Watching in sadness and horror the unfolding war in Ukraine, our thoughts have turned to the causes of war and the conditions for peace. The Buddha taught that the Three Poisons of greed, hatred, and ignorance when left unchecked and unreflected on are the cause of immense human suffering. Only by training our hearts and minds through the practice of the Dharma can we transmute these poisons into their opposite: generosity, love, and wisdom.
The Buddha taught that the way of peace is not passive but rather is dynamic activity in our world. Each of us is responsible for creating the conditions for both personal and collective peace through our living the good teachings of our spiritual traditions.
Shakyamuni Buddha lived an extraordinary yet mortal life and is said to have entered peacefully into perfect tranquility at the age of eighty. Teaching until his last moment, his living and his dying were lessons illuminating the eternal truths found in the Dharma. He encouraged his disciples to, “Make of yourself a light. Rely upon yourself, do not depend upon anyone else. Make my teachings your light. Rely upon them, do not depend upon any other teaching…My disciples, the teachings that I have given you are never to be forgotten or abandoned. They are always to be treasured, they are to be thought about, they are to be practiced. If you follow these teachings you will always be happy.” These words continue to resonate and guide over 2,600 years later.
The Buddha taught about the truth of impermanence and how there are none who can escape the dissolution of the body. However, his death was only the end of the physical body because the true Buddha is Enlightenment itself and he would exist forever in the truth of the Dharma and in the practice of the Dharma. The Buddha is still teaching and lives on in the lives of all who practice the way of peace and liberation he shared.
Following Shakyamuni’s guidance, Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, the revered teacher, author, peace activist, lived as a true disciple of the Buddha throughout his long life. Often referred to as Thay (teacher), he passed away on January 22, 2022, at the age of 95. Just like the Buddha, his living and dying were gentle yet firm lessons for how we should live mindfully and compassionately.
Thich Nhat Hanh believed, “We teach by our way of life. We teach with our hands while we are doing things, with our feet while we are walking, with our mouth when we are eating or speaking, and with our eyes when we are looking…This simply means teaching the Dharma by the way we live our daily life.”
Isn’t this what Shakyamuni taught us as he lay dying beneath the twin sala trees? That if we were to only see his physical body, we were not truly seeing him but only by accepting and living his teaching, we would truly see him. His life was his ultimate teaching which continues to offer wisdom for living in our troubled world today.
As Shin Buddhists we strive to live the teaching of jishin kyo ninshin, to "secure our own entrusting heart to the Dharma, guiding others to the same path.” This is the life of nembutsu that was taught to us by Shinran Shonin. Our ordinary daily life is our place of practice where we encounter our true self within the embrace of great wisdom and compassion.
In a letter to his followers Shinran teaches that when we awaken to this reality, we should “live with prayers for the world” cultivating the heartfelt wish “May there be peace in the world and may the Buddha’s teachings spread!” This is Shinran’s spiritual call to action for embodying and creating the conditions for both personal and collective peace. By following these instructions, Shinran continues to live on through us as we walk the path of peace he shared.
In reflecting on Thay’s life, his disciple Brother Phap Dung shared, “Breathing in, I breathe with my teacher within me; breathing out, I see him smiling with me. When we make a step with gentleness, we let him walk with us, and we allow him to continue within our steps. Letting go is also the practice of letting in, letting your teacher be alive in you, and to see that he is more than just a physical body…”
We always walk together with our spiritual and familial ancestors. They live within and through us in the dynamic flow of the Dharma. On Nirvana Day, we reflect on Shakyamuni Buddha’s final teaching to see beyond the physical body by living the Dharma he shared every day. Both Shinran Shonin and Thich Nhat Hanh put the Dharma at the center of their lives, and they too live on when we do the same.
In this dark time of conflict may we continue to be guided by the light of all-inclusive wisdom and all-embracing compassion.
Namo Amida Butsu.