What might happen if you lost all of your material possessions?
The Rev. Bob Oshita, head of The Buddhist Church of Sacramento Hongwanji Betsuin, has congregants who know.
The temple's membership of 1,300 is 70 percent Japanese American. During Oshita's 25 years at the temple, he has ministered to many who wandered back from U.S. internment camps after World War II with only the belongings they carried with them to captivity.
"They returned and rebuilt their homes, their lives and their communities, and they did so with nothing," says Oshita.
Today's congregants or their forebears lived lives in which homes, furnishings, property and businesses were confiscated in an instant. Is it any wonder then that Oshita sees his congregation, also known as a Sangha, as "very conservative in terms of investment and economic strategies"?
I turned to Oshita for his views for this series about myriad ways to view the economic downturn. With his congregation, he says, "I'm not hearing that much" about the recession. But that's not to say members are untouched by events, perhaps simply reluctant to voice concerns.
From a hallowed sanctuary where Buddhist teachings celebrate personal awakening as spiritual development, Oshita sees the country undergoing a distinct and different kind of transformation � "a rude awakening" � that he says in his gentle way could lead Americans to a deeper understanding of interdependence.
"We are not separate � not just from each other, but we're not separate from the Earth, the sun, the stars, the ocean," Oshita says.
Considered a philosophy or a way of life, Buddhism stresses non-attachment, including to money. But that doesn't mean followers forswear making money or owning things.
Oshita would say the key is whether the possessions or the job or, for that matter, a student's grade-point average, define someone. If so, loss can leave the person feeling drastically shaken.
Oshita's household took its knocks in the downturn. "I talked to our financial planner, and when he told us this year, 'You lost 30 percent or maybe 35 percent of everything,' I just said, 'OK. All we can do is just continue to do the best we can and not worry about what we had and just continue to do the best we can from this moment.' "
He says his words might come off sounding as if the losses are "spilled milk (and) you have to forget it," which is not exactly what he means. He acknowledges the recession "is a loss that everyone has felt," but says complaining about the downturn is not going to change the circumstances.
"There are people out there that are trying to find out what went wrong," he says. "Instead, I think we have to try to just move forward and know that as a nation we all went wrong."
"It's really been all about greed," he says, calling the lead-up to the crisis a time when people wanted to get something for nothing and take all they could.
"There was so much lack of integrity and no sense of how you are affecting others - that interdependence. In a way, maybe people feel they don't represent anything anymore except themselves."
He says he doesn't yet see any shift in values resulting from the upheaval: "I still feel people are hoping to recapture what they had and regain all of those possessions." Nonetheless, from his Buddhist perspective, Oshita says Americans will come out of this period changed because the Buddhist view is that nothing remains the same. Impermanence, after all, is as important as interdependence among the teachings at this temple.
"What will emerge will hopefully be more realistic. And hopefully more holistic" in leading Americans to recognize the global connections and appreciate them, he says.
He tells the story of a newscast that illustrates the conundrum of humans facing loss. After a flood in the Northwest, one man's car was swept away by the torrent of floodwaters. The man's house was destroyed. But the man and his family were saved, having been rescued from the car. "His face was so happy" that he and has family were alive, Oshita says, and the man expressed his gratitude.
Another family had a house that was flooded but not destroyed. The family was distraught, with the man exclaiming, "Look at the damage!"
One man was devastated. One man was elated.
Oshita would say to view the scene with "enlightened eyes." At such moments that follow nature's upheavals � perhaps that come with economic upheavals � it is a useful practice that Oshita offers: "To be without judgment and just appreciate."
� Maria Henson firstname.lastname@example.org