Pink Suits, Guns and Santa Claus

To abandon the mind of self power” admonishes the various and diverse kinds of people--masters of Hinayana or Mahayana, ignorant beings good or evil--to abandon the conviction that one is good, to cease relying on the self; to stop reflecting knowingly on one’s evil heart, and further to abandon the judging of people as good and bad. When such shackled foolish beings--the lowly who are hunters and peddlers--thus wholly entrust themselves to the Name embodying great wisdom, the inconceivable Vow of the Buddha of unhindered light, then while burdened as they are with blind passion, they attain the supreme nirvana. “Shackled” describes us, who are bound by all our various blind passions. Blind passions refer to pains which torment the body and afflictions which distress the heart and mind.  The hunter is one who slaughters many kinds of living things; this is the huntsman.  The peddler is one who buys and sells things; this is the trader.  They are called “low.” Such peddlers, hunters, and others are none other than we, who are like stones and tiles and pebbles.

Notes on ‘Essentials of Faith Alone’ CWS pg. 459

When I returned from my studies in Japan over 30 years ago and became a BCA Kaikyoshi, my grandmother (Bachan) gave me $300.00. She explained to me that she knew ministers don’t get paid very well and she wanted me to buy myself a nice black suit. She explained that all ministers wear black suits and white shirts, and she didn’t want me to buy a cheap shabby looking suit.  So I thanked her, accepted the gift and bought a black suit. I think I bought it at ZCMI.  I remember shopping there because the salesman was very arrogant and acted like I didn’t belong there. So I asked him what did he have to be so arrogant about when he was a suit salesman in a second class department store.  I really didn’t want to wear a black suit or white shirt, but I wanted to honor Bachan’s wishes; then again I wasn’t going to let some suit salesman talk down to me.  I know, I know, I should be more understanding. The problem is, by telling him off was my way of being understanding, because if I were true to myself, I would have waited for him to get off work and I would have beat him up in the parking lot.  Besides, I preferred different colored shirts: pinks, reds, purples and black. In fact, I wrote recently about wearing a pink suit and black shirt to a Hongwanji sponsored dinner. A good gay friend who was also there told me,  “Even I wouldn’t wear that suit around.  If I did I’d probably get beaten up in my own hometown.”  I loved my pink suit and I dare someone to try and make me stop wearing it.  I really don’t like being told what to wear, or when to wear it. Especially by a snooty department store salesman.  Carmela has taught me to put colors in my wardrobe.  I love my pink suits, my teal or purple sports coats, my red, black, blue and purple shoes. I’ve really began to enjoy wearing a variety of colors.  This mainly came about since I turned sixty.  I’ve always been insecure about what I’ve worn.  Fat guys like me need to be somewhat discreet about what we wear. There isn’t much I can do if people call me fat.  I am fat.  However, I’m not about to let them call me a badly dressed, sloppy, fat guy. 

I used to ask my daughters for their opinion regarding what I was wearing.  When I turned sixty, I asked Taylor what she thought about it.  She told me, “Dad, you’re old. You can wear whatever you like. Don't worry about what anyone else says, enjoy it, own it Dad, you deserve it.”  There was about a ten year stretch where I didn’t even wear ties, because the tie would irritate the place where I had surgery to remove my thyroid.  However, over the past few years, I’ve come to like white shirts on certain occasions, especially with my monogram on it. I like dressing up, I love buying shoes of various colors and types.  It’s one of my obsessions.  Late at night, rather than look at “you tube” videos, I look at Ted Baker clothes or Nordstrom Rack web sites for shoes.  The younger ministers of BCA are quite well dressed and aware of what they wear.  Ministers my age have a tendency to wear, navy blazers, dark colored pants, a white or pastel shirt and conservative tie.  Ninety percent of the time, they have dark socks and black or dark brown shoes.  It is expected that we ministers should dress conservatively, in keeping with our station as good Buddhist priests.  We don’t have to wear saffron robes. However, there are no rules for how we ministers dress.  I will wear what I want to wear.  These are assumptions about dress are based on ignorance and dictated by implied rules of conduct..  This is true with many of our beliefs, sometimes we mistake general American Christian cultural norms with our Buddhist, specifically Jodo Shinshu cultural norms.  As for many things, they are quite different.  The white shirts, dark suits and ties are pretty standard with the LDS church. However, at our Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji Ha temples, it is come as you are or rather feel comfortable in. If that’s a pink suit, please do.

In a similar pattern, this Summer, I went to over twenty cemeteries for Obon visitations.  Some of the cemeteries I visited are very remote. For the first time, I went to the Minidoka relocation historic site.  I usually go to Topaz relocation memorial site near Delta Utah.  However, Minidoka was in Central Idaho, about ten or fifteen miles from the interstate. Now that I supervise the Idaho Oregon Buddhist Temple, I drive by there at least once a month.  I had been talking with another minister who told me that he would rather walk around Watts or Compton “the hood” in L.A. rather than some areas of Idaho because of the large populations of Aryan (White power) nation organizations that are in Idaho. That conversation was on my mind, when I went to Minidoka.  I was doing the short service, when a large red colored pick-up truck pulled up near to where I was doing the service. Almost stereotypically there was also a big dog in the bed of the pick-up, with a gun rack, actually I’m not sure about the gun rack, but it could have been.  Even after I finished with the service, the guy in the pick-up just sat there staring at me.  I told this minister, as he was staring at me, I was thinking to myself, “If this guy has a gun or some weapon, will I be able to reach my gun in my car to shoot him, before he got me?”  This other minister was shocked and said, “You have a gun!” I said, “Yes and I would shoot the guy if he came for me.” The other minister seemed so surprised that I had a gun.  I wanted to tell the minister, “I’m not a monk.”  Especially, as a Jodo Shinshu priest, I have not made vows of celibacy, I eat meat. (People have this mistaken notion that all Buddhists are vegetarian. If that was the case, would all our temples sell teriyaki chicken?” Buddha himself was a beggar, he ate whatever he was offered and he supposedly died from eating a piece of pork.  I will not kill things. Buddha didn’t kill the pig, but he ate it.  However, I am not Buddha and If someone tries to hurt me or my family with violence, I will try not kill the person, but I would definitely stop them, with any means necessary.”  As a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist, we understand that we are limited in ability to follow these monastic rules.  We try to be kind and gentle to every living thing.  But that does not mean that we will let any living thing, do whatever they want to us.  I slap mosquitos when they try to bite me and I spray poison and kill the hornet’s nests in my yard.  Although, I try to live a life of loving kindness.  To me, the beauty of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism is that it recognizes that I am a human being with all kinds of blind passions.  As Shinran says in the quote I began with, “We are Shackled foolish beings.” This is definitely who I am.

I have explained this over and over, but I love Christmas. I have given many Dharma Talks about how I would not be a Buddhist if I were told Buddhists don’t celebrate Christmas. The essence of Christmas is the spirit of what all Buddhists strive for. Yet, just as with these other mistaken notions, such as with clothes and anger: there are some people that still say, “Christmas is a Christian Holiday and Buddhists don’t celebrate it.”  There is not a single argument that can justify this statement to me.  Christmas is a time of year, when I could wear bright red clothes and patent leather boots and people will just think, “He certainly has the holiday spirit about him.”  This atmosphere and environment of goodwill towards all men, is what we “Shackled” foolish beings strive for.  If everyone truly had a spirit of goodwill, none of us would need guns.  Sadly this Christmas spirit rarely lasts longer than Thanksgiving to just after New Year.  For us Jodo Shinshu Buddhists we should try to at least make it to January 16, Hoonko, Shinran’s Memorial Day.  This is actually our Jodo Shinshu time for Thanksgiving.

In the spirit of the season, Thanksgiving, New Year, Hoonko and yes, Christmas: on behalf of my family, Carmela, Kacie, Taylor, Peanut, Miso, Baby and myself, I would like to thank you for another wonderful 2018 and wish you a Merry  Christmas, Hannukah, Kwannza, New Year’s, Hoonko and whatever holiday may make you a little bit kinder and gentler. And may you have a meaningful and enlightening New Year, 2019, Year of the Boar.  Namo Amida Butsu.

-J.K. Hirano