A Fine Flower Without Fragrance?

True patriotism means respecting and celebrating diversity in all forms. True patriotism is lived every day through our acts of kindness, compassion, and respect. True patriotism is speaking truth to power. Resistance is true patriotism.


There are many challenges facing our country and our world today and it often seems like we are pushing a boulder uphill or pouring water into a basket. However, I believe we can overcome these challenges by remembering our most cherished values as a society, as a country, and as people of faith. On July 4th I reflected on the meaning of patriotism and whether all the pomp and circumstance surrounding this celebration is a true reflection of our shared values and our communal life together as a nation. I believe that true patriotism is not wrapped in a flag used as a prop, or a vain show of military might to aggrandize any one individual or group. Nationalism is not patriotism. True patriotism is understanding that WE the people means ALL the people. True patriotism means that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is for ALL and not the few. True patriotism means that caring for those in need is a reflection of our real American values. True patriotism is recognizing that when our light of freedom is shared with another, our light does not diminish but rather the whole world is brightened. True patriotism is realizing that we do not live in isolation but in fellowship and community. True patriotism means respecting and celebrating diversity in all forms. True patriotism is lived every day through our acts of kindness, compassion, and respect. True patriotism is speaking truth to power. Resistance is true patriotism.


The founders of our nation valued freedom from oppression in all forms and believed in the worth and dignity of each individual as part of a community. However, as I reflect on the state of our nation today, we seem to have forgotten the “We” in all of this and have defaulted to seeing only the “I” and acting for our own benefit. This is why as I reflected on the meaning of Independence Day, I wondered whether our American values are truly reflected in our actions or are we simply putting on a good show?


I am reminded of a teaching from the Dhammapada in which Shakyamuni Buddha says, “To utter pleasant words without practicing them is like being a fine flower without fragrance.” In the book Learning the Wisdom of Enlightenment published by Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai (BDK), this passage is explained in the following way, “Those who can but do not practice what they preach are like beautiful roadside flowers without any scent. Even if you are attracted to them at first, you will feel disenchanted upon approaching them…People who do not act in accordance with what they have said will lose the trust of others.” So how does this teaching apply to our lives? I believe it asks us to be mindful of whether our actions match our words or appearance. Are we truly living our values on a daily basis? It is often asked whether going to church or temple makes one a good person. What do you think? Taking time to hear the Dharma in the temple is an important part of our spiritual practice, but what good is it if we do not live the Dharma both inside and outside the walls of the temple for the sake of others?


During the past several years we have seen a significant rise of hatred in our country. From hate groups, to hate speech, to violence, and the implementation of public policy aimed at hurting individuals or groups not considered worthy or acceptable. It raises the question of how do we perceive the “other” based on gender, race, ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation or expression, or national origin? We often default to thinking that we have nothing in common with another person or group of people. It is this sense of separation which causes so much suffering in our world. However, the Buddha taught that we should see ourselves as connected to all things in the universe. That we do not live alone, separate, or isolated but rather as a part of a greater whole. When we see ourselves in this way, how can we hate? Each of us is part of Amida’s Golden Chain of Love and how do we keep our link bright and strong?


We recently saw an example of how this “othering” leads to suffering. I’m sure many of us saw the heartbreaking photo of a young migrant father and daughter from El Salvador who died in their attempt to seek asylum. 25-year-old Oscar Martinez and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande River from Mexico to the United States. They did this because the normal rules for seeking asylum have been discarded and we no longer treat those seeking refuge with dignity, decency, and common humanity. Out of desperation, Oscar tucked little Valeria into his shirt and they attempted to cross the river but were swept away by the current. They died holding each other because of our fear, hatred, and ignorance.


We are also learning more about how migrant children are being taken from their parents and are being imprisoned without adequate food, bedding, or even toothpaste or toothbrushes. It was recently reported that the government plans to incarcerate 1,400 migrant children at Ft. Sill in Oklahoma which once served as a prison camp for around 700 Japanese Americans during WWII. Several elderly survivors of the Japanese American Internment have staged protests about this unjust policy because we are repeating a dark chapter from our history. These survivors and others have declared that “Never Forget Is Now” and are working to change hearts and minds about the detention of migrants by asking us to remember who we truly are as a nation. They remember a time when being Buddhist and Japanese was once considered un-American and a threat to national security. We are also reliving an American story of courage, perseverance, and standing against injustice. I believe many of you have your own family stories and memories of that time that we should never forget.


In our tradition, we go to the Dharma for guidance. May we always remember how truly connected we really are and live with aloha and compassion for ourselves and all who we perceive to be different from us. Namo Amida Butsu.

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