It’s a small world after all

I have to confess that I’ve been gone this weekend to Disney Paris with the family, enjoying a much needed vacation. My wife is a big Disney fan and has been to the one in Tokyo (since she’s Japanese) and the one in California, while my 2 year old enjoyed Tokyo Disney a lot. Also, my wife wanted to see mainland Europe since we’ve spent so much time in Ireland and the UK,1 and I have only seen Luxembourg on a business trip up until now, so I wanted to see other parts of Europe.

The trip proved to be one interesting experience after another, and that’s not counting Disneyland itself which admittedly was more fun than I thought it would be. We flew to Charles de Gaulle Airport, which is really huge, and go through security and such just fine, but then we were stuck at the luggage carousel. It seems that the backlog to clear out the luggage was so bad, three flights worth of passengers had to wait for the luggage to come out of the same carousel. One flight was apparently from a Middle Eastern airline (Saudi Airline I think), so me, an American, was standing around with Muslims from various parts of the Islamic world, all frustrated at not getting our luggage. As we all stood there, all suffering from luggage delays, I spent a lot of time staring at fellow passengers and something incredibly obvious, but still profound, occurred to me there: that despite our different skin color, clothing, religion and language, that we were all still human, and all the same.

I know. It sounds obvious because you hear it all the time, but you don’t really appreciate what that means until you see a completely random mix of people around the world: Irish, French, North African, American, Arab, Chinese (and one Japanese wife) all standing around the same carousel wondering why someone doesn’t hurry up the luggage already. It’s humbling and at the same time, you get to see Muslims living out normal lives and dealing with family and travel just like everyone else. The media spends so much time demonizing Islam and Muslims with loaded terms like “jihad”, “terrorism” and “islamic law”, that it’s so easy to ignore the silent majority of people who live in Islamic countries who just live out their lives like everyone else does. I learned this lesson about the “silent majority” back when I spent time at a really nice mosque in Seattle so long ago, but this recent experience really nailed it for me.2

I realized at Charles de Gaulle that most people who hate Muslims probably have never actually met one, let alone broken bread with them. That’s something to think about! You could really learn a lot just by having dinner with someone from another culture.

Speaking of meeting people of other cultures, I had another interesting experience while at Disney Paris. Disney Paris is divided into two parks that exist side by side: Disney Studios and Disneyland, with huge pathway leading up to them. Saturday afternoon, after we took a big nap at the hotel,3 and walked toward Disneyland again as my daughter really wanted to see “it’s a small world” again.4 As we approached the big road leading off toward Disney, I passed through the huge crowd there, when I noticed 4 asian monks dressed in drab, orange robes. It took me a moment to realize these were Buddhist monks of the Theravada branch of Buddhism, which makes sense since many South East Asian countries were at one point colonies of France. Japanese Buddhist priests, by contrast, tend to wear grays, purples and blacks. They were quite out of place as their guide, a lay Buddhist follower, led them to a park bench, but as I passed by the last monk, our eyes met for a moment. I was holding “Baby” in my left arm, but I managed to smile, put my hands together in a Thai-style “wai” greeting and bow my head a little. The monk’s eyes lit up for a moment, and he smiled. He looked as surprised to see a Westerner, holding a baby, bow to him in the middle of Disneyland as I was to see him, but it was a touching moment.

This is not the first time, I had met such monks, as I once met a famous Sri Lankan monk years ago named Bhante Seelawimala, which was also the first time I had ever heard Buddhist chanting in the Pali language. However, at the time my understanding of Buddhism wasn’t very mature, so I didn’t know much at the time. Years later, here I was in Disney Paris of all places passing by 4 similar monks. When you realize how big the crowd is, it’s just too much of a coincidence I think.

So, after both these experiences, plus having the song stuck in my head, I was deeply moved and reminded that we’re all human, even the people we dislike. People can malign or spew hatred to you, your views, and so on, but in spite of that, they’re still human. They still eat three meals a day, go to the bathroom like everyone else, need companionship and so on. They do not have horns growing out of their head, and they don’t breath fire either.

The Lotus Sutra reminds us that such beings, even if deluded now, can and will become bodhisattvas someday. In the Devadatta chapter, chapter 12, the Buddha reminds his followers that in a past life, Devadatta was his holy teacher, while Shakyamuni Buddha was his follower. They may have switched roles now, but the Buddha still felt indebted to Devadatta, and felt he would still attain Buddhahood one day in spite of what he had done.

Just remember that when you have some strong negative feelings toward someone, no matter how obnoxious they are. We’re all in this together!

Namu Amida Butsu
Nam-myoho Renge Kyo

1 We’re planning another weekend trip to Edinburgh, Scotland, which is very close to Ireland. Many co-workers and friends of my wife speak very highly of it, and it’s family-friendly atmosphere.

2 Probably 7-8 years ago, before I really explored Buddhism in depth. Time really flies. :(

3 I highly recommend the Sequoia Hotel there. The services in the room are pretty minimal, but the rest of the hotel has good service, nice amenities, and really nice scenery, plus a pretty short walk to Disneyland. By being outside of the park itself, I also saved a lot of money.

4 We saw it 4 times over 3 days. She would get so upset when we had to leave as she loved the moving dolls and such. She called it fune (舟) or “boat” in Japanese, because we were floating on the boats. “Daddy, fune wo mitai!” (Daddy, I want to see the boats).

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