A Jewish Buddhist and a Devout Christian Meet in a Taxi

by Michael lisagor

   You never know what to expect when you climb into a taxi. My recent Lyft drive from the Boston airport to my grandchildren's home turned into an  hour and half traffic crawl. Fortunately, my driver was the talkative type. A native of Guatemala, he and his wife had lived in Boston for eight years. 

  Our rather mundane conversation shifted to a deeper level when he explained that he hadn't seen his father for several years because he wasn't allowed back into the United States. My driver was afraid he wouldn't be able to return if he left the country to visit him. He mentioned that it was his strong belief in the Bible that had spiritually sustained him.   He openly listened as I shared about my Buddhist practice and how it had enabled me and many others to overcome the challenges in our lives. What followed was an informative and refreshing exchange of ideas based on a life-to-life dialogue.

 I noticed that whenever we touched upon topics such as gay marriage, he quoted the Bible to explain his opposition. It made me appreciate that Nichiren's letters and Daisaku Ikeda's guidance is encouragement about how to live a better life as opposed to a strict set of behavioral and moral do's and don'ts. Ikeda has said, "The differences between people need not act as barriers that wound, harm and drive us apart. Rather, these very differences amonth cultures and civilizations should be valued as manifestations of the richness or our shared creativity."

  My father, like his father, behaved in a racist manner. Even at a young age, I found his comments to be offensive and embarrassing. I don't think he knew why he believed what he did. Which is ironic, given that his parents had fled Russia to escape persecution for being Jewish.

  "Religion is always in danger of growing apart from the people when its leaders forget to reflect carefully on their own behavior and come to look upon themselves as figures of authority." - Daisaku Ikeda

 I explained to my driver, that as a Nichiren Buddhist, I believed that everyone, regardless of race, gender, national origin, color, ethnicity, or religion, has within them a potential enlightened or Buddha nature that they can manifest in this lifetime. So, they are deserving of our respect and compassion. Until humanity embraces this mindset, we are destined to continue a cycle of religious violence.

 My remarks caused a definite pause in our conversation! Then, he responded by saying he agreed in principle; but he insisted that certain behaviors and beliefs would prohibit someone from going to heaven. To which I replied, that from a Buddhist perspective, we can experience heaven 

and hell within our daily lives, moving from one to another at any moment according to our interactions with our environment and with those around us. On this point, we politely agreed to disagree.

  Finally arriving at my daughter's house, we hugged; he said I had given him some things to think about and I felt enriched by his sincerity and our conversation. So, that's what happened when a Jewish Buddhist and devout Christian met in a taxi!