The New York Buddhist Church

July 7, 2020

This year the Fourth of July just felt different.  I spent the whole day indoors, thinking about the impact and uncertainties of Covid-19, and reflecting on the effects the recent widespread social and civic demonstrations and protests will have on our countrys future.   These past four months have tested our resilience.  Although I truly believe we have come far in combatting Covid-19 and recognizing the injustices borne by so many in this country, I ask myself,  where are we going, and how can we create a better tomorrow?

 My personal hope for America is that there is greater understanding and unity amongst its many diverse peoples, that we are able to put all the health, social, economic, and political issues in perspective and work together toward resolving problems and fulfilling common goals.  It seems to me that how we perceive everything, and each other, is critical for a successful future.

We can all benefit by reevaluating our perceptions.  Why are some people taking the pandemic seriously, and some are not?  Why are some people satisfied with the directions the country is taking, and others are not?  Do I truly understand each persons view?  Or am I just looking narrowly from my own point of view?  Am I looking at a big picture, or am I just looking at an ego-centric picture?  Im easily confused.

A popular Buddhist story provides some insights about perceptions.  It is the story of the blind men and the elephant, and this version comes from "The Teaching of Buddha" published by Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai (Society for the Promotion of Buddhism), Tokyo:

Once upon a time a king gathered some blind men about an elephant and asked them to tell him what an elephant was like.  The first man felt a tusk and said an elephant was like a giant carrot; another happened to touch an ear and said it was like a big fan; another touched its trunk and said it was like a pestle; still another, who happened to feel its leg, said it was like a mortar; and another, who grasped its tail said it was like a rope.  Not one of them was able to tell the king the elephants real form.

For me, the story teaches us the importance of considering all sides, all points of view, in order to understand the true reality of a thing or situation, the wholeness.  The story doesnt say, but what if the blind men had been allowed to touch more than one part of the elephant? What if they had shared their experience and perception?  By discussion and listening to each other, would they collectively have come to a different conclusion?  Together, would they have been able to reach an agreement on what the elephant was really like?  We need to take down the walls we build by our misguided perceptions.   If out of respect, I can take down my walls in order for you to come into my space, and to make it easier for me to come into your space, then transformative change for each of us has a greater chance of occurring.  Think of the possibilities that transformative change has for each of us and for the world as a whole!

I'll be the first to admit that I'm guilty of not seeing things as clearly as I should.  My ego gets in the way, and my perceptions can get cloudy.  Is one person's perception more accurate and better than another's?  Actually, we can suffer from other people's perceptions as well as from our own.  How grateful I am for the four Noble Truths that enable us to see reality as it is, and for the Noble Eightfold Path among which "Right View" is especially important for making appropriate decisions.   There is nothing more difficult than to entrust in the Buddhas vow, but it is the means by which we can evolve our whole being, even our perspectives.  It can transform our actions, our speech, and our thoughts.  By taking refuge we enter the path toward a personal awakening that takes us out of the darkness and into the light so that we can better understand everything, and each other, more clearly.

  Namo Amida Butsu.