By Rev. Noriaki Fujimori
Wouldn’t you like to live in an ideal community? What makes a community ideal?
My ideal community would have the following:
- All residents would have at least three close friends on whom they can depend to help each other
- Job opportunities are based on value to the community, not money
- Residents live simply, enjoying local foods and culture
- Residents practice being content with little money and few material possessions
- Customs and traditions serve to protect natural resources and the environment
For me, living this way would be ideal. Even if you aren’t now living this way, I think you can create your own version of an ideal community so that everyone may live happily together.
These conditions making an ideal community reflect important Buddhist teachings—“Nothing exists alone. All things are inter-connected.” The Buddha taught we don’t exist alone, but alongside others. We exist because of the natural environment. Let us live together with a greater awareness that our lives are not independent, but inter-dependent.
I think understanding the inter-connectedness of life is key to creating an ideal community.
Now consider this: We can learn how to truly live from people in poorer, developing countries.
Living in an economically rich country such as the United States, we tend to believe we are much happier than people in poorer countries. Certainly, people in those countries face challenging problems that we don’t worry about related to such things as food, clean water, sanitation, and healthcare.
However in my visits to developing countries, people have told me, “Many people in your country live alone and die at home without anyone knowing.” Others said, “Many young people are afflicted with mental illness.”
I’ve visited many developing countries, but they don’t seem to have these kinds of problems. For people there, many family members, relatives and friends often live together in small houses because they can’t afford to buy their own home. They also can’t afford to live alone, so they live with others. If someone in the house gets sick or passes away, everyone knows right away.
In our materially rich and expensive country, people often work hard and long hours to make a living. They typically are tired after work and don’t have the time or energy to worry about anyone else. Such conditions lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. If we understand this situation, we can’t automatically assume we’re better or happier than people in other countries. By flipping our view and seeing the value of these other ways of living, we can see a life that’s more closely connected to others.
By considering a different way of living, we can work towards a more ideal community. Have you heard of house sharing? Many students and other people like living together in a house, sharing a kitchen, a dining room, garden and so forth. People support and help each other, even though they aren’t related by blood. Many Hawaiians live this way, using the term “ohana” to define family, which includes non-family members.
As the number of single people rises, sharing a house and living together are ways to help and support each other, while also building a sense of community. At our Palolo Higashi Hongwanji Temple in Hawaii, we are fortunate to have a dormitory and apartments. At these facilities, we can pursue an ideal community with help and support from all the residents.
To quote an important Jodo Shinshu text, the Tannisho: “All beings have been fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, in the timeless process of birth-and-death.”
Buddhism teaches: “By interacting with others, we can gain precious awareness and enlightenment. True enlightenment cannot be attained alone. We need to connect and interact with others.”
What do you think?
Rev. Fujimori is minister at Palolo Higashi Hongwanji Temple in Honolulu, Hawaii