this conversation is that Shinran Shonin taught us that “under the influence of our karmic condition, we human beings will do anything.” 

Buddhism teaches us that all things in this world are related by “cause,” “condition,” and “result.”  In simple language, it means that, “This exist because that exists, and that arises because this arises… This does not exist because that does not exist, and that is destroyed because this is destroyed.” 

So, of course I am sad about the fact that many precious lives were lost, but at the same time, I am sad about the causes and conditions that led this young boy to commit such a tragedy.  I do not know the details of his life, but the chains of negative causes and conditions, and probably the feelings of anger, hate, and mistrust, led him to this violence. 

Prince Shotoku was the Imperial Regent in Japan in the early 7th century.  He embraced Buddhism and tried to incorporate its teaching into politics.  He created a seventeen-article constitution which was based on Buddhist Philosophy and it was implemented as a political tool to unite the country.  He wrote, “… For all men have hearts, and each heart has its own leanings.  Their right is our wrong, and our right is their wrong.  We are not unquestionably sages, nor are they unquestionably fools.  Both of us are simply ordinary beings (Bonbu).  … For we are all, one with another, wise and foolish, like a ring which has no end.”

I think it is a stern admonishment.  I think we tend to disagree with this because we think that “I am a good person, so I will not do this and that. I am not like that guy.”  It is very easy to criticize others, but very difficult to see our true self.  But illuminated by the light of Amida Buddha, we began to see our true self.  Prince Shotoku said, “Bonbu.”  Bonbu means “ordinary beings” or “foolish beings.”  This “foolish” does not mean that you are not intelligent, but it means that you cannot be apart from your own calculation.  We all have our own measurement, and with our own measurement, we have a self-attachment, prejudice, self-righteousness, and even arrogance by saying, “I am a good person.”  And, yes, it is true, for now we may be socially a “good person” because we follow the rules, laws, and regulations etc. in the community and in the world.  But spiritually speaking, I am simply a “Bonbu.”  My true nature is not so kind and compassionate.  When the conditions change, we might be the ones who hurt others.  We all have that potential.  And this true nature of our existence can be revealed only when we place ourselves in front of the teaching of Amida Buddha that embraces all without exception. 

I would like to share a poem written by Mr. Mitsuo Aida entitled, “Setomono (pottery).”

“If two pieces of fragile pottery collide, they will break. If one is soft, neither will break.  Let us cultivate a gentle heart. Saying thus, though, I see that I am still just a fragile piece.”

I like the last phrase, “…I am still just a fragile piece.”  I think in a person who can say that “I am still just a fragile piece,” a gentle heart has already been cultivated. The awareness of true-self cultivates humbleness, gentleness and kindness.

So, what can we do in this time of difficulties and uncertainties?  What can we do to alleviate the suffering of the world? 

As we carefully observe our own lives, there are countless causes and conditions that enable us to live right here right now.  It could be our family, friends, country, food we partake, education, nature, health and so on.  We should be grateful for all the causes and conditions that have made it possible for us to live our own lives and to live in harmony with others. 

As we understand the interdependence and interconnectedness of all lives, not just intellectually, but through our life experiences, there is a profound sense of joy and appreciation.  When I think about the causes and conditions that have brought me where I am now, my head bows down naturally.  I wonder how much do I owe to the causes and conditions that I have received until today?  And how much do I owe to the causes and conditions that I am receiving here and now?

As a beneficiary of these wonderful causes and conditions, I think that I have a responsibility to, with a sense of gratitude and appreciation, repay for those conditions through my actions and behaviors.  Even if people say what you are doing is such a small step, I believe that at least I am moving forward for the sake of others. 

Namo Amida Butsu. 

Each person’s life is being sustained by all of existence itself.  We are made to realize the interdependence and interconnectedness with all beings.  If my life is precious, then your life is equally as precious.  Each moment of life is to be treasured, each relationship is to be cherished, each breath is the ultimate gift of life.  Let us truly live our life meaningfully and creatively in the here and now.