Bridges or Walls?

Posted by:

K. Ken Fujimoto

The recent exchange between Donald Trump and Pope Francis seems to be creating quite a stir with one stating that a true Christian should not be talking about building walls, but about building bridges. The other fired back that a religious leader should not be questioning an individual’s religious beliefs. This exchange seems to be unprecedented and seems to be newsworthy because of the supposed transcending the lines of religion and politics. The question I ask is “What can we, as individuals, learn from this exchange?”

Firstly, though I do not always agree with the Pope, I think that all religious people, and not just Christians, should be building bridges rather than walls. The goal for all of us should be to create understanding and harmony rather than raising barriers and creating division. This is a goal that is especially important for us as Buddhists. Our altar or butsudan, the entire temple, is a concrete example of this goal. The different shapes, colors and items all come together in a harmonious balance. This harmonious balance created by different things coming together should be our goal in all aspects of life. We do not want everything to be the same, but we do want to find harmony in that uniqueness and difference. Oneness is not about sameness, but of harmony.

The point could be made that the walls would be built to prevent “illegal immigration,” but is this the real issue? We need to see the cause at the root of the conditions that encourage “illegal immigration.” Is it not the disparity in the opportunities to create a comfortable life? Is not the ability for everyone in the world to live a comfortable and safe life a goal that we should also be striving to acheive? Is not such a world the goal for of us? In any case, whether the walls are built to keep people out or to keep people in, history has proven that such walls do not work. We only need to look at China and Berlin for the historical evidence of this.

However, we can find irony here in that many temples in Japan have walls or were built in places that were difficult to access. The rationale was to keep the defiled, secular world out and protect the pure religious realm. There may have been many practical reasons for the walls, such as protection from attacks by armies and other sects or bandits. It is important to note, however, that the walls had large gates and those gates were usually open during the day to let people come and go freely. People came to the temple or used the temple grounds as safe play areas for children or for people to gather. The walls were there, but people were welcome to enter during reasonable hours. This is probably true for many Christian churches throughout the world as well.

The second issue in the exchange seems to be the issue of whether a religious leader has the right to tell a person that his beliefs are not in accordance with the teachings. If those in question are of the same faith tradition, it is not only a matter of having the right, but it should be seen as being the duty and responsibility of the religious leader to point out any divergence from the teaching. One cannot judge another person’s beliefs, but if they are using the mantle of the same faith tradition to justify their views, it is imperative that the leader point out any mistakes or erroneous interpretations of the teachings that are being used to justify questionable actions or statements. The leader should be willing to listen to any justification the other person may offer, but it is that leader’s duty and responsibility to point out the errors in one’s belief. This should be another step in building bridges rather than walls.

© February 21, 2106


During the month of March you will be seeing a young minister here at the temple. This will be Rev. Nariaki Rajan Hayashi, who will be here for about a month for orientation. He will be shadowing at functions at the beginning and will be asked to do services on his own towards the end of the period. He will also be our speaker for our Spring Ohigan services. Please make him feel welcome and help him adjust to our temple.