Is there anybody who can honestly say he/or she has no faults? I know that one of mine is VANITY, I want others to think I look good. Last week I wrote about how I was finally able to get a haircut when Phase 2 started in NYC, but because I had to go to a different barber from my former one, the haircut was not what I was expecting. I had been eagerly looking forward to it because my hair had grown long enough to make a small ponytail, but my first reaction was to monku (complain). I ended up laughing at my foolishness after earnestly asking myself what did I really want? Instead of being happy, I was grumbling, because I didnt think it made me look good enough!
In Buddhist tradition, hair is a symbol of vanity. Being so anxious for a haircut brought back memories of receiving Tokudo ordination in 1973 to become a minister. Part of the ceremony was to shave my head, which I did. Different schools of Buddhism all observe the same ritual but in Jodo Shinshu, its an option after ordination. The belief and symbolism is that by shaving your head, you become detached from the mundane world and enter into the realm of the Buddhas where there is no vanity. I was living and studying at the Kaikyoshi Kenshu-sho Study Center for Overseas Ministry in Kyoto and soon after the ceremony was over the dorm master suggested that I get a cap for my newly-shaven head. Being young and foolish, I didnt think it was necessary in the summer. I proudly went about doing my tasks in the community with a shaven head so that everyone would know I was a minister. One day my head was very, very hot and when I looked in the mirror, I realized it was sunburned. So I bought a cap! Foolishly, even with a shaved head, I had let my vanity, my ego, get the best of me.
Our faults arise from our ego, our human desire for more and more, often obstructing us from practicing the Noble Eightfold Path. However, by more closely following the Path, our desires and our sufferings can be better recognized and understood, and can lead us to the realization that how we project our inner selves to others is far more important than our outward appearance. Moreover, Buddhism helps us to find a balance. In Buddhism, appearances and accomplishments are pointless if we dont also seek to awaken to the Buddha-nature that is inside each and every one of us. I ask myself these days, if I have to wear my robes to remind people that I am a minister do I really deserve the privilege to be one?
As we look at whats happening in the world today, the pandemic, collapse of the global economy, the rise of a broader recognition of systemic and structural racism and social injustice, we ask why is it that discrimination happens? Why is it that people cause pain and suffering to others? To me, it is because we are not enlightened. Our egotism and self-centeredness, our vanity, keep us from perceiving what is true and real. They also keep us from seeing others in their true light, their Buddha-nature. In the eyes of the Buddha, everyone is equal.
The Buddha does not discriminate. In Buddhism, we believe that everyone is valued, and should be treated equally. In our New York Buddhist Church Vision Statement we seek to be an accepting and compassionate community and in our Values Statement we listen, speak and act with compassion, respect and gratitude because we believe everyone can be enlightened. Recently, NYBC took a stand with Black Lives Matter and at this past Sunday service, we also celebrated the LGBTQ community, noting that June is Pride Month and had the annual NYC Pride March not been cancelled, we would have participated in it, which we have done since 2015.
No one is without faults, especially me, but the essence of the Buddha Dharma is that it helps us to wake up to our egotistical and foolish nature. Fortunately, the teachings also help us recognize and develop our strengths, to truly understand who and what we are, so that we can focus on becoming more enllightened and awakened to our Buddha nature for the benefit of all. The Primal Vow of Amida, the vow to never forsake and to embrace all beings unconditionally makes no distinctions. We are reminded of this Vow by just saying the name. Just say the name.
Namo Amida Butsu.