No Place Like Home

Tetsunori Koizumi, Director

“There’s no place like home,” is the old saying that has been incorporated into a song such as “Home, Sweet Home” in the 1823 opera, Clari, the Maid of Milan. Movie fans around the world are also familiar with the saying as these are the words Dorothy, a young girl from Kansas in the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, utters when she wakes up at her home in Kansas after her adventures in the Land of Oz. Whether it is in Milan or in Kansas, home is supposed to be the place where we feel safe and secure, being in the familiar environment. Indeed, the idea that one’s home is the safest refuge to everyone is found in old juristic writings such as Pandects, compiled by the order of Justinian I in 533.

While home is a special place for everyone, our relationship to our homes has undergone some changes in the world under the threat of COVID-19. For one thing, people in many countries were discouraged to go home during the 2020-21 Christmas Holidays, especially if their jobs were in large cities where the rate of infection by COVID-19 is much higher than rural areas. These people were home for Christmas only in their dreams, like a line in a popular song, “I’ll be home for Christmas,” deprived of the annual get-together with their family members and friends that, normally, would have been an occasion to say to one another, “There’s no place like home.”

What about those people who have been staying at home, like workers in information-related businesses who do not have to commute to their workplaces or senior members of the society who have already retired from their works? Even these people were affected by the stay-at-home order imposed by governments around the world during 2020, deprived of the opportunity of going out of their homes for eating out at restaurants, attending ball games, and traveling to popular tourist destinations. To be sure, we are living in the world where we can do shopping from our own homes with the widespread availability of home delivery services of all kinds of goods, including food. However, for those who enjoy going out, the stay-at-home order may have been a form of punishment not unlike house arrest.

The presumption behind the stay-at-home order is that there is less chance of catching the virus at home with limited contact with the outside world. But the potential danger of becoming victims of COVID-19 is still there in our own homes. With the medical staff at clinics and hospitals overburdened with treating COVID-19 patients, more and more patients, especially those with modest symptoms, are asked to stay home. Unfortunately, a number of these patients have died when their symptoms turned serious yet could not find clinics and hospitals ready to take them in. In a way, this is a new twist to the old saying, “There’s no place like home,” because the wonder of modern medicine that includes online diagnosis and treatment could not save these patients while they were waiting in their own homes for the treatment at clinics and hospitals that never came.

There is no question that the development of information technologies has led to the expansion of home-based activities in recent years. For example, home schooling, which used to be an option only for those parents who were not happy with the education in traditional schools, has become a viable option for many children whose parents are concerned about the possibility of their children catching the virus from close contact with other children in the classroom. While home schooling is limited to children of young ages, online education is not limited to specific age groups, and is becoming widely available for college-age students as well as for adults. In fact, the “virtual classroom” is becoming more widely used in higher education today as it allows students to stay at their homes yet enables them to interact with teachers more often and more intimately than in the classroom.

We can keep on talking about the wonders of information technologies that have made possible all kinds of home-based activities, including playing video games one of which is the 2017 horror game by the name of “Home Sweet Home”, another new twist to the old saying “There’s no place like home.” Then there are those people who have no place that they can call their homes. The slowdown in economic activities during the pandemic has increased the number of homeless people in countries around the world. We need to lend support in whatever way we can to the efforts being made by government agencies as well as private volunteer groups that are trying to provide the safe refuge for these people.

While home needs to be the safest refuge for all of us, it is important for us to maintain the connectivity with the outside world, despite the call for social distancing and self-isolation to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This is so not only because of the interdependence among our economies in the globalized world but also because of our life as a species takes place on Earth, on which we share our existence with all the other living beings, including viruses. The real test for us as we struggle to ride out the difficult times is whether we can say “there’s no place like home” about Earth, on which we have been living under the stay-at-home order since our birth as a biological species.

Power Transition: Are we still waiting for a philosopher-king, or a wheel-turning monarch?

Tetsunori Koizumi, Director

History tells us that the transition of power from one ruler to the next is not always smooth and peaceful, but is often brutish and violent. The brutish and violent transition of power from one ruler to the next is amply illustrated by what happened to the three successive emperors of the Roman Empire. The reign of Caligula, the third emperor, came to a violent end when he was assassinated in a conspiracy among senators, courtiers, and even members of his own imperial bodyguards. Claudius, the next emperor, met a similar fate when he was poisoned to death, possibly by instigation of his wife Agrippina. Nero, the fifth emperor adopted by Claudius, was spared from death by assassination but took his own life amid the chaos he created with his cruel deeds, which included the killing of his mother Agrippina and the savage treatment of Christians.

Among students of Buddhism, King Bimbisara of Magadha is known as one of the royal benefactors of the Buddha and his Sangha. King Bimbisara’s rein came to a tragic end when he died imprisoned by his own son, who would become King Ajatasattu. Remorseful of his act of parricide, King Ajatasattu would later become a royal benefactor of the Buddha and his Sangha, and was the patron of the First Buddhist Council held after the Buddha’s passing. Despite his good deeds as a generous supporter of the Buddha and his Sangha, King Ajatasattu, too, could not escape a tragic end of his reign, for his son Udayabhadra is said to have assassinated him. King Pasenadi of Kosala, another royal benefactor of the Buddha and his Sangha, also met a similar tragic end when he died of exposure because he could not return to his capital Shravasti as his son had taken over the throne while he was away.

Hereditary inheritance is one way to avoid the brutish and violent transition of power from one ruler, or leader, to the next, which has been widely adopted not only by empires and kingdoms but also by families, businesses, and organizations. The Tokugawa Shogunate was a hereditary transition scheme in which the seat of the Shogun was passed on from the father to his eldest son. While such a hereditary transition scheme was transparent as it made it clear who the next Shogun would be not just to the immediate members of the Shogun’s family but also to the people who supported the Shogunate as ministers and vassals, it was not without controversies and power struggles, especially when the eldest son was deemed unfit to become the Shogun for one reason or another. For example, Hidetada was able to become the second Shogun after Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, passed away because his two elder brothers were not available to inherit the throne: the eldest had committed hara-kiri due to his conflict with Ieyasu and the next eldest had become an adopted son of another influential samurai family. The transition of Shogunate from the Second Shogun Hidetada to the Third Shogun Iemitsu was also not without controversies. While gaining the status of the successor after the death of Hidetada’s first son, Iemitsu was regarded by many around him, including his own father, as unfit to be a Shogun for his erratic behavior and frail constitution.

Choosing the successor by election, in contrast to these historical examples, seems to be a safe and uncontroversial system of power transition that is free from the pitfalls that accompany the succession of emperors, monarchs, and shoguns. This explains why most countries of the world today adopt the electoral system to choose their political leaders, including the United States. In that the country’s leader is chosen every four years by nationwide voting, the presidential election system in the United States appears to be the model of smooth and peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next. That even this system is not without controversies is made abundantly clear by the turmoil that the United States is going through after the 2020 presidential election, with the outgoing president refusing to concede defeat in the election, thus preventing the smooth transfer of responsibilities from the old to the new administration.

The events unfolding in the United Sates show that having the democratic form of government is no guarantee for the smooth and peaceful transition of power. It was Plato who characterized democracy as “a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder.” (Republic, Book VIII, 558) And it was the disorder aspect of democracy that prompted Plato to argue for a philosopher-king, where “political greatness and wisdom meet in one”: “There will be no end to the troubles of states, or of humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.” (Republic, Book V, 473) The Buddha also expressed a similar idea in his conception of raja cakkavatti, or “wheel-turning monarch”: “A wheel-turning monarch, a just and righteous king, who thus provides lawful protection, shelter, and safety for all, is the one who rules by the Dhamma only. And that rule cannot be overthrown by any hostile human being.” (Anguttara Nikaya, 3:14) Looking around the world, we must say that we are still waiting for such a philosopher-king, such a wheel-turning monarch. But waiting for such a philosopher-king, such a wheel-turning monarch, would be futile unless we all become philosophers, Dhamma practitioners.