Reconsidering Independence Day

In the U.S., our annual fourth of July celebration will soon be here. For the occasion, my good friend, Rev. Richard Tennes, minister at the Honpa Hongwanji Betsuin temple in Honolulu, has written an illuminating essay that breathes the spirit of Buddhism… and the aspiration for freedom and equality for all people, which are threatened by economic stress and social conflict. I thought it appropriate to share it with my blog readers, in the hope it may inspire us all and raise our hopes for our society – and the world.

Gassho _/_ Al Bloom


p.s. As always, feel free to leave comments and let me know what you think.


Celebrating the Fourth

by Rev. Richard Tennes

On July 4th we will celebrate Independence Day. Our national holiday commemorates the establishment of a country whose formation was based on the idea of just laws and the principle of protecting the freedom, rights, and dignity of all human beings from the arbitrary whims of the powerful. America was founded on the belief that might does not equal right. Of course, it has never fully lived up to that ideal.

When we think about the Fourth of July, we seldom reflect upon these ideals and usually think of parades, sports, and fireworks accompanied by lots of eating and beer drinking (these days it is also another day for stores to have sales). If a visitor from another planet were to observe our festivities on that day, he or she might come to the conclusion that the Fourth of July is a celebration of over-consumption and noise.

As a Buddhist, I wish I could show that space visitor a country where everyone truly feels safe and is able to work and live a decent life, a place where everyone receives a good education, where communities are strong because people are kind and care about their neighbors, where they work hard to make sure no one is forgotten or neglected. I would like to show our visitor a country where financial success is possible, but always with a sense of profound responsibility to share the greater benefits one has received in such a way as to make life better for everyone. I would especially like to be able to demonstrate that this is a country of citizens who live in appreciation of what they have received, who treasure life and never waste the precious resources of the land, people who do not take advantage of each other, do not feel perpetually entitled to having more than they need, but always desire the best conditions for all beings, not only here but everywhere in the world.

Some might say this is a dream. The Buddha taught that we should awaken to life as it really is and not live in a dream world. But the potential of what America could be is not so much a dream as it is an aspiration, a commitment to live in such a way as to transform selfishness into generosity, cruelty and violence into compassion, ignorance into wisdom, and fear into trust. Are we willing to make that aspiration?

Today, many people seem unconcerned about the decline of American society and feel content to permit the erosion of our most basic and precious democratic traditions. As Buddhists we need to understand that our own happiness and well being always depend on the well being and happiness of others. To ignore what is happening to my neighbors all over the country because I still possess my own “slice of the pie,” is certainly to live in a state of arrogance and delusion. Let us, as American Buddhists, work for the dream of a peaceful, kind, and open society. Let us aspire to renew the noble purpose of America as a place where human rights, justice, and liberty do not depend upon privilege.Let us refuse to live in fear of imagined enemies by remembering what we have always been: a haven for the tired, poor, and “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Namo Amida Butsu.


Reconsidering Independence Day — 3 Comments

  1. Rev. Tennes’ words are a good reminder that we must acknowledge how much we depend upon each other to make a world worth living in.

    It is high time that we take the fear mongers and hate peddlers and denounce them with the truth. So much of the political dialogue in this country comes from “spin factories”. I can’t remember the last time I heard a war monger on TV/Radio who was actually a veteran. Dr. David Loy has an excellent set of talks about how the “West” ie. the US has institutionalized the Three Poisons…Greed, Anger, and Ignorance.

    “First they came for the communists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left to speak out for me.”…Martin Niemoller

    • Thanks for your message with which I resonate. I would hope the health care law becomes better understood—before the election! If ever there was a time when the fox falsely claims to protect the hen house, it is certainly now, when Romney and Congress have a strong chance to win office. Go figure. There is so much posturing and the money being spent inconceivably in the effort to buy the election. And they just may win.
      Al Bloom

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