Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Suchness of Hypocrisy

After almost 20 years of directing Shingon Shu Hawaii, you would think I have seen it all.  For the most part, I can tell you that I have seen some weird things, but probably have a lot more to experience given the many shades of gray your average person comes in.  I don't think 50 shades covers even a small amount of the grayness we can exhibit during our daily interactions.

One of the most interesting and perplexing to me is the particular shade a person is when they come to a sanctuary (church, temple, synagogue, mosque, hut, etc.).  One day I will probably get the nerve to sit down and write a book on the varied people that walk through the temple's threshold, full of religious fervor, superstition, fear, guilt, and a whole lot of hope.  The hope that whatever they did during the week will be forgiven by offering a few sticks of incense.  The hope that bringing flowers to a loved one's niche in our columbarium will erase years and years of possible guilt, and perhaps neglect in the twilight years of that loved ones life.  The hope that a minister will sit in front of you, dust you with powder, then do some incantations and hand motions, and that will relieve you of all the negative karma accumulated on your shoulders you inexorably collect just by living day to day.  I find it interesting, because for a brief moment, the person turns into a bright shining white.  Cleansed of all the crap they uttered or did just by inhabiting this gigantic dust ball we call our home.  But the grayness is there.  Just behind the next corner.  Just over the next hill you are driving over.  We fill ourselves with fear, doing things in a "proper" way because a priest told us it is so.  You must have services on these dates.  You must perform these obligations or your ancestors will be very angry.  You must have me perform these services or things will just not be right.  We do all that just to get rid of that horrible gray.  And yet...we love that gray.  We adore that gray.  We cling to it.  We revert to that gray, shunning the bright white light of good karma, because it hurts our eyes, as if we were actually like the vampires that exist in cheap teen novels.

Some of the biggest hypocrites are people who believe they "go to church".  Maybe sporadically.  They are not the ones that help with the cleaning, and endless chores that make it possible for a church or temple to run smoothly.  They donate...making sure it is tax deductible.  With that donation comes a belief that they have a say not only in how the temple or church is run, but in how other people within the congregation should live, dress, speak, or be intimate with.  They come to service, if there is something going wrong with a member of their family.  They are gray...dark gray.  Almost black.  Because is there anything worse, layperson or clergy, who wrap themselves in the righteousness or entitlement that they believe their religion owes them?  There isn't.  That is the suchness of their kind.  How do we handle this then?  By knowing that gray really goes with everything!  The right gray is just right with either black or white.  The right gray is classy, subdued, and tasteful.  The right gray is the ultimate color of the middle way.  Feel a degree.  Feel the right amount.  Be gray, in a cool way.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

When a keynote speaker..sort of...disses their host...

Jodo-E Service at Jodo Mission of Hawaii.  Reverend Narashiba of Jodo Mission of Hawaii was very kind to let myself and Rev. Quinn Hashimoto sit with the ministers during the service on this 8th of December, regarded as the day the Buddha attained enlightenment (at least to Western calendars) and my birthday! The service was a beautiful one, and included the main Japanese sects of Buddhism in Honolulu.  I say main because the Hawaii Buddhist Council is made up of what many consider to be the BIG SEVEN of Buddhism in Hawaii and sort of excludes other nationalities' Buddhist temples, and the newer schools of religion in Japan.  Our temple used to be the headquarters of the Shingon Sect, but since we are independent and do not have a recognized by the Hawaii Buddhist Council Bishop sitting at our temple we cannot be part of the organization.  Long story short, the attendance was large, but more importantly, the keynote speaker was impressive.  Dr. Shoho Machida of Hiroshima University, with a long list of credentials ranging from a Masters of Divinity from Harvard and a PhD from University of Pennsylvania, to teaching at the prestigious Tokyo University gave a lecture.  Dr. Machida's enviable curriculum vitae is like catnip to the religious aristocracy, who for the most part love to engage with people "of learning" as it gives weight to an otherwise intangible subject: religion and faith.

Unfortunately, with most people who have pursued a life in religious academia, much of what they have to say goes against the rules and dogma that so carefully guard the ecclesiastical world.  Always it seems that the more a person studies religion and its meaning and place in our world and society, the bigger question of "WHY?" grows to blimp like proportions.  Dr. Machida pointed out that for many the appearance of wisdom that one can convey simply through credentials, looking intelligent, or aged with all of the connotations of wisdom that entails, or worse, because of the robes that are worn as a mark of the individuals separation from the secular world, is a facade.  One can have all of the things mentioned, but without actually living, experiencing desire, having goals beyond the rote recitation of sutras, is a person really excavating to get to the Buddha nature within?  Without digging to get to that nature, that compassion and tolerance, are we really being faithful and religious?  Another interesting thought that was brought up:  a person who keeps mentioning God, Jesus, Allah, or Buddha is far more distant from those ideals of worship than one who keeps them in their heart.  If you know that they exist in your heart and live your life accordingly, you don't have to keep telling everyone how much you believe, nor do you need to qualify your belief by inserting their names in every pronouncement you make.  Obviously this lecture seemed weird in a temple that, like the majority of Buddhist temples, are adorned in gold and silk, with the servants of the Buddha likewise clothed...reciting repetitiously the name of the Buddha...and then falling asleep during the most informative part of the program...Dr. Machida.  I don't say that as an insult or jibe really, in fact I think these guys are just keeping it real for themselves.  And that is just okay!  Buddha wouldn't mind.