Apr. 28, 2019 Sermon
On Easter Sunday last week, Apr. 21, 2019, at least 258 people were killed and 500 people injured in a series of coordinated suicide bombings in Sri Lanka. I have been to one of our sanghas in Sri Lanka, and have had the opportunity to become very good friends with a few Nichiren Shu members there. They are a good people, which is why these bombings really shocked me. The targets included three Christian churches that were holding Easter services, as well as three major hotels used by many Western tourists. At least thirty foreigners have been killed.
According to a New York Times article titled, “Religious Minorities Across Asia Suffer Amid Surge in Sectarian Politics”, published on Apr. 21, 2019, secularism is eroding with the strengthening of sectarianism. This is compounded by those who also seek to extricate ethnic minorities. For example, the right-leaning Hindu party in India is, “pushing an us– verses-them philosophy that has left Muslims fearing that they will be lynched if they walk alone.” Myanmar’s population is 88% Theravada Buddhist. When on Aug. 25, 2017, Rohingya Arsa militants attacked over thirty police posts, the military reacted by forcing the Rohingya minority out of the country. In Indonesia and Bangladesh, once moderate Muslim politicians have begun to take on hardline positions to appeal to their conservative electorates. It is suggested that the bombings at three prominent Christian churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday for which the Islamic State has taken credit may have been a reaction in part to the attacks by Brenton Tarrant who shot and killed fifty Muslims who were attending prayers at two mosques in Christchurch of New Zealand just a month ago on March 15, 2019. Christians make up only six percent of Sri Lanka’s population. Clearly, these cases support a movement in the direction of division between sectarian and ethnic lines. Here, I would like to raise a discussion on sectarian division.
What is faith? One’s faith can be strong. Whether “faith” is thought of in terms of one’s religion or one’s ethnicity or one’s country, anyone should be allowed to embrace his or her faith. However, when it is consummated at the expense of expelling other beliefs, or castigating those who are different from oneself, one’s faith sheds its luster, because it cedes its justification to continue. Even when comparing the thoughts and choices of individuals of the same denomination, minute variations of thought will develop. The Buddha, for one, had no problem with maintaining people of a wide variety of thought and opinions. Rather, he encouraged it. While the Buddha’s community which we call a sangha is described to be “Buddhist”, it does not exist to create a faith to preclude others who are not Buddhist. The Buddha’s lecture on the Lotus Sutra discusses ways to include people of varying thoughts. The teaching of the Lotus Sutra is about finding harmony among people of different thoughts, not how to purge those of different thoughts. Finding the right fit or right solution, in fact, requires a plethora of ideas, from which a good hypothesis can be formed.
Our world exists and is better because we are not monolithic, but welcome diversity. Diversity is actually man’s greatest asset. There is evidence for this everywhere. Genetically, man has evolved over thousands of years to repel predators and survive through the perils of starvation and epidemics. If everyone had nearly identical genes, and
there were no gene mutations, there would be nothing from which to create stronger more advantageous traits.
At the very least, everyone should be permitted to flourish in their own identity. If one’s individuality is the source of one’s worth, then, at some point, the worth of a society is dependent on each person’s individuality. The survival or well-being of a community depends on the presence of different backgrounds, experiences, ethnicities, expertise, and thinking. Expunging those who are different will eventually lead to man’s demise. The moment that one’s faith becomes so inflexible and one-dimensional that it seeks to either create clones of oneself or demand that others conform to a particular thinking, our world begins to shrink, stagnate, and eventually become barren, unable to regenerate itself. If enhancing one’s faith means to promote mass shootings and bombings, then Buddhism must stand firm on not promoting “faith” at all, as it cannot stand to exist without including all the imperfections that make men human. If only one characteristic of true faith can be found to be shared, that characteristic must be to be overly zealous in not infringing on others for their beliefs, which must by nature be different. (Eisei Ikenaga)