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Buddhadharma : Winter 2006
buddhadharma| 35 |winter 2006 must not create conflict and we must not kill. If at some point one had to choose between what the country is doing and one’s beliefs as a Buddhist, one should certainly choose the point of view of the Buddha. Zen at War Roshi, I know you have been concerned about the role that Japanese Buddhism, and particu- larly the Zen schools, played in World War II. Why did the Zen organizations fall into error? Overcoming the concepts of self, being, life, and soul must be accompanied by a strong social sense, a consciousness of the true social situation in the world. Without this, one can inadvertently be swept along by circumstances. What is the true social situation in the world? There are different views of the world. For exam- ple, there is the scientific view, which lacks the spiritual point of view. And what people are get- ting from various media is often filtered through the wish to make profit, the wish for people to see things a certain way – it’s totally undependable. So we can never know what is really happening in the world. This has always been the case, but it is especially true right now. In the past, people were handicapped by not having dependable informa- tion. But today, the distortion of information is a great problem. Apart from the media, what do you see as the true situation in the world? Countries and their leaders don’t see existence as made up of individuals. They mainly see what is going to bring material profit. People in a country are like parts of a machine, to be used for that end. In the case of Japan during World War II, would you say that the Buddhist priests and leaders who supported the war were realized people? These Buddhist leaders may have been less than completely liberated from the concept of ego. One can be internally liberated and still have much work left to realize liberation in the context of society. But often it is extremely difficult to express a position that goes against public opinion and the government’s interests. This applies also to the situation in America after the terrorist attacks. We mustn’t fear this challenge, however. Although Buddhist leaders during World War II may have had great individual insight, they had a very limited understanding of the world outside Japan. This, I believe, was one of the main reasons for their serious errors in judgment. But what was their understanding of Buddhism? Of course they understood and admired the Buddha, or they would not have been teachers. What allowed them to support a violent kind of nationalism, on the one hand, and support Buddhism on the other? It seems there is a kind of split. There is a teaching of the Buddha about unify- ing the whole world in the dharma. That is prob- ably how the Zen teachers would have supported the Japanese military. But the question is why would they agree, misinformed as they may have been, to the use of force to accomplish this? In the scriptures, the Buddha intervened three times when his country was threatened, but to the end, he refused to sanction the use of force to protect his country. Kensho and the Precepts This raises the question of what is kensho, or what is the nature of liberation. What is the importance of kensho? Do you encourage your students in this direction? Of course. If I didn’t, it wouldn’t be the teaching of Shakyamuni. People tend to conceptualize kensho, though, imagining it to be a kind of supernatural phenomenon, like a divine light or a vision of the Buddha. Kensho is not a concept or abstraction external to us. The essence or ground of mind cannot be sought outside. That essence, common to every human being, is a truth (shinjitsu) that anyone can awaken to and verify within his or her own mind; it’s something internal that appears when all accretions are gone. Is there a distinction between kensho – in the sense of realization – and character development? When speaking of kensho, it isn’t necessary to get involved with matters of character or personal- ity. The central issue is, when seeing, how do we see? When hearing, how do we hear? When smell- ing, how do we smell? When tasting, how do we taste? When touching, how do we touch? When thinking, how do we think? These functions of our mind essence are common to all people. What is the interplay between our conditioned nature and our true human nature? That conditioned personality is buddhanature. But whether or not you can use that conditioned per- sonality is the function of buddhanature. We have to realize that buddhanature is not our own personal thing; it is connected to everything that is. Because we all think it belongs to us, we make mistakes in how we use it. Even though we think we understand, the problem is we make it RolAndScHmid