As concerns continue to grow about the worldwide social, health, economic and racial issues, I keep asking myself, what can I do? With the meaningless fatal shooting of a black man by a white police officer in Atlanta, global coronavirus cases topping eight million, and the Covid-19 death rates in the United States nearing 120,000, it seems to be all happening at once, causing great suffering and confusion. I feel helpless, and I ask, is there anything I can do?
From a Buddhist perspective, I am reminded of the Buddhas teaching about what to do if a viper lives in your room. Shakyamuni taught in his last words, if a viper lives in your room and you wish to have a peaceful sleep, you must first chase it out.
In my view, the viper manifests the results of The Three Poisons that cause suffering, the vices of greed, anger, and ignorance. By getting rid of the poisonous viper, we awaken our minds to practice the virtues of their opposites, selflessness, compassion, and wisdom. If I allowed the viper to stay in my room, I would be in constant fear and the suffering would never cease, but I have a choice. For me, I would chase the viper out. What would you do?
At this time of necessary change, deep listening (monpo) and contemplative learning should guide our thoughts, words, and actions. We need to further educate ourselves about the causes and conditions of these serious issues. We need to find ways to bring us together, and not apart. I cant talk about things unless I have some information to help me understand what Im talking about. Concerned, yes, because I care.
When I was growing up in Hawaii, the best time of the day was lunch. Kaukau time, mealtime, was, and still is, my favorite time of the day. I brought lunch to school and my classmates from various ethnicities brought their lunches too. Often their dishes looked tastier and more interesting than mine. Hey, you like try? I would ask in pidgin English, our common language, and soon we would be sharing our lunches. We all took pride in what our moms had made for us, and as they sampled the Japanese food that I had brought, I was enjoying new culinary delights, and learning about new cultures. Along with the delicious food, we also had enriching conversations. We became fast friends, poking fun at our differences and each other, bonding, and saying, eh, us go today, mo betta den going by youself.
Lately, I have noticed that alongside bad news, we also have good news. New cases of the virus have declined in New York, and scientists and researchers around the world are working hard to produce a successful vaccine. Thank goodness for the efficiency of modern medicine! The amazing representation of the tremendous diversity of America is shown by the thousands of people from all 50 states, including my home state of Hawaii (and even my hometown of Hilo) who are protesting. As a result, wide-ranging police reforms are being proposed throughout the country. Many of the demonstrators were protesting police violence against transgender people of color, and in a landmark decision, the Supreme Court has ruled that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act includes equality for the LGBTQ community, protecting gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination.
At this past Sunday service I congratulated New Yorkers for following the guidelines that helped slow down the spread of the virus here. Clearly were not out of the woods yet, and the economy will take a while to recover, but Im very proud of all the people who took their personal responsibilities to heart. We have become good examples.
In these uncertain times, when were wondering what we can do, lets remember that in his last teaching the Buddha instructed Make of yourself a light. The truth of that light is always deep within us, trying to awaken us to the essence of the Dharma which connects us to the realm of the Buddhas and to all sentient beings. We are all embraced unconditionally. So let us also ask ourselves, am I becoming a good example for others?
Namo Amida Butsu