Executive Orders and the Primal Vow

Primal Vow (Hongan) 18th Vow: If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the lands of the ten quarters who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, desire to be born in my land, and call my Name, even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment. Excluded, however, are those who commit the five gravest offences and abuse the right Dharma.

As a result of “Executive Order 9066”, approximately 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry were forcibly moved off the West Coast of the United States into concentration camps, mostly to remote areas of the country. Of those 120,000 individuals, roughly two thirds were American citizens. In one of those concentration camps, called “Topaz”, in a desert area near Delta, Utah, near the Nevada border, the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) was formed.

BCA was formed not to organize our temples into a formal legal religious organization; BCA was formed out of fear that the United States government would begin attacking our Sanghas. The name Buddhist “Churches” was intentionally chosen, even though in Japanese the name “Hongwanji” translates to “Temple of the Primal Vow” and not “Church of the Primal Vow”. The leadership of our original organization founded in 1899 was formed by ministers (Kaikyoshi), and the lay membership provided the financial support for the organization. In the 1940s, the majority of Kaikyoshi were not U.S. citizens, but the Nisei (second generation) membership were all American citizens. It was during this period that lay members were included into the leadership of BCA.

The United States has had a history of Immigration exclusion acts directed at Asian countries. There was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Immigration Act of 1917, and the Immigration Act of 1924. These legal restrictions were based upon the fear that Asians were coming to the United States for nefarious reasons. On Friday afternoon, President Donald Trump issued a new executive order titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”. During World War II Executive Order 9066 was aimed at Japanese Americans on the West Coast while not very many Italian or German Americans were arrested or incarcerated. It was later proven that Executive Order 9066 was a targeted assault against the successful Japanese American farmers on the West Coast to force them to sell their farms and property for pennies on the dollar. It’s certainly curious how the seven Islamic nations in the current executive order excludes countries such as Saudi Arabia where President Trump’s family has many business interests.

As American citizens it is our duty to question what our leaders present to us as “law.” This is the basis for democracy that we hold dearly in these United States of America.

In Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, there is also an “Executive Order:” it is the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha. I began with the translation of this Primal Vow, or hongan -- the 18th vow of Dharmakara Bodhisattvha, who became Amida Buddha upon fulfillment of all his 48 vows. Within these vows, he explains who will be allowed into his country, the Pure Land “Jodo”. In the 18th vow, there is an exclusion clause that specifies the five deadly transgressions. They are listed, not to exclude anyone, but to bring to mindful attention that we are all capable of these ransgressions. In the Kyogyoshinsho, on pg. 38 of the CWS I, Shinran explains the meaning of Namo Amida Butsu:

From the passages we see that the word Namu means to take refuge. In the term to take refuge (kimyo) ki means to arrive at. Further, it is used in compounds to mean to yield joyfully to (kietsu), and to take shelter in (kisai). Myo means to act, to invite, to command, to teach, path, message, to devise, to summon. Thus kimyo is the command of the Primal Vow calling to and summoning us.

This call of the Infinite could be considered the “executive order” of Amida Buddha. It is an executive order regarding immigration into the Pure Land. Shinran Shonin in Tannisho Chapter II explains to us why he accepts this order (chokumei). However, even this executive order is something that we should not blindly accept. If we are told to question the executive order of Amida Buddha, should we not question the executive order of the President of the United States? Given our history as a predominantly Japanese American organization that has suffered through past executive orders; given that we have suffered as a result of legislation based upon religion, have we not had enough experience of painful and dire consequences that we should not question these types of laws? I personally reject all laws based upon discrimination of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. To stand silent at this time is to accept, if not acquiesce, to this bigoted agenda. Have we forgotten that as Japanese American Buddhists in 2017, that our history is deeply rooted in previous generations who spoke up in our defense, who fought courageously in World War II because they believed in democracy, equality, and justice for all? My personal beliefs are based upon my understanding of the teachings of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. This is now up to you, and this generation, for serious reconsideration, to accept or reject.

On August 10, 1988, The Civil Liberties Act was signed into law: The US Government issued an official apology to the Japanese American community for its unlawful transgressions. This apology is much appreciated, but this does not mean blind acceptance of blatant discrimination against the seven countries that Trump administration has imposed. I believe this teaches us, how we must not forget or history will repeat itself.

~ J.K. Hirano

Message from Bishop Kodo Umezu

The Executive Order signed by President Trump on January 27, 2017 has been causing serious concerns and suffering for many people, especially Muslims and immigrants. It has brought back memories of the unlawful mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Even if the intent of the Executive Order is to protect our citizens from terrorist attacks, we strongly oppose any actions that lead to discrimination against certain groups just because of their ethnicity or faith.

We should remind ourselves that all people deserve to be respected and treated equally under the law. Each faith group should encourage and promote peace and harmony based on its beliefs and principles, and help create a better nation that we can be proud of.