January 8, 2018 at 8:23 am #2574
Acharya Sujatin (temple host)Moderator
My wife and I don’t live in the Hawaii of postcards and movies. Our Hawaii is often overlooked and un-photographed. It is the Hawaii where 1 in 6 residents live in poverty and close to 70% of our school age children qualify for the free or reduced lunch program.
The majority of homes in our district don’t have county water. Housing, electricity, and gas are some of the most expensive in the nation. There is limited access to basic health care. Cellular and internet service, if you can afford them, are often unreliable or unavailable.
Which is not to say that Hawaii is special in these respects. There are impoverished communities across the United States, often hidden in the shadows of wealth and luxury. There are oppressed people in every state. Racism and classism are pervasive. Ironically, in “the land of plenty,” many barely have enough to get by.
In this part of Hawaii, if you are willing to look, the reality and pervasiveness of poverty is not hard to see. It is a community that is ripe for compassionate action.
It is in this place that I have found myself working in a non-profit that helps families. As a Buddhist, who feels strongly that the heart of Buddhism is compassionate action, the work is natural.
Unfortunately, much of Buddhism in the West is focused on individual salvation, self improvement, meditation, and spiritual experiences. It is a Buddhism of privilege, focused on the sufferings of wealth as opposed to the sufferings of poverty.
Buddhism, however, offers hope to all, not just the well-off and comfortable. The historical Buddha lived in the world. He walked the countryside, visiting villages and towns. He taught the mighty as well as the lowly. The Buddha was often the last hope of the oppressed: slaves, untouchables, criminals, and women. In the Buddha, these individuals found a refuge from the oppressive social structures of the day.
Like the historical Buddha, we need to live the Dharma in the world. We need individuals — Bodhisattvas — willing to get off the meditation cushion and leave the dojo to do the hard, slow work of peacemaking and social justice. We need Bodhisattvas protecting the biosphere through fierce compassion and non-violence. We need Bodhisattvas organizing people and preaching against violence, while living lives of love and compassion. We need Bodhisattvas working alongside the homeless and the poor to challenge the social structures that perpetuate poverty. We need Bodhisattvas who offer refuge to the oppressed and vulnerable. In short, we need Bodhisattvas to continue Shakyamuni’s work of building an awakened and compassionate community. A community that can work together to build a Pureland in our midst. A compassionate community that can move the world away from war, poverty, and discrimination.
It is the work of many hands over many lifetimes. Each of us is capable of vowing to save (help) the people and beings around us who are suffering unnecessarily. Charity is good, but it is not enough. Poverty, violence, and racism are not individual sins, but social diseases. They are the fruit of pervasive social brokenness. They reflect our collective disordered heart that prioritizes material gain and power over love and compassion.
Thus our vow to help all is a vow of love. It is the vow is to heal our wounded and diseased society. It is a vow that extends unconditionally to all: family, friends, strangers, and enemies. Because the mostbroken-hearted members of society often cause the most harm and need the most love and compassion to heal. It is an almost impossible vow. It is the vow of Great Bodhisattvas. It is also an eternal vow. When we take this vow, we do not stand alone. We stand alongside the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas throughout time. This is why the simple vow of unconditional love and compassion towards all is known as the original vow of all Buddhas.
Namo Amida Bu!
Peace, Paul (Ananda)
January 9, 2018 at 8:05 pm #2583
Thank you Ananda
Buzzing with agreement/affinity with your statement! Feeling a connection/felt sense with Amida, love, compassion, wisdom is excellent – but it needs to be expressed/shared with others in our being-in-the-world. Small steps individually can make a difference…who knows what positive difference might develop? Are you involved in the Buddhist Peace Fellowship in the US?
Namo Amida Bu
Peace, Love and Light
January 10, 2018 at 7:38 am #2584
The BPF is not very active here. Over the years I have tried to connect with them without much luck.
Yes, how we are in the world is very important. It is often little and unexpected kindnesses that have big impacts on those around us. However, it is also necessary to be audacious. Dharmakara’s vow is audacious. And we are practicing in the tradition that claims Dhamakara fulfilled his/her vow and is now known as Amida.
We know in hearts what needs to be done to continue Shakyamuni’s work or transforming the world. We need to commit ourselves to addressing the big problems in our community and in the world. We may fail or fall short — at least in this lifetime — but we must try.
Namo Amida Bu!
January 11, 2018 at 10:43 am #2594
Andrew Cheffings (temple host)Participant
Very powerful and moving message, thank you, Ananda.
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