In This Time of Crises

And I must say tonight, that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear?

—Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

In a time of pandemic, of racist violence, and social divisiveness, we call to mind Zen Master Dogen, who wrote: “We should without fail arouse bodhicitta, ferrying others before ourselves.” Bodhicitta, enlightening mind, is the expression of our commitment to the awakening of all: Freedom from sickness, from suffering, from exploitation, from fear and discrimination, from poverty and want, and, ultimately, from delusion. This is true, but first things first: Black Lives Matter. Freedom from the policeman’s knee, from the bullet, freedom from the callous brutality of a president and a government furthering White Supremacy.

One of the early teachers in the West, Dainin Katagiri Roshi, expressed Zen practice succinctly in the titles of two books. The first book was Returning to Silence—this is zazen, the dynamic stillness that is refuge for all who seek it. The second book was titled You Have to Say Something. Truly, the peace of meditation expresses itself in enlightening words and actions.

Our Zen community walks hand in hand with numberless religious communities and people of conscience. We will not accept hatred and division between the races and among ourselves. Yes, all of American history is scarred by racism and violence. For generations, some of us have actually profited from the exploitation of less-privileged communities and peoples. Our nation itself has failed to hear the anguish of African-Americans and of many others. Now, painfully, all ears must be open to suffering sisters and brothers.

The Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts, our ethical foundation, can be reduced to one essential vow: I vow not to live at the expense of other people and beings. Each of us must examine our lives, our words and actions. We must ground ourselves in equality—equal rights, equal justice, equal opportunity, equal access to resources. Materially and spiritually, we must help raise up those among us who have been downtrodden. Actually, we must support them to raise themselves. Though each person has distinct skills, capacities, and appearance, finally our lives are equally precious to ourselves and to those who love us.

Dr. King wrote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” This is beautiful…and incomplete. We need our complete effort to bend the moral universe towards justice. We must use our minds, our hearts, our voices, and our hands to accomplish the work of peace.