Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2009

Or Yom HaShoah. There's a different HRD in the US and another in Europe.

As a practicing Buddhist, the most natural response for me is to chant "Ji Jang Bosal" (a name which comes particularly from a Korean, Buddhist tradition, JJB is also known as Ká¹£itigarbha or by other names) a sort of prayer for the dead. But it's also awkward, because it's caught up in Buddhist rhetoric about reincarnation. JJB is a sort of saint figure, who guides the dead. By chanting we hope to offer teaching to the dead, so that they might have a more favorable rebirth. Obviously, it isn't the victims of genocide who most need teaching, but then there's also quite a loophole in Buddhism. If there's no self, then who is dead and who is reincarnated? For someone who's not Buddhist, that might not be a very interesting question. But it points to a complexity and nuance in the idea of reincarnation that's often unacknowledged.

Sometimes when someone dies, I chant "Kwan Seum Bosal," instead. If JJB is the patron saint of the dead, KSB is patron saint of compassion. I chant for survivors, for perpetrators, and for myself, but not for the victims. Today, however, JJB comes more naturally.

Someone I know passed away recently, so we did JJB chanting at practice last week. I explained to someone there for the first time the traditional teaching that you become JJB when you chant his name. Suddenly, I realize that to chant for a favorable rebirth isn't about some notion of karma located specifically with the deceased, a mistake that can too easily lead to blaming victims. It's about making the world a better place where their rebirth will be favorable. Chanting meditation brings this back to the Great Question: What am I?

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