September 2018 Message

September 11th Re-visited: “a Great Disturbance"

Recently, our Palo Alto Buddhist Temple was contacted asking for sponsorship to co-host a September 11th Multifaith Peace Picnic and Prayers. I am very proud that our temple board took up this discussion at our August Board meeting and unanimously agreed to participate. It will take place on Tuesday evening, September 11th from 7 to 8:30 PM at the King Plaza in Palo Alto.

As this marks the 17th year Anniversary since that fateful day in our history, I thought I would share this article that I wrote shortly thereafter in 2001.

As with many of you, I sat glued to the television watching the tragic events of September 11, 2001 unfold before our very eyes. I had just come downstairs for breakfast when the live pictures showed the first tower collapse onto itself. Shocked into denial and confused, we sat as pieces of a deranged puzzle were revealed to us one by one. When the majority of the pieces had fallen into place, the big picture came into view and finally sank in; we sat in horror and sadness.

The emotion that I felt reminded me of a scene from the first Star Wars movie, Episode 4: A New Hope. Immediately after the planet, Alderran was destroyed by the Death Star, the great Jedi master, Obi Wan Kenobi, even though billions of miles away, suddenly lost his balance and stumbled during a training session with his protégé, Luke Skywalker. When asked what was wrong, Obi Wan’s reply was, “I felt a great disturbance in the Force.”

Along with millions of people around the world, we proceeded through the next few days in a fog and haze because our balance had also been lost. We all felt and witnessed “a great disturbance” in our hearts.

We can only imagine the panic and horror that the passengers on the planes must have felt as they realized that they were not going to their original destination. We can only touch the surface of the deep grief and hollowness of those families who lost their loved ones as they watched helplessly as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon collapsed. We can only continue to ask questions that even if answered, will never settle our hearts and bring all the lost lives back.

Without any doubt, we, as a nation and as part of this global community, have been able to witness, in one instance, the marvels and ingenuity of the human potential by being able to build skyscrapers over 100 stories high and planes that weigh several tons carrying hundreds of people at a time. In the very next instant, we witnessed the cold, horrible human potential and calculation that has willfully allowed such destruction, death and turmoil upon another fellow human being.

And we have taken this personally. Out nation’s leaders at the time, told us that we were under attack. All that we stand for; all that our founders have worked for: democracy, free trade, freedom itself, was attacked. Someone dared to step into our neighborhood and picked a fight. From the comments and opinions that were broadcast, we, as a nation, felt justified for ”an eye for an eye” retaliation.

That is also a great disturbance.

Make no mistake. I think that those who were directly and indirectly responsible for this horrific crime should be pursued, captured and punished to the fullest extent of our nation’s law. What disturbed me most was the almost flippant, and arrogant attitude for revenge, that if carried out will once again disrupt the balance of life and death. Let us not mistake revenge for justice.

Rudyard Kipling once wrote, “Keep your mind about you while all others are losing theirs.” This sentiment fits in with our observance of Higan. Higan is the reference to the “Other Shore” of Amida Buddha’s Pure Land of Utmost Joy. This is in contrast to the term, shigan that refers to “This Shore” of delusion, ignorance, greed and anger. The Higan service is to observe the perfection of the Six Paramitas: dana – selfless giving, sila – discipline or morality, ksanti – patience, virya – endeavor, dhyana – insight or meditation, and prajna – wisdom. Through the perfection of the Six Paramitas, one is able to cross over from the shore of delusion and arrive upon the shore of Enlightenment or Nirvana. Higan is observed twice a year at the Equinoxes of the autumn and spring. This is the ideal time for practice: there is a sense of balance because the length of day and night is equal and the temperature is neither too cold nor too hot. There are no external things to inhibit one’s practice. The perfection of the Six Paramitas challenges and awakens us to our limitations and our ultimate potential. They teach us about the human limitations of an egocentric, self-serving Self. At the same time they reveal the infinite and boundless wisdom and compassion of a power beyond this self.

Shinran Shonin (1173-1262), the founder of our Jodo Shinshu school of Buddhism relates the following about this limited Self:

Good thoughts arise in us through the prompting of good karma from the past and evil comes to be thought and performed though the working of evil karma. The late master Shinran said, “Know that every evil act done-even as slight as a particle on the tip of a strand of rabbit’s fur or sheep’s wool-has its cause in past karma…. Since you lack the karmic cause inducing you to kill even a single person, you do not kill. It is not that you do not kill because your heart is good. In the same way, a person may wish not to harm anyone and yet end up killing a hundred or a thousand people…. If the karmic cause so prompts us, we, human beings will do anything.”

Seikuro (1678 – 1750) is the name of a famous myokonin – a wonderful devout follower of the Jodo Shinshu teachings. One day a robber broke into his house and stole about 7 dollars. When his neighbors found out what had happened, they tried to comfort him by saying that these kinds of instances were occurring frequently lately. However, Seikuro’s response astonished the neighbors. Seikuro had said that he felt sorry for the robber because he only stole 7 dollars. Seikuro had just paid 8 dollars for his monthly laundry bill and he had another 18 dollars two or three days before that. Seikuro was worried that the robber may not have stolen enough to eat; in fact he was happy that the money was stolen.

“How can you be happy about that?” the neighbors asked. Seikuro answered, “I was a victim this time, but I could very easily have been the robber due to my passions, anger, ignorance and greed. It was through the compassion of Amida Buddha that the conditions were not so that would make me a robber and I was a victim instead.”

If the causes and conditions are just so, we will commit any kind of act. That is the nature of human beings. We can fall into the deep abyss of darkness and terror as long as this deluded, self-centered, egotistical self is maintained. However, when this self is abandoned, we can then realize the ultimate potential that transcends this limited self and embrace this life with ultimate and pure wisdom and compassion. This is a power beyond our limited self, which transcends the borders of countries created by man. May this Power bless not just America but the whole world.

Before we feel justified in retaliation, we must examine our thoughts, action and speech. As Shinran Shonin’s insight reveals, we have that same potential to commit such horrid actions as the terrorists had committed on that fateful September day. We also have the same potential to awaken ultimate wisdom and compassion as well. All actions are the result of previous causes and conditions. Whatever action we choose to take, as individuals and as a nation, we must be willing to accept the full responsibility and effects without hiding behind the veil of justice, excuses or even religion. Perhaps this is a crucial time for us to reflect upon the words of Rudyard Kipling and try during this Higan or Equinox season to regain the “balance” of our lives that was recently lost.

Without a doubt, the lives that were lost due to the terrorists are a tremendous tragedy. Their lives should never be forgotten.

Our nation and community leaders have asked us to remember the lives lost on September 11th. They have asked us to remember the victims trapped in the buildings and planes, of the brave who risked and in some cases lost their lives while helping others. They ask us to use their memory as the nourishment to strengthen us so that we can re-build and once again become a proud and Great America. Their lives will not pass in vain if they help us awaken and cherish the sanctity of human life regardless of country or creed. I submit to you, instead of becoming a Proud Great America that is only concerned with the welfare of One’s Self or one country; let us become a Grateful America: one that is concerned for the welfare of all beings.

Metta Sutra(The Sutra on Loving Kindness)
May all beings be at peace.
May they be joyous and live in safety.
All living beings, whatever they may be;
Whether they are weak or strong,
The great or mighty, the medium, short or small omitting none,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near or far,
Those born or to be born
May all beings be at peace.

Let none deceive another,
Nor despise any being in any state;
Let none through anger or hatred
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother at the risk of her life
Watches over and protects her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings
Radiating kindness over the entire world
Spreading upwards to the skies
And downwards to the depths;
Outward and without limit
freed from hatred and ill-will
So let each cultivate an
Infinite good will toward the whole world

May all beings be at Peace

Namo Amida Butsu,
Rev. Dean Koyama