Oct. 1, 2017 Sermon
NASA and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, are planning to build a cooperative space station on the moon. On Sept. 27, 2017, our two nations signed an agreement to build a space station that will orbit the earth. It will be called the Deep Space Gateway, as one of its goals will be to send man to Mars. Construction is set to begin in the middle of 2020. Other nations, such as China, India, and Japan, have also showed an interest in signing on to this project.

Among other things, this project will require a discussion about setting technical standards as the present International Space Station has pending issues with competing standards in docking ports and life support systems. Presently, the ISS has different ports for multiple vehicles, for example. It is assumed that the standards will be based on the Russian model as they have far more experience in this. At this time, both space agencies are busily formulating concept designs for this new space station.

Some people believe that this sort of cooperation will help to deflect the political tensions between our two countries. Perhaps, but the more I reflect on man’s past, I am skeptical about how optimistic we should be. That is, whenever you build something on a parcel of land, you are staking your interest in it. People will counter this, saying that this project is built on cooperation because it is of a consortium of countries. And, there is no way that humans will be leaving earth en masse to live on the moon, so why worry? This may be so, but there are already a few entrepreneurs who are selling parcels of land on the moon.

A businessman by the name of Francis Williams has sold and is still selling land on the moon for about $27 an acre. As soon as astrophysicist Stephen Hawking had mentioned the possibility that man may need to colonize space at some point to survive, Williams made an announcement that he had already sold 200,000 acres of property on the moon. Williams has also collaborated with London’s Science Museum to sell land on the Moon, Mars, and Venus at $27 an acre. With this purchase, one would receive a deed, information on the planet, and a map that shows exactly where the plot is. Williams, based in St. Austell, England, calls his company Moon Estates, and employs ten employees to sell these properties. It was a Californian by the name of Dennis Hope, who gave Williams the British rights to sell land on the moon and other planets. Hope had found a loophole in a 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty that forbade any government from claiming any celestial resource. The treaty, however, says nothing about individuals, apparently.

The surprising thing about this is that among the many so-called owners of the moon, there are also high-profile celebrities such as Carrie Fisher, William Shatner, the Pope, George W. Bush, and 30 NASA employees. Although Hope and his British sales representative stand by their claim that these sales and the ownership of celestial properties will stand in court, UN and US lawyers almost unanimously assert that these claims are worthless.

Although it appears as though Hope and Williams are a modern breed of snake oil salesmen, they both staunchly stand by their claims. And to their credit, in all the years that they have been in business, no one or any one organization has formally challenged their claims in any public arena. Regardless of the validity of their business, this far-fetched example offers us an opportunity to stop and ponder about what ownership really means.

Assume that we all have a place to live. Many of us own our house and the land that it sits on. Some of us may rent, but lessees still feel that their place is their home and can do whatever they want with it within reason, as long as they continue to pay their rent. Suppose we buy and plant flowers on our property or rented plot. The planted flowers are ours, or so we think. Our flowers need sunshine. So, what about the sun? Do we own the sun? Well, whatever sun’s rays that fall upon our property is ours to use for our flowers. In this way, the sun’s rays are ours, aren’t they? The flowers also need water. We pay for the water bill, so the water that we use to water our flowers is ours too., aren’t they? When we think about it, it does not take much to tell ourselves that almost anything is ours as we so please.

What about the air that we breathe? Whose is the air? At some point, this line of discussion becomes ridiculous. But, we must approach absurd examples to realize that almost anything to which one can place a monetary value can be made an object of ownership. And, with ownership, we feel that we have more rights to something than others for things over which we have no authority. History has shown that humans are selfish creatures with a tendency to see things from the first person singular, “I” or “me”. “You can’t have that, it’s mine.” But, did we harness the water that we drink? Are we the one’s who funnel the sun’s rays upon ourselves? Did we create the land that we live on, such that we are its master? Do we really own these things? I am not sure that we do. On the contrary, we are at the mercy of what nature provides us. Without its resources, we cannot survive. In Japan, we say, “ika-sarete iru”, meaning that we “are allowed to live”. Is it not true that the land and its resources are providing for us, so that we can live? Since when do we own it?

After having paid up a mortgage on a property, such a person would technically own it. But in actuality, land wherever it is, is a gift of nature for the benefit of all living things. From the Buddha’s point of view, everything that we think that we own is actually borrowed. If one is able to alter one’s thinking, that we are living on borrowed time, and that what we own, or think that we own, is borrowed or lent to us in charity, there will be nothing to be lost. In other words, there will be no motivation to deliberate or go to war to take back what was lost. Part of our feelings of greed are fed by our notions of ownership. If we can lose feelings of “I”, “me”, or “mine”, and instead, feel thankful for what is provided to us, then we will be able to lead a less stressful life. I know that this may sound utopian, but it is still possible to nurture unselfishness within our minds.

(Eisei Ikenaga)