Updated: Jan 14, 2021
I don’t know how any Americans could say that they weren’t terribly disturbed by the events of Jan. 6, when the U.S. Capitol was overcome by insurgents who overwhelmed security and police to not only enter the hallowed building, but to break into the chambers and offices of our government leaders, vandalizing and causing chaos and disruption.
I think we all watched the news on TV as if we were watching some kind of “Die Hard” movie, but this was not a movie. It was actually happening. I think we were shocked, disturbed, and moved to tears. This was our Capitol. This was where Congress convenes and conducts the business of our government. Political affiliations aside, no matter what party you adhere to, it was terribly disturbing to all of us who live in this country, and to those abroad as well.
It leaves us with such an unsettled feeling to see such chaos, to see such a disturbance, and what we consider to be “law and order” broken beyond recognition.
How do we “settle” ourselves amidst chaos and confusion? How do we find a sense of peace and serenity, when we are inundated with such horrific scenes of something in our own country?
I was thinking about what it must have been like for Shinran Shonin, living in Japan during one of the most turbulent periods of Japanese history. There were epidemics, like we are facing with this terrible coronavirus pandemic. There was political instability, leading to much death and destruction. There was famine. People were dying of starvation. On the news, we watch countless fellow citizens who wait patiently in their cars for food from food banks.
In Kyoto, one of the most scenic places is the Kamo River, which runs through the city. The Kamo River has restaurants and bars all along the scenic river. During Shinran Shonin’s time, the Kamo River was not lined with restaurants and bars. The river was lined with corpses, from those who died from famine and epidemics.
Right now, an estimated 4,000 people a day are dying from COVID-19 in this country. Hospital ICUs in California are filled beyond capacity. Sick people are in beds in hallways, waiting for a hospital room. Morgues are filled. Mortuaries are backlogged for cremations for weeks. We aren’t that much different from people living during the Kamakura Period of Japan.
Yet, despite the horrific time that he lived in, Shinran Shonin found something stable. He found something settled, he found something peaceful, despite all the chaos and confusion that surrounded him.
He found and received the Nembutsu, Namuamidabutsu, as a deep and profound truth that was grounded, timeless, and indestructible. What peace, what joy it must have given him. Only being in chaos can one really appreciate peace and serenity.
If we can find one positive thing out of the chaos, confusion, and unsettling times that we are living in today, I hope that we are being led deeper into the Dharma, deeper into the Nembutsu.
To see chaos and confusion in the world only affirms the importance, the value of the Buddha-Dharma. For the people of the Kamakura Period of Japan, the Nembutsu was the one thing, maybe it was the only thing that brought them comfort, peace, serenity, amidst the chaos, the tragedy, the sadness of their time.
Are we that different than those who lived during the Kamakura Period of the 1200s? We don’t appear to be. Just as the Nembutsu came to arise and meet the spiritual needs of the people of the Kamakura Period in Japan, may the Dharma, may the Nembutsu begin to rise up in this country, and may many find a sense of peace, a sense of grounding, a sense of stability, a sense of joy, in the truth of Namuamidabutsu.