Seeing Conflicts With Clarity
Coming to terms with our true self

by Rinban Nori Ito

On Sunday, November 18, 2001, WCBT held its annual Ho-on-ko Service in memory of founder Shinran Shonin. At this year’s event, we were especially happy to welcome back our former minister, Rinban Nori Ito, as guest speaker. In his talk, Nori-sensei began by reminding us that Ho-on-ko is traditionally a time to reaffirm our committment to Shinran’s teaching. He said it is important to discuss this teaching in the context of the events of September 11, 2001. As an example, he pointed out that a popular theme at recent Higashi Honganji religious gatherings has been "Living Together in Diversity." This theme of course has great significance in light of recent world events. Of course, one positive result we’ve seen is an outpouring of charitable donations. However, while our generosity is admirable, in the context of Shinran’s teachings, Rinban Nori asked the question, "Are we thinking here only as Americans? Buddhism tells us to think instead as human beings, as citizens of planet Earth."

Rinban then told a story which illustrates what a climate of war can do to our viewpoints. The story was called, "By the Time the Moon Rises." It’s the story of a young Japanese boy living in a small village in Japan during the time of World War II. This village also had a POW camp nearby with captured American soldiers. One day, the Americans had managed to rescue the boy from drowning in the river that flowed through the village. From that day on, the boy felt a sense of gratitude to the Americans. The boy went against the attitudes of his fellow villagers, even to the extent of sneaking fruits and vegetables to the POWs. The significance of this story to Rinban Nori is that the boy, in contrast to his fellow villagers, was able to regard the American POWs as human beings. He was able to see beyond the narrow, nationalistic view of his neighbors, and even of his own parents. And, as Rinban Nori put it, "Just as a business produces goods and services, the goal of Buddhism is to produce human beings. Shinran Shonin wants us to be true human beings, able to see all conflicts with clarity."

Next, Nori-sensei went on to discuss what he termed, "The question of pacifism." He said that, as admirable as it may seem on the one hand to be opposed to the use of violence of any kind, it ultimately is "not realistic, not Shinran’s teaching." One of the problems with pacifism arises with the issue of a "third party attack." Nori-sensei commented that, though it might be possible for a pacifist to "allow" themselves to be attacked and offer no resistance, it would seem much more problematic if the pacifist is witnessing the attack of an innocent third party. For example, Nori-sensei pointed out that most parents (even pacifist parents) would not hesitate to say, defend an attack upon their children. He clarified that the reason pacifism is not realistic is explained in the famous passage from the Tannisho, where Shinran states to his disciple Yuien-bo that the reason Yuien-bo feels he "cannot kill even one person" is not because Yuien-bo is a good person; it is only due to Yuien-bo’s karmic conditions. Rinban Nori reminded us that Shinran’s lesson is that, as karmic conditions change, so do our actions. "Fighting conditions make us fight." Therefore, we must try to refrain from the human tendency to always see ourselves as good people. "This is the self Shinran wishes us to awaken to," Nori-sensei said.

In conclusion, Nori-sensei pointed out that problem with pacifism is one that is, in a sense, shared with all "isms." "Shinran’s teaching was that we cannot live according to any ‘isms,’" he said. "In fact, rather than using the term ‘Buddhism,’ we really should use the term ‘Butsu-do,’ or ‘path of Buddha.’" Thus, instead of thinking of Shinran’s teaching as a fixed doctrine, we should realize that the essence of his teaching was to deeply come to terms with our true self. If we can follow this path not just at Ho-on-ko, but everyday of our lives, we will, as Nori-sensei said, "Reaffirm our commitment to Shinran’s teaching." Only with the insights received from such a path, can we also all truly "live together in diversity." "Ultimately," said Rinban Nori, "this is the true spirit of Jodo Shinshu."

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