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Title: Ryo Imamura Interview
Narrator: Ryo Imamura
Interviewers: Stephen Fugita (primary), Erin Kimura (secondary)
Location: Olympia, Washington
Date: August 3, 1999
Densho ID: denshovh-iryo-01-0021denshovh-iryo-01-0021

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EK: In terms of -- I'm wondering kind of how you see the role of the church, in the Buddhist church in some of these more political issues. I know you as an individual kind of went in and did all of these political activities. But as a church, do you see the, you know, the church as having a role in some of these larger political issues?

RI: I think it does, not for the purpose of having a role, but I think every human being -- not just Buddhists, but every human being should be challenged to look at every important issue and examine it from their own lens, and come to some conclusion.

EK: Uh-huh.

RI: Not a conclusion that they're gonna be rigid about, but one that at least adds to the discourse in an intelligent way. And I think Buddhists could do a lot more of that, because our teachings are very much towards humanitarian acts and compassion. So there's some issues that are very clear. You know, if you see an oppressed people, to speak up for them. Maybe issues like abortion might be more complicated, because there's teachings in Buddhism that say human life is sacred and very difficult to come by. There's many other forms of life, but human life only happens very rarely, and so it is a form of killing too... right? So it would be anti-abortion in a way. But the human side of Buddhism says, "We don't live as perfect human beings, just off of ideals. If someone's in a very difficult position -- especially the woman who's pregnant -- and there's ample reason not to have the baby, we don't, we can't say we'd support the abortion, but we cannot condemn her. Especially if she's thought it through as best she can, and not, doesn't have a blind eye to things. And so these are quite unique. We call it, in a way -- one way of saying it, "It's a position of no position." To Westerners that sounds weak. But this is, all the martial arts are like that too. If you say, "I'm gonna defend this piece of ground against all comers," you're gonna get killed. You have to be able to move with the flow of things. And so Buddhist position of no position just simply means that you're always ready to change your mind as new information comes in, but you still have a position there. And I think this kind of stance can be contributed to almost any social issue, right? And even the peace movement, Thich Nhat Hanh came out, just one sentence that put it all in focus. He said, "There is no way to peace, peace is the way." You don't -- there's no tactics to have a peace or whatever, because peace starts within here, right? Within the person. If you don't feel peaceful, there's nothing you can contribute to the peace movement that's not gonna bring more friction. 'Cause if you just point out the Pentagon and big business, you're not helping the situation. But if you could point out the Pentagon and big business, and the way I live, and the things that I buy and things I consume, and the taxes I pay and support, then you begin to see the issue. That's one thing that Buddhism can really help with any issue. So -- but again it's not a dogmatic -- we all Buddhists believe this. We could say, "Hey, take it seriously, very seriously. Address it fully and commit yourself, but not to a static position. So I've done a lot of weird thing -- I remember I joined a rabbi and a priest in suing President Reagan, back -- when was he president, '85 or something? He declared the year, the year of the Bible, right? And so, of course the Jews felt that was weird 'cause, you know, they don't -- and then...[coughs]... so we, we got a lawyer and sued Reagan. I don't know what happened, I guess it got thrown out, but... things like that, it's not, they're important in a way 'cause it does show an injustice, you know, blindness. Yeah, I know a lot of little stories like that.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.