On Thursday, Mar. 11, 2021, President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill. It is called the American Rescue Plan. It provides for an extension of the existing $300 weekly unemployment benefit through Sept. 6, and to provide a tax break on $10,000 in unemployment benefits. Individuals earning $75,000 per year and couples earning $150,000 would receive $1,400 per person. Families with children 6 to 17 would receive $3,000 per child per year. Children under 6 will receive $3,600 per year. There will be $350 billion for states, cities, tribal governments, and U.S. territories. $27 billion will be set aside for rental assistance relief. $10 billion is allotted to assistance in mortgage payment relief. $5 billion will address homelessness. $130 billion is reserved to help schools K-12 to reopen safely. Institutions of higher education will receive $40 billion in aid. $86 billion will help to resurrect failing pensions.
The bill will provide tens of billions of dollars to fund coronavirus testing and contact tracing. It will increase the size of the public health workforce and fund vaccine distribution and supply chains. The manufacture of coronavirus vaccines will be stepped up so that there will be enough vaccines to vaccinate every adult in the U.S. by the end of May the 1st. This is an acceleration of a previous projection by the Biden administration by two months.
Polling shows that this stimulus package is very popular. A CNN poll showed that 61% of Americans overall support the relief package. The Politico/Morning Consult Poll found 75% of registered voters strongly or somewhat support the package. The Pew poll found that 70% of adults support the legislation. These numbers clearly show that this stimulus package is very well received.
While all this money injected into programs will be effective in abating the damage incurred over the last year, we must remember that COVID-19 remains very pervasive. This virus still exists all around us. People will still need to wear a mask and distance themselves to help mitigate this virus. No amount of money spent will protect people from this virus if people neglect to do their part. And, as popular as the American Rescue Plan may be, just watching and waiting will not produce the positive results that we all desire on its own.
On the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, Mar. 11, 2021, President Biden spoke for 24 minutes from the East Room of the White House. He made a passionate pitch to move towards normalcy by July of this year:
If we do all this, if we do our part, if we do this together, by July the 4th, there’s a good chance you, your families and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or your neighborhood and have a cookout and a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day.
Biden used “if–clauses” sparingly. “If we do all this, if we do our part, if we do this together . . .” He hoped to assure everyone that we can actually accomplish this goal of
controlling this virus if everyone came together in one mind and if each of us did our own part.
Biden also made a promise. He said, “I promise I will do everything in my power, I will not relent until we beat this virus.” Biden vowed that he would do his part, that he would exhaust all that is in his executive power to control COVID-19. Then, he turned to us, the listeners, the people, and beseeched something of us. He pleaded, “But I need you, the American people, I need you, I need every American to do their part.” The president asked humbly for our cooperation. He can do only so much. We as citizens need to follow through in our part as well.
What do we as citizens need to do now? Biden specified that we need to get vaccinated. He said, “I need you. I need you to get vaccinated when it’s your turn and when you can find an opportunity. And to help your family, your friends, your neighbors get vaccinated as well.” As the U.S. population is not completely vaccinated, Biden also reminded us, “Just as we were emerging from a dark winter into a hopeful spring and summer is not the time to not stick with the rules.” Help me by getting vaccinated, he exhorted. But, while we are being vaccinated, stick to the rules of masking and distancing. Getting back to normal, so that schools can reopen or businesses can function as they had prior to the pandemic clearly depends on our willingness to get vaccinated. The vaccine not only protects those are vaccinated, but it also creates a wall to keep it from infecting those who are not yet vaccinated. This wall only becomes effective when at least 80% of the population is vaccinated, according to health experts. This is why it is imperative that we each do our part by simply getting vaccinated.
Biden’s “I need you,” is a sincere appeal for our help. Please meet me halfway to solve this problem is a humble solicitation, far from an order or demand. His approach was to convince and encourage rather than to admonish and scare us. Biden’s message is one based on the principle that we are a community, one that desperately needs each other, and is dependent on one another to survive.
Biden’s approach and tone reminds me of the two distinct ways of teaching and leading in Buddhism: shakubuku (折伏) and shoju (摂受). shakubuku refers to a confrontational and sometimes even combative approach to teaching. shaku (折) literally means “to break” as in to fracture a bone or “to bend (until it is creased).” Although the Chinese character fuku (伏) can be interpreted in different ways, it is associated with the word, “conquer.” So,
shakubuku as a method of teaching might solicit something resembling an argument, debate, or, in extreme cases, physical confrontation. Diametrically opposed to this confrontational style, shoju is characterized by patience, reasoning, and compassion. The character sho (摂) means “to accommodate,” while ju (受) means, “to take in” or “to accept.” shoju is an approach to teaching in which the teacher accommodates or customizes his or her approach in relation to the position, ideas, or understanding of the learner.
Nichiren Shonin wrote in his writing, Kaimoku-sho 『開目抄』, “When the land is full of people who are ignorant or bad, prioritize shoju, as taught in the Anraku-gyo-hon chapter of the Lotus Sutra. When there are many people who slander the Lotus Sutra or commit
hobo, then shakubuku should be prioritized, as is exemplified in the Jofukyo Bosap-pon chapter of the Lotus Sutra”†「無智悪人の国土に充満の時は摂受を前とす。安楽行品
のごとし。邪智謗法の者の多き時は折伏を前とす。常不軽品のごとし。」. According to Nichiren Shonin, occasions in which shakubuku are lent suitable are rather limited. In most cases, we are called upon to advance our discussions in a rational manner and to convince our listeners based upon a concordance in which both lecturer and listener are on the same plane, where in which there is respect for each other. Although there may be a place for arm-twisting and subjugating style, they do not necessarily produce agreeable results.
Clearly, President Biden’s approach was one based on reasoning. He also appealed to his listeners on an equal level, just as another citizen and not as the holder of the highest office of the land. He understands the limitations of his position because he sees the problem clearly. The coronavirus is a formidable foe that cannot be slayed without everyone’s participation. So, he explained the present situation of the pandemic as well as how it is advancing. Then, he disclosed his strategy to control the virus. Finally, he appealed for our help humbly, saying, “I need you.” In this way, Biden’s speech on the first-year anniversary of the pandemic was a masterclass in Buddhist shoju. (Eisei Ikenaga)