Wednesday, September 19, 2001
"Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change."
--- Robert Kennedy
A full eight days has passed since September 11, 2001, a date we will never forget. I have had many e-mails forwarding wonderful articles calling for compassion and urging restraint. And I've received a few of commentators inflaming the public with calls for vengeance. I am not going to address this "debate", except perhaps indirectly, inspired by the quote above from Robert Kennedy.
Last Friday, I heard a report on NPR that included a commentary by Richard Goldstein from The Village Voice. He said that New Yorkers were being forced to do something they never do -- stop. And he said that in stopping they were seeing things they hadn't seen in a long time -- each other. And it is true. Straphangers were making eye contact and speaking together. People were congregating spontaneously and having vigils to honor the victims of the attack as well as to nurture the seeds of peace and compassion. New Yorkers were being warm to each other, instead of turning away from each other.
And of course, the amazing response of so many with offerinigs of food, money, shelter, blood, clothes, a compassionate hug and a listening ear. This is the authentic response of an awakened heart. And then people started to remark on it, which is kind of a shame, because then distance steps in and people become self-conscious. But I find it interesting that what Richard Goldstein was talking about -- stopping and seeing, is in fact the translation of the Sanskrit shamatha-vipashyana, which is also know as Mindfulness or Insight meditation. Stop. And see clearly. And this is exactly what New Yorkers especially, but many Americans too, were doing last week.
As I wrote in last week's note, this terrible tragedy can be the catalyst for a great change. It can be a terrible, but truly life-changing "bell of mindfulness." And in allowing this tragic event to wake us up, we can give meaning to an otherwise senseless crime. On that same NPR segment, an East Villager remarked that until now he thought living the bohemian life, with the great music scene in the village was "great." Now, he said, "it all seems kind of irrelevant. My girlfriend and I are leaving the city for the weekend to rethink what we want from life and what's really important to us.
Unfortunately, all too soon, the self-referential commentary on this open-hearted outpouring of generosity began to create "the story." There is always a story, and the story cuts off deeper and further inquiry. Here, the story is, "This is how we respond to a crisis." "We come together in an emergency." As any Zen student will tell you, everyday should have the urgency of a crisis. "Great is the matter of life and death. Impermanence surrounds us. Do not waste your life. Be awake each moment," goes one gatha. Another teaching reminds us that "Death comes unexpectedly. How can we bargain with it?" In the Upanishads, it is written that "The yogi stands with death at his back and truth in front of him."
Imagine if this "clear seeing" was cultivated as practice, so that we didn't lose sight of this truth. Imagine we didn't fall back into the complacent sleep of denial. We would then respond from the warm and tender "spiritual warrior's heart." We would not turn away from our fellow beings' suffering. Many beginning students question how insight or prajna (wisdom) leads to compassionate action. We are seeing it work first hand in New York City right now. But, it dosn't take long for us to grow numb. For the old mental formations of fear, selfishness, anger, and ignorance to come to the fore and we sink into the cycle of conditioned reactivity known as samsara. That's why, as Bo Lozoff has titled his latest book reminds us, "It's a wonderful life. It just takes practice."
To preserve peace, our hearts must be at peace with ourslves, with our brothers and sisters --with the world. As Thay Thich Nhat Hanh has said, "We often think of peace as the absence of war; that if the powerful countries would reduce their arsenals, we could have peace. But if we look deeply into the weapons, we see our own minds -- our prejudices, fears, and ignorance.... So working for peace must mean more than getting rid of weapons. It must start with uprooting war from ourselves and from the hearts of all men and women." Can you see that this is the important peace work that must be done? As Rabbi L Cohen writes, "Darkness is the absence of light, but peace is not just the cessation of hostilities. Treaties may be signed, ambassadors exchanged, and armies sent home, yet there still may not be peace. Peace is metaphysical and cosmic in its implications.It is more than the absence of war. Peace, in fact, is not the absence of anything, but rather the ultimate affirmation of what can be."
As we are together, praying for peace, let us be truly with each other.
Let us pay attention toour breathing.
Let us be relaxed in our bodies and our minds.
Let us be at peace with our bodies and our minds.
Let us return to ourselves and become wholly ourselves. Letus maintain a half-smile on our faces.
Let us be aware of the source of being common to us all and to all living beings.
Evoking the presence of the Great Compassion, let us fill our hearts with our own compassion --
towards ourselves and towards all living beings.
Let us pray that all living beings realize that they are all brothers and sisters, all nourished from the same
source of life.
Let us pray that we ourselves cease to be the cause of suffering to each other.
Let us plead with ourselves to live in a way which will not deprive other beings of air, water, food, shelter,
or the chance to live.
With humility, with awareness of the existence of life, and of the sufferings that are going on around us,
let us pray for the establishment of peace in our hearts and on earth.
---Thich Nhat Hanh
.: posted by Poep Sa Frank Jude 7:09 PM