Focusing Back on the Deep Wish Given to Us:
Turning Crisis into an Opportunity to Restore Our Humanity
By Bishop Hiroshi Tajima
We can’t predict what will happen to the world because of the COVID-19 pandemic. After careful consideration, here at Higashi Honganji’s mother temple (Shinshū Honbyō) we decided to conduct our annual Spring Service as scheduled. However, attendance will be limited to only headquarters office staff. Additionally in consideration of public health, we suspended all volunteer programs (Hōshidan) as of March 1 at our Dōbō Retreat Center.
We offer our sincerest apologies to temple members who were looking forward to participating in our retreat center programs. We also apologize to our overseas districts members who were planning to attend our 13th World Dōbō Gathering in Kyoto that was scheduled for April, and also, to head priests and temple administrators from throughout Japan who were preparing group tours to come here. All those events and activities have been either postponed or cancelled.
Throughout the world, many people have died and many more will become ill. We offer our deepest condolences to families whose loved ones have passed away, and we extend our best wishes to the countless people who contracted the virus. We wish for their speedy recovery. Also, we express our deepest gratitude and respect to healthcare professionals worldwide who are striving to treat people during this unprecedented situation. We hope this combined wisdom and care bring an end to this crisis as soon as possible.
In retrospect, we human beings have suffered from numerous infectious diseases of unknown origin throughout history. Despite uncertainty about what must be done in such difficult situations, we have courageously faced and overcome those crises. In such times, it’s important to absolutely not socially and emotionally isolate those who are ill or their families. Unfortunately, there’s a deplorable trend of blaming those who suffer from the disease. In these times, it’s crucial we learn from the wisdom of the Buddha, who vows to always bear our anxieties and suffering together with us. Although we must eradicate this virus, we should never separate those suffering in our society.
Naturally we wish our loved ones and we are spared from misfortune. However, this pandemic reminds us of a fundamental truth that no one in this world is free from suffering. Therefore, let’s try our best to understand the anxieties and feelings of isolation of those who contract this disease. I believe this is the attitude we must have as human beings.
Throughout history, our ancestors have turned crisis into opportunities manifesting the spirit of the nenbutsu sangha, regarding everyone as friends and family living together, instead of enduring the impermanence of life alone.
Right now, all of our districts, temples, and local sangha groups across the globe have no choice but to cancel or suspend their services, study sessions and other activities. In the spirit of our ancestors, it’s important to realize this crisis is a chance to reflect on how we should live, rather than a time to be weighed down by pessimism.
Because many of us must now limit our interaction with other people, let’s focus even more on deepening and cultivating relationships with each other, encouraged by the Buddha’s wisdom. By returning our focus to the deep wish the Buddha made for us, let us regard this crisis as an opportunity to work together toward restoring true humanity among us.
Hoping this situation will be resolved in the near future, we plan to resume our normal activities, such as welcoming visitors and restoring our volunteer programs. At our headquarters offices, staff members are striving to maintain services and other events so you all can visit Shinshū Honbyō soon and together listen to the Dharma.
In this time of vast uncertainty, we sincerely wish every one of us finds an opportunity to return our focus to the wish of the Buddha.
-Bishop Tajima is Chief Administrator of the Shinshū Ōtani-ha denomination (Higashi Honganji), based in Kyoto, Japan