My First Age began, when in my birth, I very wisely chose my Japanese Buddhist parents. So some 80 years ago, I started life in a Sugar Plantation, on the Big Island in Kohala, in a village called Hawi.
The Plantation System
In my first 25 years of life, the Plantation was the dominant force. It was more than an economic system. It shaped social consciousness, nourished cultural norms and values. Essentially, it was a paternalistic system. You were always aware that the plantation took very good care of you. You felt safe and secure.
The plantation was a system that elevated the word, “haole” (Caucasian, white). We seldom used the word Caucasian or the word “white”. It was always “haole.” But the word was more than a racial term: it meant: better jobs, higher pay, standard English, a swimming pool, a club house, being a Christian. The word became a model of what it meant to be an American. Is it any wonder that born in a plantation system, you wanted to be like a “haole?”
There was a dark side to the plantation system. You became aware of the limitation of the paternalistic system. It gave you security but limited your independence. It gave you the “good life” but confined your freedom to be yourself. When I was a senior in high school, I wrote an essay on the lack of justice in the plantation system. Somehow that essay found its way to the plantation manager’s office. Soon, I found myself facing the highest authority of the system. I knew then that I was in trouble. The trouble was not about Justice, but my battle with personal identity. Did I really want to be like a “haole?” That was my battle. I settled that battle by getting fired from the system.
The Racial Camps
There was another significant dimension of the plantation system. The employees were grouped into racial camps. So we had the Japanese camp, the Filipino camp, the Haole camp, the Puerto Rican camps. I lived my first 25 years as an American citizen in a Japanese camp. There were about 90 families, all Buddhists.
A Learning from Buddhism
I will lift up just one very significant teaching from Buddhism; a learning that I’ve cherished all my life. It has to do with experience, rather than a belief. The best way to demonstrate that experience is by asking you a question, what do you see? (I held up a book. Response by many: a book. You really don’t see a book. What you see is a handsome young man holding a book. But more than that you see the background. You always see the whole. And this whole appears as a complicated web of relations…relations between various parts of a unified whole. All relations are essentially inter-connected, inter-dependent. And all relations can be understood only as intrinsically dynamic patterns of a cosmic process. Also, relations are not static. They are dynamic, transformative experience.
What Buddhism and modern science is saying: the world is becoming constantly more complex and richer in information. the universe’s tendencies is to synthesize and organize towards greater wholes. Let’s us see what happens when we apply the concept of relations to our everyday life. When we are in any kind of relationship, we Westerners see each other as separate, unique, creative persons. Persons having the right to think for ourselves, make our own decisions, live our lives as we see fit. Buddhism and its Asian Tradition is saying: true, let us appreciate, respect and treasure our uniqueness, our creativity. But, in relationship, what is important is not how profound a person is, how wealthy, powerful one’s resources. What is important is: how a person relates himself/herself to others, how a person in the wholeness of his/her being opens oneself before others, how a person stands, fixes oneself, presents oneself to the world.
Back to MY STORY