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Buddhadharma : Summer 2019
REVIEW | MARK UNNO 113 to the Philippines, where he was captured by Japanese military police on suspicion of espionage and subjected to severe tor ture. Throughout his ordeal, Sakakida was not overcome by fear, and he never broke down and revealed any American secrets. “If I was enraged during the early stages of torture, I was by then, delivered into a state of incandescent fury, particularly as [the interrogator] buried the cigarette into my penis,” he wrote. “All the torture and beating did not dampen my Yankee spirit...They not only rekindled that spirit in prison; they set it on fire.” After returning to the US, Sakakida was treated with racial and religious bias and was suspected of having worked for the Japanese even though he was a decorated American hero. The most remarkable part of Sakakida’s story reveals how his prac tice of Buddhism influenced his character. After the war, he vowed to track down his torturers. When he finally confronted the three Japanese military police who had tortured him for months, they threw themselves at his feet in prostration, fear ing the worst retaliation. At that moment, tears welled up in his eyes, his heart filled with forgiveness and compassion, and he offered them cigarettes and candy. Wil liams writes that Sakakida attributed his demeanor to his Buddhist upbringing. The internment experience of Japanese American Buddhists, which included a requirement to take an oath of loyalty to the US even when they were not allowed to become US citizens, is the story of our nation’s history. From the genocide of Native Americans to the slavery of Afri can Americans, the importation of Japa nese Americans and other Asian Ameri cans as cheap labor, and the projection of the dominant culture’s own darkness onto racially stereotyped Muslims, to the cur rent predicament of Latinx migrants who are suffering unspeakable treatment even as their labor remains indispensable to the operation of the American economy, the white EuroAmerican dominion over the planet has required the subjugation of colored bodies as the bridges to the earth. To begin to end the cycle of violence per petrated on other peoples and on the earth itself requires one to stand before the cycle of karmic violence in recognition and to stop it with one’s own body in the present moment of awareness, here and now, as Richard Sakakida did in facing his Japa nese captors as well as white America’s racism and religious prejudice—absorb ing, digesting, reflecting, and overturning the cycle of violence into the unfolding of unconditional compassion. As the story of the Buddha shows, true Buddhist awaken ing must be borne witness by the body of the earth herself. Williams’ account of Japanese Ameri can Buddhists in internment—tales of suffering borne with dignity, and thereby transformed into great compassion—is the fruit of painstaking labor to unearth the buried stories and lives upon which Ameri- can Sutra has been inscribed. The story of their resilience would be inscribed on their very bodies as their tale of endurance and dignity. Like the plants they sowed with their hands, the dharma grew directly out of the earth, which bore witness to their lives of devotion. One cannot know the story of Buddhism in America, the story grounded in the reality of the earth, with out bearing witness to the open wounds that, upon deeper examination, turn out to be portals to boundless compassion.