By Bishop Noriaki Ito
News about the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army shows the destruction of residential areas in many cities and an endless stream of innocent people—women, the elderly, children, and others—fleeing to neighboring countries such as Poland. Typically, when two countries fight a war, both are somewhat responsible for the conflict.
What’s sad in this war is that Ukrainians did nothing to provoke the invasion by Russian armed forces. As Higashi Honganji’s Chief Administrator, Bishop Wataru Kigoshi, wrote recently regarding the war in Ukraine, “Our organization has a negative history of blindly following the policy of the Japanese government during World War II, voluntarily cooperating with the war by pushing many people to the battlefields.” In 1995, our denomination passed a “No-more-war Resolution.” This statement encourages us “to work together with all people to realize a happy and peaceful international community that no longer permits war, transcending all ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and religious differences.”
Harmony is a word usually associated with music. Harmony occurs when different instruments and different voices evoke different tones and melodies that blend together perfectly. In everyday life, harmony refers to different people with different opinions blending together like beautiful music.
We have seen divisions in our country over the past few years. Somehow, we seem more divided than in any period of our recent history that I can remember. Regarding the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, we are united in condemning the actions of the Russian president. I admire the legions of Russian people who protested to the point of being arrested themselves against the aggression their country has wreaked on their neighbors. I truly admire the courage and the resiliency of the Ukrainian people.
In Buddhism, we talk about the teachings of interdependence and how we are connected to each other even if we don’t realize it. This truth also applies to people, actions, and countries across the world. What happens on the other side of the planet affects us here in the United States. Seeing news of the unrelenting war, we cry together with people who are victimized, the children who are suffering, the men fighting and resisting the invasion, and the women who take their children and the elderly to safe havens in neighboring countries. They remind us we are dependent upon each other.
We hope for a return to a harmonious relationship between countries. We, our Higashi Honganji members, must strive towards this kind of peace and harmony and feel a sense of responsibility.
Words of the venerable Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh come to mind. In his book, “Being Peace,” he wrote:
If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower,
and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.
Likewise, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Please remember, harmony starts with you and me.
-Rev. Ito is bishop of Higashi Honganji’s North America District and is based in Los Angeles.