“Killing another person is not an act of freedom but an act of great despair and great ignorance; it will not bring freedom or peace.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
tremble at the rod,
are fearful of death.
Drawing the parallel to
neither kill nor get others to kill.
tremble at the rod,
hold their life dear.
Drawing the parallel to
neither kill nor get others to kill. ~Dhammapada 129-130
“Nonviolence is not a set of techniques that we can learn with our intellect. Nonviolent action is born naturally, from compassion, lucidity and understanding within yourself.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
I returned from the Order of Interbeing retreat at Blue Cliff Monastery to read about Saturday’s shooting at the synagogue in California. Yet again, we see violence, hatred, and ignorance made lethal by the availability of weapons in the US. The rise of acceptability of white supremacy and the normalization of racism has me deeply concerned and sometimes afraid. While it is nothing new, there has always been suspicion, dominance, and distrust, it seems that the world is turning backward and forgetting. We are forgetting the atrocities of genocide, the deaths of millions in Cambodia, Armenia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, in the concentration camps of Europe and the ethnic cleansing of Native Peoples on the Great Plains of America. Right now, there is the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people by the government of Myanmar, the most religious Buddhist country in the world. There are no simple and quick answers to hatred and violence. When we see how long it has taken to create these states of separation and ignorance, we know these institutions will take a long while to dismantle.
More than ever we can clearly see the need to transform society—and society is made of individuals who will either adopt the populist views or not. Reactivity and intolerance can grow to become dangerous and powerful destructive forces if tended and especially when communities support the idea of separation and belief in an enemy. This enemy image creates a rationale for attack and persecution. Thich Nhat Hanh tells us “our enemy is never another person; our enemy is the wrong perception and suffering within him, within her.” In truth, the enemy is our untransformed anger, judgment, fear, and illusion of separateness that drives humans to do violence to others in the belief that they will be safe, have enough, and even have peace and happiness through violence.
We know that domination does not eradicate hatred but adds resentment and anger and fuels what it seeks to eradicate. Telling someone they are wrong, trafficking in shame and judgment will not lead to change. Real willingness to change comes from an unprotected heart that feels safe enough to admit mistake. Polarization and division, winning and conquering others only leads to violence. We know this. The hardest work is what we resist—to see the humanness is those we see as enemy, to listen to our own broken hearts and not respond with hatred and judgment. We can listen to the world that cries for help, and hear the need for understanding, for safety, and care. This is the teaching of the Buddha, of Jesus and the Prophets, to treat the one who is caught in the delusion of separateness as a friend. True change comes only when one is connected to their full humanity.
An excerpt from the Third Mindfulness Training of the Order of Interbeing reads, “We will learn to help others let go of and transform fanaticism and narrowness through loving speech and compassionate dialogue.” This is a radically different path to engagement. We condemn the violence that takes lives, the greed that deprives others of opportunities to live and the delusion that believes that separation is real and that one type of people has greater value than others. This we condemn, but we also see that we are the people caught in these views as well. We are part of them and to transform them, we must begin with ourselves. We are all co-creating each other. We are all responsible. My only encouragement is to check your heart and mind. Who are you telling yourself it’s ok to hate? Can we see the longing for consideration, justice, trust, and safety that fuels our judgments? When we can bring compassion to our own minds and care for the anger, discrimination, and separation that is alive in ourselves, we can heal our own broken hearts. When we do this, we are already healing the world.
Please be gentle with your suffering witnessing the pain and division in the world. Here is a link to a letter you may like to read. It is about reading the news mindfully by Order of Interbeing member and Sociology/ Global Studies Professor, Matthew Williams. He speaks about using the news as a practice to deepen our desire to relieve suffering in others and as an opportunity to recognize and transform our own reactivity and suffering.
May we all trust our light,