Do what we can

Posted by:

G Sakamoto

There was a very devout Shinshu follower who lived in Japan many years ago. One day he heard that a fire was burning at the Hongwanji. Unable to go and help fight the fire he did the only thing he could do: he shook a wet blanket in the direction of the Hongwanji.

With so much going on in the world, sometimes we might feel overwhelmed. Swept under by the flood of news coming to us from around the world. The news of the typhoon that inundated the Philippines, sweeping away lives and homes. Eight years ago Katrina (2005) made landfall taking lives, leaving destruction in its wake. There was Super Storm Sandy (2012), the Banda Aceh (2004) tsunami that killed 170,000 people and Fukushima (2011) earthquake, tsunami and the continuing nuclear disaster. The fires we face seem so much larger than the fire at the Hongwanji so many years ago.

The fires that burn are the same fires that burned in the time of Shakyamuni. Old age, sickness, death were still there in the time of Shinran as they are with us now. When Buddhism came to the West, it was characterized as negative, dark, always talking about suffering. We seemed only to speak of the fires, the suffering that characterize this world. I suppose there are people who are attracted to hardships in life. It builds character, its easy to recognize. Shinran however in one of his letters reminds us, “Do not take poison just because there is an antidote.” Buddhism is not about the difficulties and hardships we experience. Buddhism about the resolution of difficulties.

Do what you can to help. Do not do what you can not do. Buddhism is not about causing more difficulties for yourself or others. Rather, it is about addressing and resolving these difficulties.

The hope and strength of the Dharma is that the difficulties we experience result from our foolishness not because we are good or bad. The Dharma will not stop a tsunami or make you immune to radiation poisoning. The Dharma allows us to see ourselves more clearly. See ourselves as we are. We respond to the world around us not through how we think it should be but rather as it is. Going to Leyte may help but sending funds may be more effective. Going to Fukushima may cause more difficulties if I have no skills to contribute. If you can do something to help then do it. Recognizing my limitations and abilities allows me to engage the world in a way that acknowledges what I want, what is needed and what I am capable of.

The assurance of Amida allows me to look more openly at my prejudices and expectations. If I can acknowledge my foolishness it allows me to begin to engage the world as it is. To see and appreciate the hardships and courage. The anger and love. To begin to recognize the breath of conditions that bring my life into being. With gratitude I am able to acknowledge that my life is a part of life that extends infinitely. This infinite life is compassion that continues to move me toward a deepening appreciation of the relationship I share with all life.

The Dharma isnÕt hard. It’s simply about resolving the difficulties we all experience. It does not matter whether the difficulties are in Syria or Vietnam or Kokomo, Indiana, help where you can. Share what you can.