I’m heartbroken over the recent mass shootings that have claimed so many innocent lives. I’m exhausted by empty platitudes of “thoughts and prayers” which have done nothing to change our behavior or public policy in the face of this carnage. I’m frustrated that we care more about banning books, saying gay, trans kids playing sports, or women’s health choices, than the safety of our children in schools, people in church, or shoppers in supermarkets. I’m saddened by how we have cultivated anger, hatred, and resentment in our hearts.
It makes me wonder what our values as a society truly are. Can we care more for each other than weapons of violence? Can we care enough to realize unrestricted and unregulated guns in our communities are a public health crisis? Can we care enough to ensure access to quality mental health care? Can we work to transform our anger into love? Can we become more than we currently are?
Just like how a lotus flower rises from muddy water to bloom beautifully, we also have the ability to transform the suffering we experience into something more. The Buddha shared with us a path of continual becoming. Each moment of our lives is an opportunity to look deep within to better understand the working of our own heart and mind. This is the profound interior practice of mindfulness that is a life of awakening.
In Shin Buddhism, our practice is the natural and spontaneous recitation of the Nembutsu that can be practiced in every moment of our busy lives. The Name, Namo Amida Butsu is the calling voice of Amida Buddha, the cosmic sound of wisdom and compassion urging us to wake up. Our practice hall in the Pure Land Path is our ordinary daily life where we deeply listen with the ears of our heart to all that life has to teach us. Namo Amida Butsu is the song of awakening which calls us home to ourselves.
Shakyamuni Buddha taught that the root cause of human suffering is our greed, anger, and ignorance. Doesn’t it seem like we have been dealing with so much anger in recent years? From our politics to the pandemic to how we deal with the everyday difficulties of life, it seems like we are always angry about something and do not know how to quench the rising flames which threaten to consume us.
It is natural to get angry but what is harmful is when we cannot let go of our anger. In the Samyutta Nikaya, the Buddha offers the following teaching on anger,
Having slain anger, one sleeps soundly;
having slain anger, one does not sorrow.
The killing of anger, O Sakka,
with its poisoned root and honeyed tip:
this is the killing the noble ones praise,
for having slain that, one does not sorrow.
The Buddha’s path is not about escaping from the ocean of suffering but is about diving into and immersing ourselves in it, in order to be transformed. Just like how the lotus flower cannot grow in clear water, we cannot grow without the “mud” of our lives. Our challenges, our obstacles, and our hurts are the nutrients that allow us to grow and thrive. The Buddha’s teachings enable us to take it all in and transform the muck into a life of awakening.
However, it is so easy for us to be consumed by our anger when we encounter difficulties in life. Our unresolved anger and resentment lead to more suffering. The Buddha teaches how “Blood stains can not be removed by more blood; resentment can not be removed by more resentment; resentment can be removed only by forgetting it.”
I recently watched the new Batman movie, and we know how this superhero is an instrument of vengeance who brings wrongdoers to justice. This movie explores how Batman’s singular mission of vengeance is changed through his experiences. Towards the end of the film, he reflects on the transformation of his anger. He says,
Vengeance won’t change the past, mine, or anyone else’s. I have to become more. People need hope to know someone is out there for them. The City’s angry, scarred like me. Our scars can destroy us. Even after the physical wounds have healed. But if we survive them, they can transform us. They can give us the power to endure and strength to fight.
Isn’t this an example of a lotus blooming in mud? Of how through deep self-reflection, we can transform our greed, anger, and ignorance, into the reason for our awakening? This is the everyday wisdom that the Buddha teaches that pushes us to become more. More than our greed, more than our anger, more than our ignorance. The Dharma teaches us we can become more if we try. This is to become truly human.
Namo Amida Butsu.