Impermanent World of Burning House

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Maui Wildfire Disaster

As you are all aware, Maui Island in Hawaii was struck by a huge wildfire on August 8 last month. In the worst destruction of property in Hawaii’s long history, beautiful Lahaina – which had served as the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom through several generations – was destroyed overnight. Sadly, at least 115 people were killed and over 2,000 buildings destroyed in the overwhelmingly residential area that included many historic and cultural sites.

In this devastation, both the Lahaina Hongwanji (the oldest Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temple on Maui Island with a history of 100 years) and the parsonage in which resident minister Reverend Ai Hironaka and his family resided were both completely leveled. Fortunately, Sensei and his family were able to evacuate safely from the horrific fires that were intensified by the strong winds.

When he saw that the fires had totally changed the Lahaina landscape overnight, Rev. Hironaka said, “People are injured and crying. But we should move forward into the future.” Currently, the Buddhist Churches of America and the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii have established the Maui Wildfire Disaster Relief Fund to help and support the Lahaina Hongwanji and the relief efforts on Maui. I sincerely hope that many more people will donate generously to support our Dharma friends in Hawaii.

Other Disasters

When I look back over the first half of this year, there have been many large-scale disasters around the world. I’m sure you also recall that many cities were destroyed and precious lives lost because of Tropical Cyclone Freddy in Africa’s southeastern countries; and also by Cyclone Mocha in Myanmar; recurring floods in Sudan; massive floods in Rwanda; the huge earthquakes in Turkey and Syria; and devastating wildfires in Canada. And there was also the huge earthquake that hit Morocco recently, causing devastating damage. At present, it is estimated that as many as 2,800 people have been lost and more than 2,000 people have been injured. And furthermore, more than 5,000 people dead in Libya as collapsed dams worsen flood disaster. How can we not help but fear the violence of Mother Nature in these terrible situations?

The Earth is Alive

When I contemplate these disasters that occurred all over the globe, I cannot help but recall the words of a Japanese novelist who said,

“The evidence that the earth is alive is that disasters occur. Humankind is able to live because the earth is alive. But the earth itself continues to live as the law of Nature, exceeding human will.”

When I first heard these words, I was very impressed with such calm insight.

And at the same time, I fully understood that the living environment of the modern city is a “palace of illusion,” constructed brilliantly as a symbol of human ego and self-centeredness. Although the civilizations we have established from ancient times look elegant, unlike Utopias that will last forever, they can collapse into nothing like a house of cards before the forces of nature.

Law of Impermanence

What we should pay attention to at this moment is: What is the spiritual support for those of us who are Shin Buddhist? Even with all of the miraculous scientific advances and the great body of knowledge that exists in our modern world, there is no one who can accurately predict when natural disasters will occur or if humankind will be able to eliminate such disasters someday. These facts make us realize the truth of the law of impermanence and that there are so many things in this world that are beyond human understanding. That is why it is really dangerous to depend too much on ephemeral things like family, wealth, social status, honor, and so on. It is as if we are leaning on a pillar of illusion. Although it is natural to rely on family, our founder Shinran teaches us that no matter what might happen in our lives, only the Nembutsu teaching can form firm bonds of family that can never be severed.

On such an occasion, the sole message that affects our mind and body is that,

“A foolish being filled with blind passion, living in this impermanent world of burning house, all things are empty and vain; therefore, untrue. Only the Nembutsu is true, real, and sincere. ”

This is stated in the Tannisho. These are the sincere words that Shinran received from the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha.

The natural disasters that occurred all over the world remind us of both the law of impermanence and the transient nature of human existence. They ought to be a warning for us, too. It is most important for us to put ourselves in the position of those who are suffering so that we may again reflect on the fleeting nature and value of the life that we have received.

We as Nembutsu Followers

So now, we should think seriously about what we can do for those suffering around the world. Although at the beginning, it might be just the sincere effort of one individual, that small act will eventually join those of others to become a great and powerful force offering courage and peace of mind to the many who are suffering throughout the world. And also, the unity of our actions will lead us to experience a world where we can share both the suffering and sorrow of others, and deeply understand the real value of our birth as humans into this world. I think that this is the greatest tribute we can pay to all those who died by the natural disasters. And it is also our way of life as Nembutsu followers. I believe that when faced with the violence of Mother Nature, we can deepen our bonds together through responding com- passionately to her disasters.

Unfortunately, there are many ongoing conflicts happening all over the world such as the crisis in Ukraine. Disasters teach us to help others and treasure not only our own lives but that of all others. I sincerely hope that, as we mourn and honor the precious lives of all the storm victims, we realize how foolish it is to kill one other in order to protect our own interests.

In closing, I would like to show my profound respect for all those who are making efforts in rescue operations happening all over the world; and for those who are striving to raise funds in support of the restoration of devastated areas. I sincerely hope that those who are suffering now may soon return to their normal lives. And I would also like to offer my deepest sympathies to all victims of these terrible disasters.

In Gassho,
Rev. Yushi Mukojima