The Dharma challenges us to step outside of our comfort zones and to venture into the uncomfortable.
New Years was always a special time for my family. Wherever we were in the world we would always return home to Hilo to gather at my grandparent’s house to mark the passing of one year into another. Besides the fireworks, the food was my favorite thing about New Years. My grandma would make her amazing Maki-zushi with Unagi, Nishime, Konbu-maki, Shoyu Pork, Shrimp Tempura, and of course sashimi.
Reflecting on those times, I realize that the festivities were not simply about having fun. These times were about renewing our bonds of love and of sharing deeply held values important to our family. The act of making food together is special. It transmits not just family recipes but it is also about time spent together as mother and daughter, grandmother and grandson. Helping my dad and grandpa put up the pole for popping the long strand of red firecrackers at midnight was special. Making mochi together as a family and as a Sangha is special. Think about the traditions in your own family and what values do they convey?
The New Year is truly is a time for rededicating ourselves to living the values which ground our lives. This is why it is so essential for us to articulate these values in clear everyday language and most importantly through action. Rededicating ourselves to living our values is the antidote to the moral crisis our country is facing and the key to changing and transforming our increasingly troubled world.
During our New Year’s Day Service, we recited a new reading that was written by our Gomonshu Kojun Ohtani called Our Pledge. Just like the Golden Chain and the Shinshu Pledge, this reading summarizes our values as Shin Buddhists and is a reminder of our way of life. It is aspirational and affirms our commitment to living these ideals in grateful response to the Buddha’s benevolence.
Gomonshu asked each of our districts to translate his words into a form relevant and appropriate to our respective communities. So a committee of our local ministers got together and worked hard to create a “Hawaii Version” that we are using today.
The first verse says:
Reaching out to others,
I will share a smile and gentle words.
Just like the Buddha, who always calls out with Aloha.
The Dharma challenges us to step outside of our comfort zones and to venture into the uncomfortable. It is only natural to want to stay within our carefully created shells because it is safe and familiar. However, if we only stay within our comfort zones and never venture outside, we would be living as if we were the only ones existing in the world. This is the exact opposite of the Buddha’s teaching of interdependence. Understanding and embracing interdependence helps us to see the fundamental connections we have with each other and everything in the universe. When we realize this truth, we can begin to dismantle the walls we build for ourselves.
Harmony can only exist when we realize everyone has their own uniqueness and wants to be recognized, understood, respected, and accepted. When we are nurtured by the light of Amida Buddha’s boundless compassion, we are gradually guided to step out of our shells to embrace others. Awakened to the Buddha’s embrace, we are enabled to see our true nature as human beings and are guided to live with Aloha.
Our teachings guide us to expand our minds and our self-centeredness. The Dharma challenges us to grow and to see beyond our own ego-selves. How do we view others that are different from us? How do we treat immigrants? Those who are homeless? Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgendered persons? Someone with different political views? The Dharma challenges us to live with Aloha for all people.
The second verse says:
Breaking away from my greed, anger and ignorance,
I will try to live in peace and harmony.
Just like the Buddha, who shares tranquility and kindness with all.
The Buddha taught that human suffering is a result of our ego and the three poisons of greed, anger, and ignorance. All people want happiness but we struggle due to our ego attachments. Therefore, it is important to recognize our attachments and not be trapped by them. This means that we should try to be flexible and not rigid in our views and behavior. Only when we recognize such a way of life and receive Buddha’s assurance, we can endeavor to live in peace and harmony. Peace of mind comes from kindness and taking care of others because Amida Buddha’s boundless compassion embraces all without distinction nor discrimination.
We are called to live in peace and harmony with ourselves and with others because all people share the same aspiration of living without, greed, anger, ignorance, and fear. As we start this year, we find ourselves at the brink of war due to the misguided actions of our political leaders. Our Buddhist values denounce violence and war promoting more peaceful ways of resolving conflict. Our teachings, as well as the teachings of many faiths, challenges us to seek better, life-saving ways of resolving human conflicts. The escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran will possibly lead to military action that could easily get out of control. Just as in our own lives, we seek more peaceful ways of resolving conflict. We should demand that our political leaders seek real diplomatic and humanitarian solutions to this current crisis and refrain from military confrontation. According to a statement by various religious leaders opposed to this conflict with Iran, “Loving peace is never enough; we must stop making war and do the hard work of learning to make peace, which will require courage, calm resolve, and responsible leadership.” This is our charge as disciples of the Buddha.
Our Buddhist values are life-giving and can help us to live more peaceful lives caring for each other and the world we all share. Think about these two verses in your life and how they can inspire deep reflection and grateful action in response to the Buddha’s compassion. Next month I will continue our focus on living our Buddhist values by discussing verses three and four of Our Pledge. Namo Amida Butsu.