“By protecting oneself (e.g., morally), one protects others; by protecting others, one protects oneself.” ~ Samyutta Nikaya (Kindred Sayings) 47; Satipatthana Samy., No. 19
“We may recognize an oppressor and resolutely act to remove the oppression, but we do not hate him. Absence of hatred, disgust, intolerance or righteous indignation within us is itself a part of our growth towards enlightenment.”
“Buddhism teaches that joy and happiness arise from letting go. Please sit down and take an inventory of your life. There are things you’ve been hanging on to that really are not useful and deprive you of your freedom. Find the courage to let them go.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh
We are so lucky that we live at a time when there has never been more Dharma available and more sangha participants than at any other period in the history of the world. As sangha members, we can directly receive the gifts of practicing in community and connection. The sangha offers us support for navigating these lifetimes of 10,000 joys and sorrows. Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that the sangha is a raft to keep us from drowning in despair. In Buddhism, there is the practice of taking refuge in the three jewels, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the sangha. When we take refuge, we come for support to the wisdom of the Buddha, the path of practice and the living tradition of the Dharma, and the Sangha, the companionship of others who share their wisdom, empathy, and the experience of valuing liberation above the societal ideals of wealth and status.
The Buddha created a community based on cooperation and the equality of all people. He included those who were devalued by the rigorous system of discrimination which was part of the ancient Aryan social strata. The Buddha’s model of living and social harmony includes the foundations of loving kindness and the understanding that we are more alike than different. As we navigate through this period of visible tensions between classes, economic levels, and races, we can recognize that we have a choice to build a new system which diverges from the current culture of hierarchy. We can make profound changes to shift towards an economy that cares instead of one that looks to exploit.
Practicing living with the values of compassion and including all people in our circle of care is counterculture. It is easily mistaken for passivity or weakness to treat all beings, even those who are causing harm from ignorance, with consideration and friendliness.
We cannot build a compassionate society following the blueprint of domination and discrimination. We cannot conquer to create harmony and lasting peace. We know that all actions have value. The word karma in Sanskrit means action. Our karma includes all actions, our thoughts, our words, and our deeds. The words we do not speak, the thoughts no one can see, these are our possessions as well.
Opening to understanding and compassionate speech does not mean we approve or agree with the views of others. It means we consider that all living beings have a right to exist, have fears, and joys, and just like me, they will all experience pain and at some point, die. If I hold this awareness of how similar I am to another, I am moved to caring for their welfare. This is the open-hearted awareness of Bodhicitta, the awakened heart of love.
This can sound like an incentive to be nice, not rock the boat and stay far from the messy ignorance that manifestations as fear, hatred, and greed. We can pat ourselves on the back for silently wishing that all problems and injustices will go away and consider ourselves a good person because we care. But true caring is not just a platitude and arms reach altruism. Removing hatred and ignorance from our hearts asks us to look at where we are stuck in domination and injustice. Who do we believe is it ok to hate? Rapists, sexual offenders, racists, sexist, those who discriminate on the bases of sexual preference, or those who don’t see the enslavement of animals and the self-proclaimed supremacy of humans?
We are called to look carefully at our own bias, at how we fit into this culture of oppression. If we are a person of color, we are called to turn towards the truth of the devaluation of people with black or brown skin, at the lack of welcome and the daily reminders of difference, the micro-aggressions that exist in this society designed to favor white European immigrants. If we are a white person, we are called to see how we have benefited from the transfer of intergenerational wealth, how we take for granted the ability to choose where to live, what neighborhoods we can drive through without being stopped by the police, the privilege to freely select where we want to be educated, and what vocation we desire. As white people, we do not need to identify our race because we are the “norm.” We don’t call ourselves, European-Americans, or white Americans we are just Americans, while others carry the systemic distinction of separation and exclusion with titles of Asian America, African American, or Latinx American.
The path of purification leaves nothing out—not our implicit bias, or the ignorance that creates cultures of intolerance and discrimination. What we think, what we say, what we do has value and meaning. Out actions create the future and the seeds we sow, invariable bear fruit. When our actions flow from an awakened mind and heart that seeks to remove suffering our intention is vastly different than the mind that seeks to punish and defeat. The action may look the same—but the energy of care does not contain the seeds of violence and hatred. When we bring the spirit of compassion into all actions, political, as well as personal, there is a freedom born of non-harming. When there is no enemy outside of us, we are naturally free from fear and free to act because there is no residue of hate, only the mind that understands the causes of suffering and sees the way out is a collective achievement.
May we all trust our light,