Nov. 5, 2017 Sermon

I have often spoken about Buddhism as being an exercise in finding a compromise. I am worried how recent developments could produce a misconception of this concept.

In an interview with Fox News host Laura Ingraham, Chief of Staff John Kelly called Gen. Robert E. Lee “an honorable man,” and blamed the beginning of the Civil War on “the lack of an ability to compromise.” Kelly said of Robert E. Lee that he was “a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which, 150 years ago, was more important than country.” Kelly also gave his insight on why the American Civil War started: “It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War. And men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had to make their stand.”

The “compromise” that Gen. Kelly speaks of can be characterized as being faulty to begin with. This is because any compromise must be based on being right. Both sides, that is, both premises must be shown to be correct, both factually and ethically. Kelly’s contention is flawed from the beginning because he posited that the argument for slavery was sound, and that the American Civil War was begun because a compromise could not be struck. As many have pointed out to Kelly, there can be no viable argument for the support of portioning a segment of humans to be slaves. Whose decision would it be to select a few people to serve others as slaves? This is not an issue that can be compromised from an ethical standpoint, yet Kelly says that it can and could have been done to prevent a war. How Kelly would accomplish this is difficult to surmise. He would probably strike a compromise by lessening the number of slaves, but not prohibiting it completely.

A compromise in Buddhism is made when one is torn between two viable options. It is usually done in reluctance and after much vacillation and pain, as a perfect solution lends itself difficult to have. However, perfection is what we must always try to achieve. The Buddha’s compromise is a dire choice between two views with comparably good and honorable consequences.
(Eisei Ikenaga)