“I entrust myself to earth,
Earth entrusts herself to me.
I entrust myself to Buddha,
Buddha entrusts herself to me.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh, from Being Peace.
peace, we cannot do anything for peace. If we cannot smile, we
cannot help other people to smile. If we are not peaceful, then
we cannot contribute to the peace movement.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh, from Being Peace.
“Hatreds never cease through hatred in this world; through love alone they cease. This is an eternal law.”
~Dhammapada, Verse 5, Narada Thera trans.
“We are committed not to kill and not to let others kill. We will not support any act of killing in the world, in our thinking, or in our way of life.”
~The Twelfth Mindfulness Training. The nuns and monks of Plum Village.
Yesterday I took refuge in the three jewels, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha sharing a day of mindfulness with the Greater Hartford Sangha. I left with deep gratitude for the gift of sharing my day with a community dedicated to alleviating suffering in the world. I was so glad that I had the nourishment of the three refuges yesterday as I learned about the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill. I felt huge sadness and grief for the families and victims of the shooting. As I sat with these feelings, I was aware of the rage in me fed by the desire for all beings to be safe and valued. I saw my thoughts go into blame and judgment and turns towards punishment. I’ve grown up in a society that believes punishment equals justice and that punishment is a useful strategy for getting people to change their behavior. If we are a parent we know what punishment does; it teaches our children to be afraid or to be sneaky. Punishment, isolation, and shame are enculturated ways we believe we can effect social change. But how effective is punishment? The U. S. Bureau of Justice in a 2018 update reports that 5 out of 6 state prisoners were rearrested within 9 years of release. It seems that punishment is an expensive and misguided attempt to create change that ignores the basis of violence and hatred.
Buddhist scholar and monk Bhikkhu Bhodi writes that it is the root of ignorance or delusion (avijja/ Pali, avidya/ Sanskrit) that leads to suffering. Ignorance is not a pathological condition. It is not evil or bad; it is simply a misperception. This is the ignorance that creates the mental confusion or blindness leading to separation and hatred and forgets we inter-are. It is the ignorance that creates in-group and out-group distinctions. It’s the “I making and my making” that leads us to grab hold of the disastrous strategies of greed, hatred, and violence with the mistaken belief they will keep us safe. Writing this I am grateful that I know the usefulness of anger AND extremely grateful I have entrusted myself to the care of the Dhamma which teaches me what to do with my anger so it does not need to become hatred. Anger is a powerful message that something needs our attention. Anger, just like pain, is signal to us that there is something harmful and hurtful going on and we need to take wise action to alleviate suffering in ourselves and others.
The Buddha had a profound understanding of human nature and the innate desire to protect oneself and one’s clan. He gave a teaching on five ways to put an end to hatred that tells us when someone is acting and speaking with violence and out of the delusion in a separated protected self, it is as if they have fallen severely ill, are alone in a strange place without food or medicine and shunned by all others. “And as for a person who is impure in his bodily behavior & verbal behavior, and who does not periodically experience mental clarity & calm, how should one subdue hatred for him? Just as when there is a sick man — in pain, seriously ill — traveling along a road, far from the next village & far from the last, unable to get the food he needs, unable to get the medicine he needs, unable to get a suitable assistant, unable to get anyone to take him to human habitation.…” (Aghatavinaya Sutta: Subduing Hatred). The Buddha tells us that viewing those who act with hatred and delusion through our veil of ignorance and condemnation will only enforce the belief in separation and fuel the cycle of hatred and violence. He tells us it is our task as practitioners is to pick up this ill and isolated person, provide food and medicine to help restore them to health and wholeness of body and mind and most importantly to put down our ignorance and do what feels so counter-culture—to understand that violence is a sign that someone is sick and suffering and care for the person who does harm.
This is a life-altering practice and requires some deep and honest looking at how we create a dangerous “other” and feed the cycle of violence and hatred in our own lives. Ask yourself who is it ok to hate? The KKK? Nazis? White nationalists? Terrorists? Joining together in our communities, who do we hate? When we practice hating, just like any skill, we get better at it. This week please look to see the usefulness in your anger, the beautiful desires for equality and justice that lie beneath anger and judgment and then, go deeper. See how we can act to remove what is the real danger—ignorance. On Tuesday, please take your compassion to the polls and do your best to elect those who can transcend the delusion of separation, those who remember that we all belong to each other.
May we all trust our light,