On one occasion, a monk asked Sekito: “How does one get emancipation?”
Sekito: “Who has put you in bondage?”
Sekito Kisen (Ch. Shitou Xiqian, 700–790)
Those who see worldly life as an obstacle to Dharma
see no Dharma in everyday actions.
They have not yet discovered that
there are no everyday actions outside of Dharma.
“The activist should change himself first; he should have a lot of understanding and compassion in his way of thinking and speaking. Then instead of criticizing and demanding, he can begin to help.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
The weekend’s events in Charlottesville are extremely disturbing on many fronts. From the president’s tepid response to bigotry, racism, and terrorism, to the ongoing denial of the role this country played in the slavery and continued systematic discrimination of African-Americans. This country has never acknowledged or apologized for the theft of land from indigenous peoples and the ongoing role in their oppression. America has moved away from the idea of a melting pot and forgotten that she was born from the desire for religious freedom and tolerance. The promise of liberty and justice and the belief that all beings are equal and worthy, seems like a childish notion that is out of step with reality.
The issues of race, entitlement, fear, and separation are not going away, nor seeming to get any better. In fact, they feel like they are getting worse. As people of conscience, what can we do to help heal the separation and injustice we see? We can start with the idea of non-blame and taking care of our determination for a peaceful solution. Thây teaches us that the enemies to peace are despair and the energy of righteousness.
We may think we are the only ones on the planet who believe that there is basic goodness in all beings and that for the shift of circumstance, I too could be born into conditions that support racism, sexual orientation discrimination, and violent oppression of minority groups. If I grew up in a different home and had different conditioning, I too could be that angry and full of hate. The need to dominate others is a form of suffering. When I see hatred and discrimination, I want to remember that suffering creates more suffering and my desire to punish others is the same impulse as the desire to defeat another. Acting with compassion requires humility and understanding that I am not separate from those who seem so different st first glance.
Thich Nhat Hahn gives us some essential teachings about working for peace, when there is no end in sight. At the question and answer session in 2013 at The Art of Suffering Retreat a practitioner asked, “What is the hardest thing that you practice?”
“Not to allow yourself to be overwhelmed by despair; that is the worst thing that can happen to you. When the war in Vietnam was going on, it seemed it would last forever. Young people asked, ‘Dear Thây , do you think that the war will end soon?’ It was very difficult to answer because if Thay said, “I don’t know,” then the seed of despair would be watered in them. So Thay had to breathe in and out a few times, and then say: ‘Dear friends, the Buddha said that everything is impermanent, so the war must be impermanent also. It will end someday. Let us continue to work for peace.’ If you are surrounded by friends and co-workers who have the same kind of vision and understanding, you will succeed. You cannot do it alone., he responded that not allow yourself to be overwhelmed by despair; ‘that is the worst thing that can happen to you. When the war in Vietnam was going on, it seemed it would last forever.’”
Thây told the people of a village that was destroyed by bombs and rebuilt seven times:
“Dear friends, the Buddha said that everything is impermanent, so the war must be impermanent also. It will end someday. Let us continue to work for peace.” If you are surrounded by friends and co-workers who have the same kind of vision and understanding, you will succeed. You cannot do it alone…If you have a lot of anger in you, you cannot achieve peace. You have to be peace before you can do peace. You need to know how to write a love letter to your president and your congress, to tell them that you don’t want the war. If you write a strong, angry letter, they will not read it. Thây was able to help end the war in that way. If you understand suffering and can help compassion to be born in you, you will be free from despair and anger, and you can help the cause of peace.”
Thây teaches us that we need to keep our courage and desire alive. We are not alone in striving for peace. We have come a long way and those who have gone before must have felt that things would never shift. Those who continue to live in marginalized circumstances, to be threatened and feared because of their religion, color, or sexual orientation understand we are in this for the long haul. Knowing that our words make a difference and not letting anger or weariness strip away our determination, we can do what we always do. We can walk mindfully, speak the truth, engage to help those who are vulnerable and afraid. We can do all these things kindly, gently, and with great care for ourselves and for all beings.
May we all trust our light,
Please Call Me by My True Names
Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow—
even today I am still arriving.
Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope,
the rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when Spring comes,
arrives in time to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond,
and I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay his
“debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion. ~Thich Nhat Hanh