Change comes from within
G Sakamoto

After the Tree of Life Synagogue killings members of the Jewish community and the Muslim community organized a vigil outside city hall. Many people from different traditions came to show support. It is not only the Jewish community that grieved but many others who shared in that great loss. Members of our Sangha were there too. We too grieve at the loss. I saw a friend who had come to support others. I turned to her and said, we have to work to build bridges to connect different groups of people. She said, Everyday I work to turn fear into friendship. She has it right. It does not matter what community we belong to its our fear, our not knowing one another that can become hate.

I attended the fourth Interfaith Thanksgiving gathering that was held this year at the Church of Latter Day Saints in Willow Glen. Attending clergy were asked to participate in different ways. I had not attended the gathering since the first year. That year I participated but the two following years I declined to go. In part because I’m not sure what gatherings like this, and the vigil in front of City Hall, do. They bring communities together and share support in times of crisis however there feels like something more can be done. The students after the Parkland shooting thanked legislators and people for their prayers and kind thoughts, but more was necessary to affect change. I mentioned that to Supervisor Joe Simitian after the City Hall vigil. I think that’s why he invited me to do an opening at the County Supervisor’s meeting. I wonder about this too. It’s nice to be recognized but does it make a difference. I read at brief statement I’d written then a brief explanation of the Dhammapada then I read two verses from the Dhammapada. Most people in the room listened courteously. One person looked up from what he was doing when in my explanation of the Dhammapada I mentioned it was from a collection of verses of the Buddha from 2,500 years ago. What I tried to convey was that the challenges we face are not new. We have to change to make a difference.

At the Interfaith Thanksgiving gathering as a part of the opening I recited the Vandana and Ti Sarana. Very impressive. Later in the program I gave brief comments on this year’s theme Gratitude in Action. I began with the story of the Buddhist hotdog vendor. I think I was still trying to figure out what I would say at the County Supervisors meeting. I’ve used this story for a very long time. The punch line is, when customer asks for his change the vendor replies, “Change comes from within.” It’s a fun story.

The change we are often looking for is a change in what we are experiencing. Perhaps some hardship or disappointment. We look at the world around us and see injustice, marginalization, poverty. We experience grief, uncertainty, frustration. These experiences are not new. They have been a part of our experience for a long time. For just as long, though, people have worked to fix, to bring balance to, what seems to be the cause our difficulties.

Shakyamuni Buddha too offered a way to bring things into balance: cultivate a bias free mind. A bias free mind sees things as they are. There are many examples of how bias influences how we engage the world. Fracking in Wyoming. The oil producer sees it as a environmentally safe practice. The ecologist might see the infrastructure as a threat to the migratory path of deer. Others see the fracking as a job that might change people’s lives. The environmentalist would question the release of carbon into the environment. Each of these views are viable from a particular point of view. And from each point of view the other’s concerns are not relevant. To change the outcome of impasse, how we understand and see things has to change. If the environmentalist cannot see the needs of the oil producer there will be conflict. The differences are irreconcilable. If we can begin to acknowledge the other as not unlike ourselves then perhaps we can begin to approach something in common. If we can change how we see and engage the world we might make a difference.