The New York Buddhist Church

June 3, 2020
In re-opening businesses, churches and temples, and other places where we can gather to worship, play, be entertained and engage in commercial activities throughout New York City, State and other parts of the nation, I believe that it is absolutely critical that we also open up and communicate honestly with each other right now. Our future and the future of America depends on our ability to communicate and listen to each other with sincerity and honesty.  

With the tragic and merciless death of George Floyd, who died handcuffed and pinned down under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis as Floyd cried out I cant breathe, protests and demonstrations have convulsed the country against the backdrop of the dangerous and deadly Covid-19 pandemic. America is suffering another deep shock to its psyche, one that is, unfortunately recurring.  

How does Buddhism view the waves of chaos and confusion we are seemingly confronting today? The teachings of the Buddha are meant to alleviate suffering. Suffering is caused by the Three Poisons, greed (want, selfish desire), anger (hatred), and ignorance (lack of knowledge or understanding), expressed by speech, thought and action. The remedy is wisdom, a deep understanding of the nature of human existence. Wisdom requires effective communication, one that emphasizes deep listening, or monpo in Japanese. Monpo allows us to awaken to the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path and to gain wisdom and compassion.   Monpo is a basic practice in Buddhism and it propels us earnestly to open our hearts and minds and really become engaged in our own way toward achieving peaceful coexistence, justice and equality for all, despite our differences.

Each one of us and each of our voices is important and deserves to be heard through deep listening by others. Equally, we are each responsible for deeply listening to the thoughts and views of others.   Buddhism is a very personal religion, and it is not an easy path to follow because we are asked to look deep within ourselves for truth and to understand our own individual responsibilities.

In following his path, Shakyamuni, who himself might be considered an activist, renounced the caste system in very peaceful ways. He followed his own practice of nonviolence through the Eightfold Path. Although recognizing there will always be suffering, in his last teaching, he reminded us that you should respect each other, follow my teachings, and refrain from disputes. He also urged us to control your own mind. Keep your mind free from greed, and you will keep your behavior right (just), your mind pure (free), and your words faithful (truthful).   Be mindful, he is saying, as we awaken to our thoughts, words, and actions. It is my belief that we can try to do that through deep listening, and by recognizing that for every action there will be a reaction.

Ask yourself honestly, is there any unit of two or more people that does not have disagreements? Only through open dialogue and engagement can the hope of positive change exist. There is no question that America is feeling great pain right now, both pain from a new viral contagion and one rooted in a history that has elements of racism and inequality. There is still much anger, frustration, and fear arising from this history. It is imperative that we take the time to listen, within ourselves, within our homes, within our communities, and within our country and our world. It is only when we begin to really hear with our entire mind and body that we can have a true understanding and empathy for another person. This is the result of the great practice of monpo which becomes true and real to us through the vows of the Buddha. This is wisdom and compassion.    

I truly believe in America and in what our country symbolizes and stands for. I also believe in our ability to communicate and to come together collectively to confront the many challenges brought about by the stark realities of the pandemic and the causes of the tidal waves of protests and demonstrations taking place. We must speak to each other, listen to each other, honor and respect each other, and work together towards healing our nation and building a better tomorrow for future generations. In Buddhism, the teachings and practice are the tools. Are you listening deeply?  

Namo Amida Butsu.