A Letter to my Daughters and the Youth of BCA

Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world.

By non-hatred (love) is hatred appeased in this world.

This is a law eternal.

There are those that do not realize one day we must all die.

But those who do realize this will find peace.

Dhammapada (words of the Buddha)

Dear Taylor, Kacie and all the daughters and sons of BCA,

Taylor, the question you asked me the other day, “How does my generation live with all the hate which my government seems to be espousing and the anger my generation and I feel as a result? Does Buddhism have an answer?” That was a great question, Tay, and I have struggled with how to answer you.  In many ways, these questions are similar to the questions I had when I was your age, during the civil rights movement of the 60s and 70s. These questions led me to become a Buddhist minister. I am not suggesting you become a minister, but Buddhism and the history of our family as Buddhists and our Sangha as Buddhists have taught me a great deal. Maybe it can offer you some answers.

Our form of Buddhism, Jodo Shinshu, came from Japan, and in turn it came to Japan from Korea. For hundreds of years, the Japanese had fought with Korea.  Even to this day, there are remnants of the hatred from this time.  However, Korean King, with his wisdom and kindness, gave the Japanese people what he considered his greatest treasure: the Buddhist teachings.  He responded to hatred by giving the so called enemy his greatest treasures -- the Buddha, Dharma and  Sangha.  Could these be the seeds that can heal wounds created by the hatred of Japanese and Koreans, and possibly the world?

Jodo Shinshu Buddhism came to the United States over 100 years ago.   The Buddhist Churches of America, interestingly enough, was formed in the Topaz Concentration Camp in Delta, Utah.  This was a time when Japan and the United States of America were at war.  Approximately 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans were thrown into these concentration camps without due process. That means without any legal rights, everything taken from them just because they were Japanese.  The government of that time was espousing hate speech very similar to what we are hearing from our current government, directed at Muslims and other groups that are here in our country.

This was the time when your maternal grandfather Rokuro Nakano joined the 442 regimental combat team, and your paternal grandfather Henry Hirano joined the Military Intelligence Service of the 100th battalion.  A few years ago, both of them received the highest honor our country can give -- the Congressional Gold Medal -- for their service to our country.  They responded to the hatred I am sure they felt, with service.

You know, Taylor, the big questions on Birth, Sickness, Old age and Death have been answered for me by the conviction that I am embraced in Amida Buddha’s compassion, and I respond in gratitude with Namo Amida Butsu.  However, I know you may wonder how Namo Amida Butsu manifests in our family, society and country. I believe that this is something each of us must reflect on, but I want to share with you what I believe and try to do.

You know I love geeky stuff and we have watched all the Spiderman movies together.  Do you remember when Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben was dying and he tells Peter AKA Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I don’t think Uncle Ben was referring to Spiderman’s superpowers, as many might assume.  I believe Uncle Ben was referring to Peter’s humanity. By humanity I mean the capacity we humans possess:  to respond to anger with kindness, greed with generosity and ignorance with humility.  Peter Parker wants to kill the man who attacked his Uncle Ben, and with his superpowers as Spiderman, he could. At that moment, Peter was experiencing one of the great sufferings in life, the death of someone he loves.   Uncle Ben also knew that he is about to die and wanted to leave his nephews these words that Peter can turn to, especially during difficult moments in his life, without Uncle Ben being having to be physically present.  I believe Uncle Ben is leaving Peter with words of love: “Peter, with these great powers you have been given as a human being, you have great responsibility and this means to live with Kindness, Generosity and Humility.”  Taylor, these are the same great powers the Korean King, the Buddhist lay leaders who formed BCA, and your grandfathers were able to access in response to the hatred and anger they felt all around them.

Taylor, my experience with personal illness, and as a minister have taught me that life is very short. However, even if I were to live to be one hundred years old, I would feel it was far too short a time to be with you and our family, I know I’m being greedy. I wish I could be with you and Kacie forever, and whenever you hurt, to hold you and tell you it will be alright. When both you and Kacie were born, I felt furious joy.  I was so happy and joyful that you were born and had come into my life. However, I was also furious and so angry, knowing that you would suffer in this life and I could not protect you. I believe all parents feel this same furious joy.

However, I can tell you that I have found great happiness in love with you, Kacie, Carmela (step mom) and even your mom, my ex-wife.  The opportunity to love and be loved is something I wish for you in all forms, especially in the love shared with family and friends. As to livelihood, I have found a profound sense of peace and purpose in my life in service to others as a minister. I know that my abilities as a father, husband, friend and minister are not very great.  Kidding aside, I hope you think I’m the smartest, bravest man in the world.  However, I know you know I am not. Yet it is amazing how in my ignorant simplicity filled with a personal arrogance, the world has embraced me and blessed me with far more than I deserve. I think when you live a life of service to others, the world responds back ten-fold. As I write this letter, I wonder how such a not very good looking, ignorant man as myself could have been given such beautiful, wonderful daughters.  In my very simple understanding maybe it is as your uncle, Rev. Dr. David Matsumoto has taught me, the effort to live a life of Authenticity, Awareness and Appreciation, is a life that is profoundly rewarded.  These are things I wish for you and know you can achieve. 

When you were in elementary school you made me so proud when you told me how you had spoken up in class, when you questioned your teacher.  She had told your class that she didn’t think it was the responsibility of her doctor, who studied and worked hard to be a doctor, to have to pay more money in taxes to help people on welfare or were too lazy to work. Taylor, it took great courage for you to raise your hand and explain to your teacher, “My (step)mother is a doctor and she studied very hard to become one and she taught me that it was her responsibility to help those that may have not have had the same benefits in life that she had.”  Taylor, your courage that day is the “great responsibility” Uncle Ben was telling Peter Parker.  Your ability to stand up to authority and question and confront what you believe to be wrong, especially when it is not easy to do so is your “superpower.”  This is what I believe is the way to answer your question about how you respond to anger and hate in your generation.

Amida Buddha’s love and compassion will always embrace you.  My love for you will always embrace you, though physically you may not be able to always reach out and touch me, know that I will always be with you in Namo Amida Butsu. Remember that life is short. Your illness earlier this year was a great gift that taught you just how wonderful the gift of life is.  This is the great power you have received.  The Universal Lottery Jackpot, is human life.  Now that you have it, your life is up to you.  Support is all around you; Amida Buddha embraces you; you have shown me that you know what great responsibility is and I hope you fill your life with love. 

You know in Jodo Shinshu, Shinran Shonin had a great Uncle Ben moment when he said in the Tannisho: “When I consider deeply the vow of Amida, which arose from five kalpas of profound thought, I realize that is was entirely for the sake of myself alone!”  This is his way of saying the entire world loves you for who you are.  I know that you have it in you to find the meaning and significance to your life and will find a way to act with lovingkindness amidst a world of anger and hate. Call me if you need anything. Take care. Be safe.

Love you,


-J.K. Hirano