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Riots, Homesteads, and Buddhist Pure Lands

I live in the downtown area of a major city, and it's a hotspot for rallies and protests of all kinds. Black Lives Matter, Trump, supporters, The Green Party; you name the group and they've protested in my city. 

And as a Buddhist minister, part of my work is visiting areas of unrest and being an example of peace.  Sadly, when there are so many groups with different agendas, there is no end to the unrest.

I give talks, I teach meditation, and sometimes I sit in silence as the world moves quickly around me.   

Simply put, I strive to let people know that Buddha is on the street.  In doing so, it's my hope that they'll know to look for Buddha in their heart.

Sometimes, I leave demonstrations and I feel like my work was a success- I had a conversation or provided help to a protester and it felt like I was living the Dharma.  Other times, I leave wondering if my presence made a difference.  Did I provide a living example of Dharma, or did I just walk around in my robes for a few hours.

Such was the case several months ago when there was a riot in my city.  A peaceful protest devolved into violence when tear gas was fired into the crowd.  Within minutes, all of the families and most of the clergy ran to their cars, and the only people left behind were the ones who wanted to fight.

I also stayed behind, hoping that I could provide some measure of calm as chaos erupted around me.  Cars were set on fire, store fronts were smashed, and it became obvious that I was caught in riptide of violence with no hope of escape.  

There was a medic station about five blocks from the heart of the conflict.  I filled my back pack with  with food and water from their supply station and began carrying it back to the protest.  This was my practice for the day.  I chanted nembutsu as I walked, offering food and water to anyone who was in need. 

The next day, my city was in shambles.  Buddhas and Bodhisattvas took the form of downtown residents and attempted to clean up the broken glass that littered the streets.  But the city put a stop to their efforts; claiming that they were hindering city officials' ability to control the area.  

In the weeks and months that followed I watched the city scab over its wounds and slowly begin to heal.  Sidewalks were swept, store fronts were boarded up, and residents were kept on lockdown for a time until the city deemed it safe for us to walk around.

As I walk the city now, most of the boarded up windows have been repaired.  Most of the businesses have reopened.  And save for a few pieces of graffiti, there's no evidence of the battle that took place, the people who were injured, or the seeds of injustice that grew into a full-scale riot.

So, I'm left wondering if any of it mattered.  Of course, I know that in the grand scheme of things every action matters.  Every act plants a seed of either positive or negative karma that will ripen in the world- creating a forest of either heavenly delight or hellish torture.

But I'm a human being.  I like instant gratification.  And I wonder if any of the seeds planted on that day will ripen in my life time.  As I ponder this, I ponder the example set by Dharmakara.

Dharmakara was a Buddhist monk who practiced diligently for countless eons until he developed miracle-powers through his practice.  He then used those powers to create a pure land where practitioners could go when they died, practicing the Dharma without the distractions of birth, aging, sickness, and death.

He also took a vow that he himself would not pass into parinirvana until all sentient beings could go with him.  The only criteria for entering his pure land was faith; faith in his primordial vow and the power of our Buddhanature.

I don't have miracle-powers, but I have vowed to follow in the footsteps of Dharmakara.  And I now realize that it's not enough to plant karmic seeds..  I must carve out a portion of Samsara and claim it as my own.  I must create a bastion of peace; a place where people, plants, and animals can practice the Dharma and realize enlightenment.

So, I've started searching for property where I can build a homestead.  My goal is to become as self-sufficient as possible; using the skills I learned while working on organic farms to grow my own food, build my own soil, and move closer to nature.

I'll use my experiences to teach the Dharma, showing how the finitudes of life point us towards the Buddha within.  And here's the first thing I've learned; walking this path.  Creating a pure land is hard!

Building up savings, raising a credit score, and getting pre-approved for a loan is a job in and of itself.  It took years for me to get to the point where buying land was even possible, and now I realize the hard part is actually finding land to buy.

I found the house of my dreams early in the process.  The old farmhouse had been completely updated.  It had a well, a barn, and three pastures that were already fenced in.  Just walking the property made me feel happy as I imagined where Dharma talks and meditation circles could be held.  The good feeling went away two hours later when I found out the seller had accepted another offer.

Another house seemed like it was built with me in mind; it had a den that could be converted into a meditation hall and there was a Buddha sitting in the front yard.  And then I found out it needed a new septic tank and was prone to flooding.

What I'm learning through this endless string of disappointments is just because our intentions are good, that doesn't mean our journey will be easy.  It doesn't matter if we're handing out bottled water during a protest or searching for a place to call home.  

Life is suffering, and the only choice we have is whether or not our suffering will serve a purpose.

I don't know if any of this matters.  I don't know if the world can change.  But I promise I won't stop trying to change it.   I'll follow the example of Dharmakara who created a home for all sentients beings and became Amida, the Buddha of Infinite Light.

Namu Amida Butsu

 If you enjoyed this essay, you'll love my book!

Riots, Homesteads, and Buddhist Purelands


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