Saturday, September 30, 2017

Chanting to Thaw ICE

 
Surrounding ICE with compassion. Photo: John Davenport.
September 14, 2017 I stood on the sidewalk outside the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) headquarters at 4310 SW Macadam Ave, Portland, Oregon and chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for half an hour. I was the only chanting Buddhist in an interfaith action to protect people from being deported, to surround the ICE facility with compassion – to thaw ICE. As I stood there facing the brick wall, knowing the security cameras were pointed straight at me, I waved to them, then placed my hands in prayer position and chanted daimoku. An image rose up in my mind of Nichiren standing on a cliff looking out over the ocean on April 28, 1253, as he chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for the first time. The interfaith group told me I was the first chanting Buddhist to participate in their actions. I felt like I was continuing the transmission started by Nichiren over 700 years ago.
This action in Portland to thaw ICE happens at noon on the second Thursday of the month. A river of people streams in silent meditation around and around the building (consuming an entire city block) while holding signs. On each corner stands a person to ground the action with sound. Three corners each had a person with a prayer bell, chiming positive vibrations. On the fourth corner I stood, chanting with my whole being, as I stared at the brick wall of the ICE headquarters.
The bricks, like everything, are composed of the mystic nature of life, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which keeps electrons spinning in atoms, and galaxies twirling through the universe. I sensed the bricks softening and opening, like even the hardest of hearts. The words of Starhawk, author of the book Truth or Dare, telling how ritual resists and transforms hierarchical power-over structures, resonated with me: “Ritual can become free space, a hole torn in the fabric of domination … a bridge that brings through into the world of the everyday a sense of the sacred. And so the everyday changes, deepens, until the sacred, like an underground stream, wears away control from below” (p. 98). Truly, I felt like a bridge of daimoku, of sacredness, flowing like water, transforming all it touches.
As I chanted, exposed in public, scrutinized by Homeland Security cameras, I felt grounded, powerful as the universe. I cover the webcam on my laptop because it creeps me out to know a spy device is watching me in the privacy of my own home. However, as I stood facing that brick wall of ICE – chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo – all that fear, paranoia, even anguish evaporated.
Two uniformed men, one with a police dog on a leash, whose backs read “Homeland Security,” came out of the building and walked past me. I kept chanting, tuned in to our universal oneness of courage, compassion and wisdom. One man smiled at me and waved. I smiled and waved back as I continued chanting. After the action wrapped up, many silent walking meditators told me how powerful it felt to walk through the vibration of my chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
The marchers have already had some results: Trump has yielded on the immediate deportation of DACA. Next month another SGI member tells me she will join me chanting to thaw ICE, as the silent meditators walk around the headquarters in compassionate prayer. Maybe you can come join us, too! Or, if you live outside of Portland, Oregon, perhaps you can connect with a local interfaith group to thaw ICE in your town, or start your own group to thaw ICE. After all, we SGI members chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo because one person stood up alone and chanted for the first time.
For more information on thawing ICE, please contact the Portland hosts:

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