Peace is an inside job
War will end when people look inward, not outward
The Buddhist Church of Sacramento is what Rev. Bob Oshita would call “a little pocket of peace.”
On a recent weekend afternoon, Oshita offered his time generously, answering questions with a sideways wisdom that never quite threatens the Buddhist practice of letting one come to one’s own conclusions.
What do you tell your congregation about God and the Iraq war?
Wow. That’s interesting because we’re a Buddhist church, so I don’t tell them anything about God.
First, it’s important to understand that Buddhism’s not really a theology, because Buddha’s not a god or a divine being or a creator. It’s not about that.
People too quickly just assume if you’re a world religion, then you have a belief system and you have a belief in a divine being, and this does not apply to Buddhism at all. Buddhism is not a belief system. And, in a way, I’m so grateful we aren’t. I think, to me, that’s what was so attractive to begin with. … And I think if Buddhism had something to offer, it would say to all the world’s religions, “Let’s not believe anything.” Let’s let go of all belief, because it seems that’s what a lot of fighting is about—hat my belief is right and yours is wrong. Or that my divine being is better than your divine being. They’re arguing over beliefs. It seems to me to make no sense. Why are we doing this? In Buddhism, we’re taught nothing is to be believed. Everything is to be tested.
Is there any way to apply that to the Iraq war? Or do you find yourself using the Iraq war in your teachings?
Buddhism has gone from culture to culture over the last 2,500 years, going from India through Southeast Asia through China to Japan, and now into America. All the countries it’s gone to, the perspective has been one of respect. People are allowed to believe whatever they wish. … It’s much easier to just be told what to think, what to believe. Then it’s also very easy to be absolved of any wrongdoing. But in our tradition, it’s very much a matter of taking responsibility for your actions. You can’t say the devil made you do it. Or it’s written in a holy book, so it must be so. Each of us must be responsible for our actions. This creates the karma of our lives. …
When 9/11 took place, I think we all just watched it, appalled at how inhumane human beings can be to one another. And I think, for a moment, we all lose faith, the faith in humanity. We wonder: Is there really hope for something called world peace? Is there really any hope? Is that really even remotely possible? And we feel so helpless and hopeless. And when I found myself feeling this—because I like to think of myself as generally a positive person—I found myself, you know, depressed.
And I remembered again a wonderful teaching by a minister. He’s since passed away, and he said, world peace begins with gasho. Gasho literally means “palms pressed together.” It’s a gesture of respect for yourself and for all life. But also what that phrase means is, “World peace begins with me.”
World peace begins with my forgiveness. It begins with my acts of kindness. It begins with my peace of mind. World peace begins with me developing peace within me. And until that happens, I’m not an agent for peace. I can’t change what nations are going to do to each other. I cannot change what religions are going to do to each other. I can change my sphere of influence, whatever that might be, around me, to create pockets of peace. And hopefully that will move out and create other little pockets of peace. It takes a lot of work. It’s a full-time job just to stay on top of myself.