All One on One Planet
We humans are so interrelated that events far away prove to be very close. It is Ohigan, so please look up a diagram of the Earth and its yearly path around the Sun. There is only one Earth. It is round and in motion. We are all one community of life. It has been that way for millions of years. It is part of our blood, bones and minds. It is our reality—an intimately interrelated community of life, all one on one planet. The current events in Japan make the oneness of life on Earth quite clear.

Another thing they teach is an awareness of the uncertainties of life. To live is to bear the mark of pain. The geology of the Earth means that there will always be natural disasters of some kind. The evil or good of these events are determined by how we respond to them. Of course there are human contributions to the natural disasters too. For Katrina in New Orleans, the city gradually sank below the water level over the years, but the diking system was outdated. The city continued to expand and increase in population. Japan too has similar conflicts in its situation. It has many active volcanoes and earthquakes every year—most are minor, thankfully. Perhaps building a nuclear power plant in a cove surrounded by mountains near the sea was the result of many interlocking ‘good’ decisions? These decisions, for good or ill, have become part of the karma of all our lives. This is another thing we learn from the events in Japan.

Finally, Japan itself is a perfect example of the fact that things are always changing. Change is part of life. It gives us freedom. It provides a basis for creativity. It demands that we adjust. Japan has a high percentage of the world’s active volcanoes. It is on the sea which itself is constantly changing. It is also made up of islands whose coastlines change daily. There are earthquakes daily. Perhaps you are glad that you don’t live there? But Denver and Calgary, and even Winnipeg to an extent, share many of these traits too. That all things change constantly is a fact.

Buddhism teaches us that the correct response to our shared suffering is empathy. The correct response to interdependence is a kind of wisdom by which we transcend suffering by working together. We can’t live without other people so there is no other choice but to get on with learning how to get along. It also teaches us that the experience of impermanence helps us set sane priorities such as good food, good air, a way to earn a living, a warm safe place to sleep and family and friends. We see this in the people of Japan quite clearly. But we also saw it in the case of two dogs. One lovingly stayed by a wounded friend, comforting it, until help arrived. Both were reported to have survived.

In Jodo Shinshu we have the same insights, as you would expect since it is a form of Buddhism, and from Japan, no less. So our shared suffering helps us understand the Compassion which embraces all suffering beings. Our interdependence gives us a taste of other power from which we may be moved to explore Other Power. Our impermanence leads us to see that on the sea of life we need a good, leak-free boat. This vehicle we may discover in the Vow which embraces all suffering beings without prejudice or discrimination carrying them to the other shore. I invite you to read the teachings of Shinran to confirm this.

In the meantime, let us continue work together on the riddle of uncertainty, interdependence and impermanence. That will plant the seeds of the future where we ourselves will, in turn, be dependent on the compassionate actions of others.

Sensei Ulrich
March 27, 2011