Accepting Our Humanity is an Action

We are all watering seeds

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” ~Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

“The insight of inter-being will help remove discrimination, fear, and the dualistic way of thinking. We inter-are — even suffering and happiness inter-are — and that is why the insight of inter-being is the foundation of any kind of action that can bring peace and brotherhood, and help remove violence and despair. That insight is present in every great spiritual tradition. We need only to go home to our own tradition, and try to reveal that, to revive that.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends,

Recent events displayed a segment of America few of us want to see, much less take responsibility for. It doesn’t take much looking to dispel that myth that we are living in a post-racial world. We can clearly see the veil of ignorance and blindness that produces acts of discrimination, prejudice, and the belief that some people are lesser than others because of color, belief, or sexual identity continues. Perhaps you’ve heard this idea, or feel yourself, that, “my family came over recently, we were running from prejudice, from discrimination. We weren’t here for slavery. We weren’t Nazis. We have nothing to do with this. We didn’t make the problem.”  This sentiment reminded me of a story I read years ago where a woman is climbing the steps to a temple and sees a bucket of dirty mop water left by the entrance. She thinks, that is disrespectful to have a dirty wash bucket by the entrance to the temple. Who would do such a thing? It shows lack of care and mindfulness. The next day, on her way up the steps, the woman is irritated to see the bucket, still there, the water looking even worse than the previous day. Someone ought to clean that up, she thinks. This is a holy site. The third day, the woman sees the bucket again. She cleans it up.

This story shows how we can move from seeing the problem as totally separate from ourselves, to acting with wisdom and humanity in whatever situation we encounter. What responsibility do we have for the legacy of race-exploitation in America, fueled by greed? How are we associated with Neo-Nazi’s and hate speech? We didn’t start it. Aren’t we free from any accountability for this situation? The short answer is no. We aren’t exempt. As a human being living on this planet, no one is exempt from reality. We are that woman who walks up the temple steps, sees something very unattractive and thinks that those who came before me should have cleaned that mess up, but that didn’t happen.

The truth is that the fires of hatred, greed, and delusion are so easy to see in the other and so hard to see in ourselves. Looking at racism, Antisemitism, and hatred is uncomfortable. When we wish for those who disagree with us to be gone—at any price, we react with violence, and anger. We think we will be able to cure our suffering by eliminating this specific injustice, but the world doesn’t work like that. The issues we see are the manifestation of deep rooted causes and conditioning. Can we offer understanding to the greed, the hatred and the delusion we see in the world? Can we offer kindness and compassion to ourselves for our sadness, anger, and fear when we encounter hatred? Understanding involves getting past condemnation. Is it possible to see ourselves and those we disagree with and who act with violence and oppression, in the light of forgiveness?

Forgiveness doesn’t mean we have amnesia or believe that what is clearly not alright is alright. Forgiveness is not a pass. It means we don’t want to add the suffering of blame and hatred to our lives. Suspending our condemnation and looking with understanding into the causes and conditions that create extremists, terror, and oppression, is the path to peaceful action. If you would like to get more in-depth about the Buddhist path and living and acting with equanimity in the face of the world’s suffering, you can click this link to an article by Forest Monk and scholar, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, titled The Weight of Mountains.

Thây teaches us that we inter-are. We are more alike than un-alike and our thoughts, speech, and actions affect all our shared humanity. No human being is born all good or all bad. We are all made of a mix of these things and what is nourished is what we become. Take good care to water all the positive seeds in you and those around you. Wishing you compassion and gentleness in thoughts, words, and acts.

May we all trust our light,



Walking, Sitting, Speaking, with Patience and Humility

Monk and Fawn

Monk picking a pear for a waiting fawn. BlueCliff Monastery

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


Dear Friends

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?”

Thây answered:

“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

My Secret Double Agent: Judgement

Lotus with honey bee

Lotus with Honey Bee

“Fear is born from arming oneself.

Just see how many people fight!

I’ll tell you about the dreadful fear

that caused me to shake all over:

Seeing creatures flopping around,

Like fish in water too shallow,

So hostile to one another!

— Seeing this, I became afraid.”

 ~The Buddha, Excerpt from the Attadanda Sutta: Arming Oneself

“The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection. The water has no mind to receive their image.” ~Zenrin Kusho

“Not by harming life

does one become noble.

One is termed noble

for being gentle to all living things.”

~The Buddha, Excerpt from the Dhammatthavagga Sutta: The Judge


Dear Friends,

This past week, I’ve had a few conversations about the habit of judging. Addiction seems like a more accurate word since judging feels like an unstoppable force that arises despite all efforts to let it go. As tender and vulnerable mammals, we did not get to the top of the food chain without a legacy of vigilance and judging. It’s hard-wired in our neurobiology to assess situations and individuals to determine safety or risk. Looking at my judgement this week, I had a few thoughts about this very active part of my mind. I would wager, that most of us have an unacknowledged movie that plays continually in our minds. It’s called, What the World Should Look Like, According to Me. When someone bumps up against this vision of how things should be, there’s an immediate reaction. I’ve realized that my judgement, which looks like it’s doing some good work–keeping me safe, is actually a double agent, working for the side of continued suffering.

An example of the hidden working of judgement could go like this: if my world view values generosity, my judgement may say, “Look at that! She took all the credit for that work and didn’t acknowledge anyone else. She’s out for herself.” Or it may go in the opposite direction, “Wow, they gave their car to charity. I’ll never feel comfortable giving a big donation like that. They are so much better than me.” No matter what judgement I have, the act of judging separates me out from the other and actually encourages fear. When I judge someone as less than myself, there is the thought that I am not safe, my world view is challenged. I need to get away. When I judge that I am less than, I am vulnerable to the same judgement from someone else and I am not safe either. If there is a feeling of equality, then there is an identification we are the same and joined in a fragile bubble together. The idea that you feel what I do, leads to disregarding the individual physical and emotional differences every unique being possesses. The double agent of judgement, who seems like a friend, in reality, gives us more fear, more anxiety, takes us out of ourselves, and brings more suffering. One thing I’ve learned about judging is that it doesn’t change anything, it only makes me righteous, doubtful, or delusional.

The Buddhist scriptures are very clear about judging. Judging is called, Attachment to Views. The Buddha is reported as saying that all views, “equal, superior, or inferior,” are all flawed (SN IV.9). “Those who seize at perceptions and views go about butting their heads in the world” (SN IV.9). Attachment to views is one of the mind states that must be abandoned if we are to become unbound and wake up to reality.

This non-attachment to views does not mean that all views are fine—Go ahead and act badly; it’s all concepts. Buddhist Monk and scholar Thanissaro Bhikkhu, writes, “An important point to notice is that attachment to views must be abandoned through knowledge, and not through skepticism, agnosticism, ignorance, or a mindless openness to all views” (1993, p.62). The knowledge is gleaned from personal experience and confidence in the path of truth and beauty, The Ennobling Eightfold Path. This path contains, morality, practice, and wisdom. We know that not all actions, beliefs, and words are kind, useful, or contain wisdom. Not judging doesn’t mean we become blind to this. We become aware of how judging pulls us out of our own experience and arms us. Judging gives the ammunition to start wars, both large and small. For me, the first step is recognizing the harm I do to myself when I judge, that going along with this cozy, familiar, judgy path is going to take me to an unsafe place.

This week, I invite you to practice awareness of judgement with me, to recognize the duplicitous nature of this habit and to reject the conditioned pull to judge. Returning awareness of the body is a great antidote to the judging mind, asking, what am I doing now? What do I feel in my body? Sending loving kindness to myself and wishing for my safety and freedom, when I catch myself judging, is another way to be kind to myself and my addiction. Bringing my mind to this long-standing pattern is going to be a challenge for me, but I am confident, it will pay off.

May we all trust our light,




Bhikkhu, T. (1993) The mind like fire unbound: An image in the early buddhist discourses. Barre, Massachusetts: Dhamma Dana Publications. Retrieved from: file:///C:/Users/rick/Documents/mindlikefire00thanmiss.pdf