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Buddhadharma : Spring 2006
buddhadharma| 13 |spirng 2006 firSt thoughtS Journey to the dark Side of buddhiSm in america Stephanie Kaza discusses a painful period in the history of Western Buddhism and encourages American practitioners to make it part of their pilgrimage practice. IT IS SOMEWHAT fashionable among Western Buddhists to undertake pilgrimages to the coun- try of origin of their practice lineage. Buddhist tours to India, Bhutan, Japan, Thailand, and Tibet offer remarkable opportunities to see shrines and temples – the physical history of this religion we hold dear. I have yearned for this opportunity myself: If only I could go to Japan and see Eiheiji! Then I would really know something about Dogen’s tradition. It looms large in my imagina- tion as a must-do, life-transforming experience. As it turns out, I was given the opportunity, in a small way, for another sort of pilgrim- age. Let’s call it the darker side of Buddhist his- tory in America. As a participant in the Seventh International Buddhist-Christian Conference in Los Angeles, I was invited to visit the Japanese- American National Museum. This museum tells the story of the unconstitutional incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II – how 120,000 U.S. citizens were interned in ten con- centration camps across the West and Midwest. In the stark black-and-white photos and videos, the story unfolds: one week a family is enjoying the snow at Yosemite, the next week they have packed their bags and are crossing the desert by train. In the museum, there is a reconstruction of one of the cramped family units, with cracks in the walls and a small potbelly stove to ward off the freezing cold of the Wyoming winter. Among those interned were 4,000 Buddhist ministers of Japanese descent. Only a very few were allowed to remain in their communities. But even then, their temples were closed and used for storage, and signs were posted saying, “No con- gregating.” Practicing Buddhism was a threat to society. In the camps, the ministers did what they could to maintain religious life for the residents. Life was very hard – the endless blowing sands, the primitive communal bathing, the segregation by gender and age in the dining halls, and, most of all, the terrible questioning of Japanese-Ameri- can loyalty to the United States. It occurred to me that a Buddhist practicing in America could make a pilgrimage based on these internments, in order to understand something about our Buddhist inheritance. It would be a sobering journey to the sites of the camps, to the museum, and to the Japanese communities still affected by this shared memory of injustice. This history of the abuse of Buddhists in the United States is not pretty to look at. As a generation of Western converts in love with Zen and all the other rich lineages that have come to the U.S., we would prefer to protect our romanticized versions of Buddhism. But a pilgrimage to acknowledge this painful piece of history would be very use- ful. The museum was a place to begin, a place to remember what some other Buddhists have gone through to keep their religion and communities alive under harsh conditions. From turning wheeL magaZine (FaLL 2005). big, red-hot, flaming ball Stuck in your throat John Daido Loori, Roshi, describes what samadhi is really like. Student: What is the relationship of the great doubt to samadhi? Daido Roshi: The great doubt is samadhi. When the great doubt is all-encompassing, it is the whole universe. Recall the words of Wumen who describes the great doubt as the big, red-hot, flaming ball that’s stuck in your throat. You can’t swallow it and you can’t spit it out. Or, it is like the tile crumbling underfoot and the sky falling. Everything is coming apart. Student: Is it possible to tell if a person is in a state of samadhi? Daido Roshi: In well-developed samadhi, the awareness of all senses is wide open and concen- trated without special effort. There is a great deal of intuitive processing and direct appreciation of the situation. It’s very evident when somebody illusTraTions by sTeve heynen