Both Shakyamuni Buddha and Shinran Shonin challenged the rigid social and religious systems of their times.
Recently, it seems as if everyone is talking about whistleblowers. We hear it in reference to corruption at the highest levels of our government. A whistleblower is defined as someone who informs on another or makes public disclosure of corruption or wrongdoing. While whistleblowers are protected by our laws, they often face persecution for their courage.
As I reflect on our current state of affairs, I am reminded that within Buddhism, we have a proud history of whistleblowers. Can you guess who are our Buddhist whistleblowers? Well, our very first whistleblower was Shakyamuni Buddha who revealed that liberation from suffering was available to everyone. During the time of the Buddha, society was divided into a rigid caste system that determined one’s potential for spiritual liberation. The caste in which you were born into determined everything about your present life and subsequent lives in the wheel of rebirth. The impossibility of change within this system kept people oppressed socially, economically, politically, and spiritually.
However, what the Buddha realized was that despite differences in class or status, everyone equally suffered from old age, sickness, and death and he aspired to liberate all people. What he discovered was that each person has the capacity for liberation because we all have the ability to self-reflect and to observe one’s own mind. Even though he was born into the noble-warrior caste, Shakyamuni Buddha firmly believed that nobility was not a matter of one’s birth but rather is determined by one’s actions in life. Before the Buddha, these truths of life were secrets to be kept hidden. This is why I am grateful for Shakyamuni Buddha as a whistleblower.
Another Buddhist whistleblower was Shinran Shonin, the founder of Shin Buddhism, who realized that awakening was possible for the ordinary person through the working of Amida Buddha’s compassion. During Shinran’s time, Buddhist liberation was only for the wealthy and the educated. Despite being born into privilege and receiving the best learning, Shinran was no closer to awakening than when he first started his spiritual journey. He was exactly like those in lower classes who had no opportunity to learn the Dharma. He felt like a complete failure and referred to himself as “Gutoku Shinran” or “Foolish Stubble-Haired Shinran.” It was because of this profound self-realization that Shinran turned to the Pure Land Path and devoted his life to sharing his joy in the Nembutsu.
Shinran revealed the secret of how Amida Buddha’s compassionate Vow was made for all beings equally without exception. That it is because of our foolishness that we are embraced by Amida’s light of wisdom and compassion. Shinran opened up the path of liberation from suffering for all people regardless of class or ability. This is why I am grateful for Gutoku Shinran as a whistleblower.
Both Shakyamuni Buddha and Shinran Shonin challenged the rigid social and religious systems of their times. They realized and revealed the truth of how spiritual liberation is possible for all people regardless of status and how the Dharma is equally accessible to all of us. This is why I am grateful for our Buddhist whistleblowers who had the courage to do what was right for the welfare of others. It is because of their efforts we can encounter the Dharma today and into the future. Namo Amida Butsu.