WAILUKU - The leader of Buddhist Hongwanji temples worldwide suggested that the United States may have hastily waged war against Afghanistan and later Iraq in the wake of 9/11 without "cool-headedly reasoning what had happened."
Monshu Koshin Ohtani, the head of Nishi Hongwanji in Kyoto, Japan, noted in a 20-minute interview at Wailuku Hongwanji Mission on Wednesday afternoon that Buddhists generally believe that war is wrong.
"War is the taking of the life of others and is definitely not condoned in Buddhism," Ohtani said in Japanese that was translated into English by Hawaii Honpa Hongwanji Bishop Thomas Okano. He added that countries with a Buddhist presence have fewer wars than countries with other religions.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Monshu Koshin Ohtani, the world leader of Jodo Shinshu, touches a razor to the head of Gaige Okamoto, 4, of Kahului, Wednesday afternoon at the Wailuku Hongwanji Mission. Observing are the Rev. Megumu Okazaki and parents Gregg and Bridgette Okamoto. Gaige’s twin, Galen, and little brother, Gannon, 2, also took part in the confirmation rites. Three touches with the razor symbolizes the shaving of a monk’s head.
Though war is wrong from the Buddhist perspective, "in this world, it's not that simple," he continued. If a nation is invaded, for example, it should be able to defend itself though it may mean death and destruction.
As the leader of a religious organization, Ohtani does not believe in declaring "good wars" and bad ones and takes no specific position on the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The monshu does observe, though, that following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that Americans "were not able to logically reason what happened and jumped into war."
He noted that the U.S. was attacked by individuals and not by a nation, yet it went to war against the countries of Afghanistan and then Iraq "without cool-headedly reasoning what had happened. That is regrettable."
"I believe having a family . . . and continuing the teaching of Buddhism have some effect" on the strength of the Jodo Shinshu.
Monshu Koshin Ohtani
"Is there is a good war or bad war?" he asked. "War is wrong. However, when it happens we must do something to put an end to it. . . . Before the war actually erupts, we must work among the nations to find a way to avoid the final confrontation. That is more important than anything else."
Ohtani made his comments in an interview following the bestowing of Buddhist confirmation rites on 94 children and adults in Maui County at Wailuku Hongwanji. The monshu is on a whirlwind trip through the Hawaiian Islands to celebrate the 750th memorial of Shinran Shonin, the founder of the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism in Japan, and the 120th anniversary of Honpa Hongwanji Mission in Hawaii. Ohtani, a descendant of Shinran, is the 24th monshu.
He was the featured guest at a banquet at the Maui Prince Hotel on Wednesday evening, attended by about 200 people, and flies to Kauai this morning. Ohtani arrived in Hawaii on Sept. 2, also spending time on Oahu and the Big Island, and will depart for Japan on Saturday.
The Buddhist sect founded by Shinran, who lived from 1173 to 1263, is one of the largest in Japan with an international reach with temples in Canada, South America, Europe and the U.S. In Hawaii, there are 37 temples with about 6,500 members.
What makes this sect of Buddhism so unique is that its leaders are descendants of the founder. Unlike traditional Buddhism in Japan, Shinran chose to marry and have children. Ohtani believes this is a strength of Jodo Shinshu and is in keeping with the Japanese traditions of respecting ancestors and of the strength of continuing the lineage of the family.
"I believe having a family . . . and continuing the teaching of Buddhism have some effect" on the strength of the Jodo Shinshu, he said.
Shinran was ordained at 9 years old and spent two decades at the mountain monastery of Mount Hiei. He later chose to leave the mountain and live with ordinary people.
"That is the uniqueness of Jodo Shinshu," he said. "That may have something to do with the strength of Jodo Shinshu."
Shinran became a follower of Honen Shonin, and they were both exiled in 1207 because Japan's leaders of the time felt threatened by their brand of religion. Shinran ended up in what is now Niigata prefecture on the Japan Sea side of the country. During this period, he met and married a woman named Eshinni, and he declared himself "neither monk nor layman." When his exile ended, Shinran decided to spread his view of Buddhism in the Kanto area near Tokyo - instead of returning to his hometown of Kyoto.
Shinran lived to be 90 years old and was still writing prolifically in his 80s, Ohtani wrote in his book "The Buddha's Wish for the World."
According to Shinran, the way to enlightenment, or Buddhahood, manifests itself by those who say Buddha's name "Namu Amida Butsu," or the Nembutsu, according to the Nishi Hongwanji Web site.
"When a person dies, he becomes a Buddha," said Ohtani in his book. "In Jodo Shinshu, while we are alive, we listen to the wishes of Amida Buddha and say the Nembutsu, and when our lives in this world come to end, we are born into the Land of Amida Buddha."
* Lee Imada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.