Hou-u: Dharma Rain
Vol. 1, No. 2

Small Houu Kanji

"Should Same-Sex Marriages Be Legal?": Revering Limitless Light and Life in Today's Family

by Reverend Bruce Nakamura (Honpa Hongwanji Hilo Betsuin, Hawaii)
Address Presented at the 1997 Minster’s Seminar, June 10-12, 1997: Workshop on Social Issues
Honpa Hongwanji Ministers Association, Hawaii Island District

DR Home Page

Table of Contents

Guest Book

Vista Buddhist Temple

  • Alexander: I don’t know when I first considered the idea that the fates of my three sons were somehow bound together, I know it terrified me. I was afraid I might be the connecting link.

I started thinking about it all the time. Had I made a mistake? Did I misperceive? I needed to know. It became so clear. As much as I loved them, and I did love them so much more than I was ever able to communicate, I had fallen far short as a parent. Life dealt us lousy blows, but I had to own up to the part I played in it all.

My perceptions failed me, and for a person like me to have missed so much, to have unknowingly contributed to my sons’ confusion and pain and isolation…don’t you see? I participated in the problem, rather than the solution.

I understand now. Someone has to take responsibility for wreaking havoc on innocent lives. Our fear, our hatred, our collective ignorance—for God’s sake, I was one of the voices of denigration. What’s wrong with you? All the other boys are taking showers. Be a man. Stand up for what is rightfully yours. Don’t act like a girl. Where’s your dishonoring an entire family. Can you image what it was like for our sons to hear these things?

This is who I am, a person who needs to know what I did wrong so that the next time I’ll manage the relationship better. The sad thing is that I have no children, no relationship left to manage.1

  • Guy: The sexual urges I had been feeling for so long as I could remember were getting stronger. As a kid I did all the things everybody does, except I had a secret: I wanted to do them with boys.2

I was in conflict. It was very humiliating for me. God, If there was one thing I could get rid of, you know, to not to have, it was being gay. I felt it, the threat of this thing, this gay plague. I saw it there, but the stronger part of me said, you know, I'd just as soon die.3

I remember the day after my mother caught Derek and me, my father came in to talk to me. He apologized for my mother. 'You're not just like Glen,' he said. God, I wanted to believe him. I wanted to explain about the feelings I was looking for, for him to assure me that men can feel these things.

But then he said, 'Maybe you aren’t gay.' I don't really blame him. He knew I didn't want to be gay. Who would want that?

He didn't know. I'm gay. Just like Glen. And I was dying. Just like Glen.4

What you have just read is taken from a true account of Alexander and Jane Nakatani and their family—their sons, Greg, Glen and Guy. The three sons are dead today. Greg was a victim of a shooting in a confrontation. Glen and Guy died of AIDS.

It has been suggested that the outcome of our conversation during this 40th Hongwanji State Minister’s Conference on various social issues be made available for editing and printing in order to share it with the wider community. As I have been charged with chairing the Propagation Committee for 1997, I respectfully request the Ministers Associations of all districts to consider this proposal as a useful and positive one for ourselves and for those we share and receive the Dharma.

Although the theme for this workshop was originally "human rights," I have re-titled the theme of this workshop for our talk-story to "REVERING LIMITLESS LIGHT AND LIFE IN TODAY'S FAMILY." I did so because I have a difficult time understanding the term, "human rights." Every culture, community, and political group speaks of them, but they seem to be divided on how we should come to practice these themes of love, respect and compassion.

Revering limitless light and life in today's family seeks to clarify through conversation the various strands that weave a complex fabric of limitless life. This talk-story, for example, hopes to bring about more questions for you and me to deepen our reflections into the heart of our spiritual tradition of Shin Buddhism as a daily spiritual practice.

Not one of us can say—even professionally—that we are fully trained as clergy to address the social issues of our times. We are not, for example, scientists, doctors, physicists, lawyers, psychiatrists, or specialized counselors. Despite this limitation, the challenge unique to our times is that we have access to more information and knowledge than ever before. Limited as our ability to use that information may be, we still must act upon that information.

In a recent Hawaii County Branch Mental Health Association of Hawaii Survey of Social Indicators, The City and County of Honolulu (Oahu) makes up 74.2% of the population, Hawaii County 11.5%, Maui 9.5%, and Kauai 4.7% of the total population. Yet Hawaii County has the highest proportion of children under 18 of any county, the highest rate of confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect, and the highest rate of births to mothers ages 15-17. Just in 1993, there were 2,118 live births of which 40% (849) were non-marital births, the highest in the state.

Hawaii County also has the lowest per capita income and alone makes up 22% of the State’s food stamps recipients. This county has the highest rate of unemployment and the lowest medium income for family and non-family households in the state.

The suicide rate in 1995 was up 43% from the previous year, attempted suicides were up 25% from the previous year, and of these attempted suicides over 21% were by people under 18. Hawaii County also has the highest rate of alcohol and drug abuse in the state. Hawaii County has the highest rate of confirmed cases of abuses of dependent adults: 31% of the State's total with reports of abuse of a family or household member at a rate of 7 1/2 per week.

The State’s death rate is highest in Hawaii County from all causes including heart disease, stroke, car and other accidents, and flu and pneumonia. Each individual category is also the highest found in the state. The highest rate reported in the state for AIDS also belongs to the County of Hawaii.

How should the religious community respond to this human equation of suffering? Should we take responsibility by first asking questions of how we can contribute to solutions without pointing the finger of blame or fault?

WE, as a community, should not ignore the problem because we feel that we will never be able to do enough. We also cannot simply determine that it is those of us who are not practicing the Buddhist way, that are the ones who will probably fall victim to such social and economic ills. In other words, "They deserve what they get! WE are not like them!" is not a valid response.

In order for each of us to feel a connection with one another, there must be something in common felt, understood, and experienced. We must share something. In a very practical way, this is one way of describing compassion.

What is shared in this framework of compassion is the uniqueness of individuals, communities, and cultures that differ in time and space. Although from this description it does not seem that there is anything in common, what must be remembered is that different vantage points can be shared from a common ground or reality. For example, the basic premise of interdependence is common to all Buddhists. Another way of stating this Dharma of interdependence is, "We need each other. I cannot exist and live alone!" From this definition of interdependence, the Sangha as a community must also come to include as part of our conscious learning animate and inanimate objects; the connections of the present to the past and the potential of the future are real consequences of our actions deliberate or otherwise. The Sangha is not limited to noted human concerns.

Another way in which the Dharma of interdependence can be restated is as "impermanence", "non-ego, " "emptiness", "gratitude," or "Namo Amida Butsu." The role of the Buddha-Dharma is to open the gate to everyone to attain Buddhahood. By doing so, it becomes critical that Buddhist educators provide ways to integrate religious truth with everyday living experiences.

CONSIDER...

Does Buddhist literature comment on "homosexuality?" Leonard Zwilling gives an account in his article, "Homosexuality As Seen In Indian Buddhist Texts." His article is based on his inquiries into the Vinaya or monastic law and Abhidharma or metaphysics of both the Pali and Sanskrit traditions. The term used to characterize a homosexual is "pandaka." It means "no testicles." Although incorrect, persons identified as pandaka have also been referred to as "eunuch."

According to the Zwilling article, five types of pandaka are described: 1) congenitally impotent; 2) as out of frustration, satisfying sexual desires by watching others engaged in sexual relations, e.g., voyeurism; 3) one who, owing to the outcome of non-virtuous conduct becomes impotent, then regaining in accordance with the lunar cycle; 4) one who satisfies sexual desires by fellating another to ejaculation; and 5) attaining ejaculation through special means or device.5

Referring to Buddhaghosa, pandaka are filled with defiled passions, insatiable lusts, and are dominated by their libido. The pandaka’s lust for lovers is likened to a prostitute or course young woman. From Buddhaghosa’s point of view, the pandaka is unable to fulfill the role of a real man and is likened in behavior and psychological characteristics to a "bad" woman.6

Vasubandhu contends that the psychological makeup of the pandaka has bearing on the ability to practice religion. Such a person is thought to have no discipline for spiritual practice. This is because such a person has the defiling passions of both male and female sexes. Such beings are said to lack the moral fortitude to counter defiling passions because they lack modesty and shame. Incapable of showing restraint, such a being is abandoned by their parents and lacking such ties are unable to hold strong views.7

Zwilling points out that these particular Indian Buddhist views toward the pandaka as lascivious, shameless, un-filial, and as capricious points to the social disabilities a member of a stigmatized and outcasted group must suffer. This prejudice against the pandaka is in contrast to the hinjras who are known for their inability or unwillingness to satisfy their parents in this life or the next life by not bearing offspring or by not performing funerary and other after death rites.8

Interestingly, at least the Buddhaghosa Indian Buddhist tradition recognizes the homosexual condition as an organic disorder with a psychological component. Such a view is also held by traditional Indian medical thought.

Zwilling’s assessment is a negative evaluation of homosexuals and their behavior by Buddhists. When examining the moral and legal consequences of this behavior, clearly, sexual misconduct is to be avoided by pious laity as well as the clergy. Early Buddhist traditions conceive sexual misconduct in terms of sexual relations with various types of prohibited women and the performance of non-procreative sexual acts. However, only Buddhaghosa and an anonymous author include men among forbidden sexual objects.

The Vinaya points to the consequences of intentional sexual misconduct by clergy. Varying offenses require varying punishments. Penetration with emission results in expulsion (castration to decapitation is cited in the Agamas) regardless of the gender, species or the partner or the orifice penetrated. Other types of sexual contact, such as masturbation of one monk by another are considered a serious offense, but does not require expulsion. A non-orgasmic contact such as touching the genitals of another person is a relatively minor offense. Interestingly, as a rule, offenses committed with a pandaka require less punishment than those involving a woman do. The punishment becomes more severe if they are committed with a socially acceptable man. Mutual masturbation among nuns is considered a minor offense; there are fewer explicit references to homosexuality in the monastic rules for nuns than for monks.

A number of rules were laid down to minimize homosexual encounter in a same-gender-closed community. For example, it became forbidden for two nuns to share the same bed covers or two novices to serve the same monk after it was discovered that the two novices committed a sexual offense with each other. It is of no surprise therefore, to find that ordination is denied to such persons (pandaka) and that such a denial has solid scriptural authority.9

Asanga like Vasubandhu goes further than the prohibition of ordination. They refuse to recognize the pandaka as a layperson based upon their assessment that such beings are unfit to associate with or serve the Sangha. However, although they were not allowed to receive and social or religious recognition as such, Asanga does not go so far as to disallow them to practice the path of layperson.

Although there are no specific references to homosexuality found in the Nikayas, the collection of Buddha's discourses in the Pali tradition, Zwilling points to the Anguttaranikaya. Therein is found a warning to monks against erotic feelings for each other. The Buddha warns that a monk who is devoted to another may think, "This person is dear and pleasing to me," and will be adversely affected if such a companion is expelled by the order, leaves, becomes ill or dies.10

Buddhaghosa, commenting on a passage from the Digha Nikaya, describes the progressive degeneration in the life span of human beings with increasing corporeality and sinfulness and takes the expression "wrong conduct," as the "sexual desire of men for men and women for women."11

In the sutra literature of Sanskrit Buddhism is described the hellish torment awaiting those men who indulge in sexual relations with other men. "The one who commits misconduct with boys sees boys being swept away in the Acid River who cry out to him and owing to the suffering and pain born of his deep affection for them, plunges in after them."12

Although Indian Buddhism does not altogether ignore homosexual behavior, its writings assess its behavior much to the same degree as comparable heterosexual behavior. Zwilling also proposes, however, that not recognizing a socially stigmatized class such as the pandaka as possible members of the Buddhist order can be interpreted as a socially expedient and practical concession to the prevailing sentiment and convention of Indian society. Dealing with the pandaka in this way would prevent any suspicion or charge of ill conduct from being leveled at the order as a whole.

Clearly, however, we find that the institution of Buddhism, as a religious entity intent on maintaining Sakyamuni’s teachings, have come to reinforce a caste system: a system bound to the Brahmanic tradition. How is that possible? When a community of believers no longer has its leader or founder, its collective sentiment can be easily swayed by conventional religious and social norms. Even early Buddhism during the lifetime of Sakyamuni was ambivalent, for instance, regarding the issue of allowing women into the Sangha.

A religious community’s survival depends upon it ability to communicate and advocate the founder’s true spirit and intent of the teaching. When a community is unable to do so, it will make all the necessary decisions to maintain the outward appearance of true intent but will inwardly betray the spirit of the teaching. A religious community such as the Hongwanji is no exception. It must struggle to renew its vitality in the spirit of its founder Shinran Shonin. In order to do this, however, it must continually immerse itself in the muck and mire of daily encounter, unafraid of the struggle for clarity and reflection that must come about, even when points of view diverge.

Furthermore, a spiritual community should realize that social issues affect how the religious and the pious are seen by those outside the tradition whether a spiritual community provides spiritual and social leadership or not.

The following four disciplines are prescribed in the 14th Chapter of the Saddharmapundarikasutra (Volume 5), or more commonly known in the English speaking world as the Lotus Sutra. These four religious practices (shianrakugyo, Jpz.) are performed to make peace. Here the term "peace" refers to Buddhahood.

The four disciplines are: 1. Engage in conduct leading to peace. This includes not to growing intimate with (a) men of rank; (b) heretics and heretical doctrines; (c) sports; (d) scavengers; (e) the followers of the Hinayana; (f) women; (g) eunuch (pandaka); (h) places of danger; (i) suspicion; and (j) handsome youths. You should only cultivate your mind in a quiet place. (Underline added).

2. Engage in speech conducive to peace, including (a) not to speak of defects in the sutras or criticize other's faults; (b) not to despise those of the Hinayana but to teach them the Mahayana doctrine; (c) not to rail at others; and (d) not to use angry words against others.

3. Engage in thoughts conducive to peace, including (a) not to be envious; (b) not to consider others as mean and worthless; (c) not to dispute with others; (d) not to disappoint others with nonsensical words, but look upon the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as your parents and teachers, and having pity upon all sentient beings.

4. Make vows for peace with a deep compassion for all sentient beings, liberating them from their miseries.

The Shianrakugyo or Four groups or Religious Practices necessary for attaining Buddhahood provide a condensed code of purity of thoughts, words, deeds, and vows for the Mahayana monastic.

Its earlier counterpart is found in the Majjhima Nikaya, the Middle-Length Discourses of the Buddha, in the 9th chapter or section referred to as the Sammaditthisutta in the passages on Right View:

When, friends, a noble disciple understands the unwholesome and the root of the unwholesome, the wholesome and the root of the wholesome, in that way is one with the right view, whose view is straight, who has perfect confidence in the Dharma and has arrived at this true Dhamma.

And what, friends, is the unwholesome, what is the root of the unwholesome. What is the wholesome, what is the root of the wholesome; taking what is not given is unwholesome; misconduct is sensual pleasure is unwholesome; false speech is unwholesome; malicious speech is unwholesome; harsh speech is unwholesome; gossip is unwholesome; covetousness is unwholesome; ill will is unwholesome; wrong view is unwholesome. This is called the unwholesome.

And what is the root of the unwholesome? Greed is the root of the unwholesome; hate is the root of the unwholesome; delusion is the root of the unwholesome. This is called the root of the unwholesome.

And what is the wholesome? Abstention from killing living beings is wholesome; abstention from taking what is not given is wholesome; abstention from misconduct in sensual pleasures is wholesome; abstention from false speech is wholesome; abstention from malicious speech is wholesome; abstention from harsh speech is wholesome; abstention from gossip is wholesome; uncovetousness is wholesome; non-ill will is wholesome; right view is wholesome. This is called wholesome.

And what is the root of the wholesome? Non-greed is the root of the wholesome; non-hate is the root of the wholesome; non-delusion is the root of the wholesome. This is called the root of the wholesome.

When a noble disciple has thus understood the unwholesome and the root of the unwholesome, the wholesome and the root of wholesome, he entirely abandons the underlying tendency to lust, he abolishes the underlying tendency to aversion; he extirpates the underlying tendency to the view and conceit 'I am,' and by abandoning ignorance and arousing true knowledge he here and now makes an end to suffering. In that way too a noble disciple is one with right view, whose view is straight, who has perfect confidence in the Dhamma, and has arrived at this true Dhamma.13

REFLECTING...

Before we go into the next segment of our talk-story, it is significant to point out what has been considered up to the present. The kind of problems we don’t like to face like child neglect and abuse, suicide, drug abuse, family member abuse, abortion, AIDS, etc., are at our door step. In fact for Hongwanji members and Buddhists, a significant number of those individuals suffering from these profound issues are members of our family.

For a community that has essentially "taken care of its own" and "kept their noses clean," the times in which we live today demand the individual, the family, and the religious community to take a real hard look at what we are and who we are as part of limitless life. What we become, we become together. As we look at the world around us, it seems to be getting smaller and smaller; people are living closer in that the strands we weave in the fabric of life is getting tighter and tighter. We know so many things about each other that we didn't before. Our effect upon one another and the environment is more profound and intimate. With this closeness, however, we know that there are many isolated and desolate people falling through the cracks.

No matter what information we have or what we think we know, we should realize that it is our purpose to grow, to develop, and reach out to others around us. We do this not because we think we are more fortunate than others or more worthy of loving or caring for others; we do so because we need each other. We do so because that is the only way that we can best love and care for ourselves as well.

Through the contribution of scholarship we know that past Buddhists have provided discourse and sutra materials that provided insight into the religious response to "homosexuality." It is significant to point out that a "caste" of individuals, e.g., pandaka, and hinjra which included "homosexuals" were stigmatized by Indian Buddhists after the decease of its founder Sakyamuni Buddha and that this reflected the cultural and social norms of Indian society and religion. We also have found evidence that the Sangha can indeed be affected by the sway of popular opinion despite the founder’s intent for a more inclusive and tolerant religious community, or at least idealized by the Buddhist community.

Another significant point, which is clear, is that the notion of "caste" although seemingly part of another culture or society of antiquity has modern meaning in America. We have created the caste of the homeless and poor; the cast of the indigenous peoples of the Polynesia’s, the North American peoples, peoples brought in as slaves, and the caste of women.

Even Sakyamuni Buddha may not have been exempt from this bias toward women. Alan Sponberg in his article, "Attitudes Toward Women and the Feminine in Early Buddhism" cites Mahapajapati, the foster mother to Sakyamuni who raised him after the death of his mother. Mahapajapati suggests that it would be good if women were allowed to become nuns by taking up the homeless life as full-time disciples rather than limited to lay followers.

The Buddha is weary of her request and denies her three times and she is turned away. Distraught, she approaches Ananda, Sakyamuni’s chief disciple, to ask for his intercession on behalf of women. The Buddha finally conditionally consents and agrees to ordination only if eight specific rules be added to the already established monastic code. Although we do not have real proof that the Buddha responded in the following manner, the account indicates that the Buddha then prophesied that this compromise will result in the Dharma enduring for only 500 years instead of 1000.14

Although we truly do not know if this actually happened, the fact that scriptural authority is found is significant. Based on this, at least two problematic issues present themselves to Buddhists of today.

The first is the Indian, Chinese and Japanese notions of the place and role of women in society, i.e., marriage. Specifically, this is the problem of the Three Obediences or Humilities of: 1) she should obey her parents when young; 2) she should obey her husband when married; and, 3) she should obey her children when old.

Accordingly, scholars have concluded that in Buddhism, "A woman cannot hope for any fortunate position even in this perishable and defectiable world of birth and death, how much less must be her hope of attaining Buddhahood! No matter what Sutra or Sastra you look at, she is always spoken of in terms of scorn and everywhere despised..."15

Sponberg contends that the notion of early Buddhism being equalitarian is misleading despite being popularly presented in that light. It is possible that the Buddha’s personal view was more spiritually equalitarian, but doctrinal material which have survived today presents a restricted view of a woman's ability for spiritual liberation and nothing whatsoever is asserted regarding their social rights within the society.16

Sponberg therefore cites a powerful theme or attitude which he terms, "institutional androcentrism: the view that woman indeed may pursue a full-time religious career, but only within a carefully regulated institutional structure that preserves and reinforces the conventionally social standards of male authority and female subordination."17

Karen Lang, in the same edition, points out that such an attitude is not limited to eastern or Asian society. It is more universal and can be found in Christianity as well:

"Both the Buddhist and Gnostic account of the fall have in common the following sequences of events: a deliberate act of eating brings about the transformation of originally luminous, incorporeal, and asexual nature into one that is now dark, material and sexual. This transformation, in turn, brings about awakening of sexual desire and the subsequent satisfaction of this desire through sexual intercourse. These scriptures imply, that since sexuality was involved in the fall, abstention from sexual pleasures will weaken the ties that bind humanity to the lower material world and thus enable seekers after enlightenment to ascend the luminous state of perfection forfeited by their ancestors."18

This attitude which blames women for the trouble and the destruction of the world is both hostile and dehumanizing: "Women are ever the root of ruin, and the loss of substance; when men are to be controlled by women how can they gain happiness? A woman is the destruction of this world and the next, hence, one must ever avoid women if he desires happiness for himself."19

Why have I taken so much effort to talk-story on the issue of the "caste of women?" A universal attitude toward women by a male dominated culture—physically, politically, physiologically, religiously, economically—will no doubt bring about a necessary abuse of that power and domination. This attitude against women in the Buddhist order is truly not disconnected from the issues of spousal abuse and the issue of abortion and even the very notion that a marriage consists simply and is limited to a man and a woman.

Bardwell Smith in his article, "Buddhism and Abortion in Contemporary Japan" suggest that:

"...women who become pregnant against their wishes and who may also feel guilty over having to abort are a prime candidate for a type of inner conflict that includes not only diffused resentment but self-reproach as well. This combination of repressed anger, guilt, and diminished self-esteem has many ramifications in the lives of women. This is not to imply that they are caused mainly by the problems of birth control and abortion. If anything, it is the reverse, namely, that problems arising there are attributable to less than satisfying relationships between men and women in so many areas of Japanese social life. Although the absence of realistic procreative choices discussed earlier, often leading to the necessity of abortion, is sufficient cause for frustration, the deeper causes are rooted within the whole social structure in which women have little opportunity to participate in the decision-making that affects important areas in their lives. Japan is hardly alone in this..."[Underline added.]20

We are all bound together in samsara. We are bound in the Net of Indra! However, we are also bound together in the incomprehensible Vow that liberates us! Even if we ignore this truth we are still subject to its working.

Don't Forget Shin Buddhism...

For those of us who have not lost interest in this obviously long talk-story, it seems necessary to "come about" and address attention to the particular significance of Shin Buddhism and its application henceforth.

The Brabmajala Sutra (Brahmacarya Sutta, Pali) can be cited as a very important Code or Path of Purification. Tendai Buddhism condenses the 250 precepts and 348 precepts of monks and nuns, respectively, into 10 cardinal and 48 subordinate precepts. Violation of any one of the 10 was punishable by expulsion from the Sangha, while penitent confession was necessary for those who broke with any of the 48 lesser precepts.

As in the Majjhima Nikaya, the Middle-Length Discourses of the Buddha, the Sammaditthi Sutta on Right View tells us that the purity of thoughts, words, and deeds is wholesome; the impurity of thoughts, words, and deeds is unwholesome. The Sammaditthi Sutta reveals through specific rules in the Brabmajala Sutra the Code of Purity through thoughts, words, and deeds and how when these are purified manifest the practice of an enlightened being.

Shinran Shonin as a doso or hall monk on Mount Hiei was certainly subject to the rigors of the Tendai 10 cardinal and 48 lesser precepts. Although we Jodo Shinshu Buddhists are far removed from the rigors of Mount Hiei, we have as the closest equivalent a very popular Children’s Reading, "the Golden Chain of Love":

I am a link in Amida Buddha's Golden Chain of Love that stretches around the world. I will try to be kind and gentle to every living thing and protect all who are weaker than myself. I will try to think pure and beautiful thoughts, to say pure and beautiful words, and to do pure and beautiful deeds, knowing that on what I do now depends not only my happiness or unhappiness, but also those of others. May every link in Amida Buddha's Golden Chain of Love become bright and strong, and may we all attain Perfect Peace.

This significant theme of pure thoughts, words, and actions that we say we try to address is not really within our abilities because it is very difficult to make the jump to purity. Our inability to practice pure thoughts, pure words, and pure deeds tells us of our inadequacies and we are reminded to simply entrust in Amida’s Compassion.

What significance might this have on the issue of legalizing same-gender marriage? A very important hint is cited in the Sammaditthi Sutra on Right View:

And what is the root of the unwholesome? Greed is the root of the unwholesome; hate is the root of the unwholesome; delusion is the root of the unwholesome. This is called the root of the unwholesome.21

Shinran Shonin confesses that he is unable to uproot the unwholesome, or greed, hate, and delusion in his Notes on Once-Calling and Many-Calling:

Ordinary people...we are full of ignorance and blind passion. Our desires are countless, and anger, wrath, jealousy, and envy are over-whelming, arising without pause; to the very last moment of life they do not cease or disappear, or exhaust themselves.22

Again, in the Kyogyoshinsho, Shinran Shonin states:

At every moment, in all of us who are foolish and ignorant, greed and desire constantly defile any goodness of heart, and anger and hatred incessantly consume the Dharma-treasure. Though we rush to act, rush to perform practices as though driving fire from our heads, all our deeds must be termed good acts poisoned and irresolute, acts empty, transitory and false; they cannot be called true and real and sincere. Aspire though one may to attain birth in the Land of Immeasurable Light through such empty, transitory, and poisoned good acts, it is altogether impossible.

By this time, there are many who may feel, on some level, that I have concluded that our Shin teachings do not concern themselves with doing "good" acts because they become obstacles in attaining faith or Shinjin. This is succinctly revealed in the Notes on 'Essentials of Shin(jin) Alone' (Shin Translation Series) which states,

"We should not express outwardly signs of wisdom, goodness or diligence - People who aspire for the Pure Land must not behave outwardly as though wise or good, nor should they act as though diligent. The reason is stated, FOR INWARDLY WE POSSESS THAT WHICH IS EMPTY AND TRANSITORY.. REFLECT ON THIS..."23

At the same time however, Shinran Shonin also states:

In people who have long heard the Buddha's Name and said the nembutsu, surely there are signs of rejecting the evil in this world and signs of their desire to cast off the evil in themselves. When people first begin to hear the Buddha's Vow, they wonder, having become thoroughly aware of the karmic evil in their hearts and minds, how they will ever attain birth as they are. To such people we teach that since we are possessed of blind passions, the Buddha receives us without judging whether our hearts are good or bad.

When, upon hearing this, a person's trust in the Buddha has grown deep, he comes to abhor such a self and to lament his continued existence in birth-and-death; and he then joyfully says the Name of Amida Buddha deeply entrusting himself to the Vow. That he seeks to stop doing wrong as his heart moves him, although earlier he would have thought to do such things and committed them as his mind dictated, is surely a sign of his rejecting this world.24

A person of Shinjin whose life is celebrated in the compassion of Amida Buddha's Vow begins to see "good" and "evil" from a very different vantage view. Perhaps one of the best ways I can express this is through a reading shared at the Governor’s Kilohana Awards--a gathering that celebrates excellence in volunteerism:

I shall contribute each day with this person without demanding perfection from others or myself. I shall struggle each day with my thoughts, my words and my deeds in ways that my behavior will not be self-defeating. I shall wonder in gladness and sadness of limitless light and life for teaching me this gift of Faith. By this gift as my debt of gratitude to limitless light and life, I shall realize my potential as well as my limits. I shall realize my clarity as well as my confusion. I shall be taught what needs to be done, as well as what I am incapable of doing. By this gift of Faith am I seized by a wondrous joy of having been so lovingly cared for by a perfection which realizes in me, the gratitude of my own imperfections. Namo Amida Butsu.

Shin Buddhism for the individual, as a family member, a member of a community and society begins to see him or herself from a radically different point of reference. He or she can no longer use himself as a standard of "good" or "bad" because every thing based upon that standard lack real clarity of truth, sincerity, and genuineness.

At the same time, however, I can no longer blame or fault others for my three poisons of greed, hate, and ignorance. When my wife or child do something, they are simply growing and developing as imperfect, frail human beings just as I am. However, as if instinctually, if they do something that is not in line with the way I want it to be, I get angry. This is done without even thinking about it.

If I don' t realize that this is a part of limitless life in which I live in the compassion of Amida Buddha, I might continue to behave instinctively and angry words will come out of my mouth. If I continue in this way, I will physically abuse a family member. But, if I really apply Shinshu in my daily living, I realize that I am the only person causing me to get angry, greedy, and deluded. In other words, although I cannot always see myself accurately, I need to know that I am responsible for my thoughts, words and deeds. There is no one else I can hold responsible for me except me. Unless we remain children all our lives, we cannot even blame our parents or those who have provided the causes or conditions for us to be as we are in the present.

Though each of us searches for happiness, we must come to realize that true happiness is not getting what we want. There is a certain happiness, a sense of gratitude in knowing what you have and who you are. Such a happiness is not the absence of problems, but the grateful courage to grow by them. In life, there are no unimportant or inferior or subordinate or queer persons. There are no unimportant tasks or vocations. There are no unimportant acts of kindness. Each human being is, after all, as happy or as miserable as he or she makes his or her mind up to be. Know yourself, accept yourself. This is the Buddha's love and wisdom in you. Changing, learning, growing and sharing. It is all about you. It is all about me. It is no one else’s responsibility.

There is the saying, that "love and marriage go together." We must remember that love doesn't just happen by itself. Just because you're married doesn't mean you love each other. It doesn’t suggest that as a husband and wife, or a husband and husband, or a wife and wife that you love each other. I think love is like baking bread. You need to work at it and watch it grow. It has to go into the fire if it’s going be anything worthwhile. And you've got to share it if it’s going to taste any good. Let me share the exhortation in the weddings that I have officiated over up to the present:

"On this most wonderful celebration of your lives together, you, (name), and you, (name), shall hereby publicly declare your resolve to wed. You do so of your own accord in the sanctuary of limitless light and life and all who love and support you.

(name )and (name), your karmic threads are run from unique cloths. From this, however, you will fashion a new design of hopes and visions onto that amazing tapestry of limitless light and life.

Remember always that each of you occupies a sacred and irreplaceable place in this universe. This place cannot be duplicated or even owned by the other in matrimony. This means that each of you shall come to fully honor, respect and love your own person so that you, in turn, may do so for the other. Delight in that rare and unique place each of you holds in this world of ebb and flow. Each of you today has been solemnly called to relation--this means that you must, in turn, honor, respect, and delight in each other as you do so preciously with your own person. In short, you have invited each other to share the most loving, beautiful and grateful persons you can be with all whom touch your lives.

There will be happy moments; there will be sad moments. By the rhythm of these life experiences together, you shall discover the amazement of growing and learning together. Each of you are unique and distinct; yet, you are always building bridges towards each other. Build upon your loving hands and hearts to the everyday tasks that move you in sadness as well as in gladness.

Amidst this flurry of life, may you celebrate that most precious state of being human: being touched by Amida Buddha's Compassionate Heart. This is the essence of our life and, thus, our Shin Buddhist teaching in the joyous gratitude of 'Namo Amida Butsu.'

  • Guy: Whose fault was it? For years, I thought it was mine. I was accountable for my actions. It never occurred to me that anyone else was involved.

Everyone’s involved. Me, you, every living human being. Do we really know what we’re doing to each other? We call each other names. And we push and shove each other out of the way, because we’re so hateful and afraid.

Okay, I've taken responsibility. What about the rest of you? Why do you hate us so? Do you think we can make your son or daughter gay? Are you afraid we'll rub off on them? On you?

You don't get it. It’s not contagious. It’s who I am. Maybe it's who you are...25


1 Fumia, Molly, HONOR THY CHILDREN; One Family's Journey to Wholeness, Pp.240-244
2 Ibid., p. 229
3 Ibid., p. 219-220
4 Ibid., p. 237
5 Zwilling, Leonard, "Homosexuality As Seen In Indian Buddhist Texts," in Cabezon, Jose Ignacio, Ed., Buddhism, Sexuality & Gender, State University of New York, 1992, Pp. 203-214. In his article, Zwilling refers extensively to Buddhaghosa's Samantapasadika.
6 Ibid., It is no accident that a man who falls "short" is comparable to a "bad" woman in Indian Buddhist culture. The cultural-religious evaluation of the homosexual is not disconnected to the role and place of women in most societies, historical and contemporary.
7 Ibid., p. 205.
8 Ibid., p. 206.
9 Ibid., the Pali tradition cites the Pandakavatthu section of the Mahavagga.
10 Ibid., Zwilling refers to the Puggalappasadasutta.
11 Ibid., the Cakkavattisutta. Japanese Buddhism knows this to be the Mappo - the final degeneration of the Buddha's Law. Only the Pure Land Teaching can thrive at the lowest ebb of the Dharma's decay.
12 Ibid., Saddharmasmrtyupasthanas Sutra
13 Bhikku Nanamoli and Bhikku Bodi (trans.), A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya, Wisdom Publications, 1995, p. 132
14 Cabezon, Jose Ignacio, Ed., Buddhism, Sexuality and Gender; Sponberg, Alan's article, "Attitudes Toward Women and the Femnnine in Early Buddhism," 1992; pp. 14-15.

Sponberg cites the Theravada Vinaya's second of two Kandhakas in the Cullavagga's Chapter X. The necessary intercession of a man for the sake of a woman is revealed in this Buddhist account which reinforces the social norm of a woman's subordinate role to defer to a man.

15 Coates, Harper & Ishizuka, Ryugaku, Trans., Honen the Buddhist Saint; His Life and Teaching; 1925; p. 353.

Zendo Daishi interprets Amida's 35th Vow as: "By virtue of the merit of Amida's great Vow, women who call up the sacred name, may, when they come to the end of their life here, have their bodies changed into those of men. Apart from the power of the great Vow of Amida, a woman cannot have her body changed to that of a man in a thousand kalpas, nay ten thousand, nay, not even in as many kalpas as there are sands in the river Ganges. This expresses the beneficent power of Amida's merciful Vow, by which women may escape pain and receive the gift of blessedness."

16 Ibid., Sponberg, Alan; "Attitudes...;" p 12
17 Ibid., p. 13.
18 Ibid., pp. 19-20.
19 Ibid
., Saddaruiasmrtyapasthana.
20 Ibid., Smith, Bardwell; "Buddhism and Abortion in Contemporary Japan;" p. 76.
21 Bhikku Nanamoli and Bhikku Bodi (trans.), A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya, Wisdom Publications, 1995, p. 133
22 Notes on Once-Calling & Many-calling; Ichinen-tanen mon 'i;Shin Translation Series
23 Notes on Essentials of Faith Alone, emphasis added
24 (Letters of Shinran, Trans. of Mattosho; Shin Trans. I; 61)
25 Fumia, Molly, HONOR THY CHILDREN; One Family's Journey to Wholeness, Pp.240-244

[Dharma Rain] [ Table of Contents ] [Guest Book] [ Vista Buddhist Temple ]

©1997 Vista Buddhist Temple