With the rise of recent hate crimes targeting the Asian American community I feel it necessary to share my love, appreciation and dedication to the people that have fed me spiritually for the last 30 years. American Zen is indebted to countless Japanese Americans, Chinese-Americans, Korean-Americans, Tibetan-Americans and Indian-Americans who have over the past two centuries brought with them the spiritual teachings from their lands of origin.
The Abrahamic faiths as well as Buddhism offer ethical guidelines for how to attain their respective goals – whether it be intimacy with God or Awakening. The Hebrew Bible talks about, among other things, Commandments. But just the word, “Commandment” can be problematic if we have not properly developed our ability to choose from an early age, prior to understanding right from wrong. The 10 Commandments are really an advanced kind of practice, in my view, once an understanding of choice has been well established. If choice has not been well established during youth, in other words if a young person is consistently denied opportunities to make choices, or even consistently given things that they would never choose, then that person will not be prepared to even consider living by the 10 Commandments. I think the same can be said of the Buddhist precepts. The flip side of this is that – considering that the mental factor of choice has not been well developed – then precepts or “commandments” will most likely be followed blindly without the ability to question them.
Today, we see and hear the searing pain and anger of Black people, who have endured centuries of oppression in the United States and who, as a community, continue to suffer acts of violence and discrimination, including at the hands of law enforcement. We grieve the disproportionate number of people of color who have died of the coronavirus, and see that many people of color performing essential functions of society are undervalued and oppressed economically.
Not every teaching the Buddha gave had universal application. Some of it was meant only for certain people, and in certain times. The Buddha was primarily concerned with helping others to wake up to the reality of suffering and in providing practitioners with the means to liberate themselves from suffering. All of the stories in the Pali Cannon were offered on specific occasions and at specific times and were in response to the needs of individuals or the community at that time.