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Monday, December 05, 2005


One correspondent's reflections on the practice of Right Action is the following. It shows how profound bringing mindfulness to that which normally goes without reflection brings insight and deeper questioning:

"It has been an interesting week. Keeping this teaching in mind this week has led to consequences both easier and harder than I had expected.

I have found myself thinking on how truly interconnected this world is, and how our actions can have results that we do not forsee, that travel further than we realise. Every aspect of how we live affects so many other beings. Do I drive or ride my bike today? Do I buy that tin of tuna? How do I get those bugs off my chilli plants? Little things seemingly, but big consequences when multiplied millions of times.

I have been shocked at how prevalent and how lightly-taken aggressive responses seem to be (in myself and those around me) - to getting cut off in traffic, to the neigbour mowing the lawn, to the telemarketer calling at dinner time. And those are the little things!!! These responses all seem to rest on 1) a belief that the world should adjust itself to suit our personal specifications and 2) an inability to recognise the humanity/commonality of others. I have also been shocked at just how difficult it is not to respond to anger with anger.

When 'problems' like these so often lead to anger & words and thoughts of violence, it is not difficult to see how terrible spirals of violence occur in many parts of the world. We are (I am) not so different, just different circumstances."

And another had this specific issue arise for her:

"I have been struggling with a situation for four weeks now. My boss threatened me, and followed up his thread by harrassing behavior. Whereas i tried to first just let it go, i am now at a point where i might file an official report against him.

If i file a complaint i will have to extend the unpleasantness of the situation and involve other people in it, definitely not ahimsa. If i don't send a strong message to stop his behavior (at least with me), i risk future abuse from him. Because he is my boss, he can harm me in various ways. He has done this to other people and will not stop unless someone goes the "official" way through his boss.

I understand that his reaction came from anger, and i am not looking for revenge. I just want to be left alone and treated fairly. Dealing with this is most difficult for me and has put an enormous amount of stress on me.
Ahimsa or protecting myself? Would a report against him be a violation of ahimsa? Any input greatly welcome, i'm at a total loss here."

Essentially all I can say is that the practice of the precepts (yamas) begins with oneself. That is, we need to protect the life manifesting as "our life" in order to protect "other life." An obvious example is we don't stop eating just because we don't want to take life. If we did, we'd be taking our own life, and that breaches the precept!

In situations like what you describe, the challenge is to stay centered on your motivation. You don't want revenge. That's important. Can you also cultivate the motivation of compassion? Compassion for all those he may have abused in the past, as well as potential future "victims" if you don't speak up now? And compassion for him, as he obviously has a problem that not reporting will certainly have no chance to be healed.

So you see, reporting or not reporting is not really the question. Does one report as an act of compassion and ahimsa, OR does one report as an act of vengeance? Pretty much, this is how it is for all the precepts -- it is our intention and motivation that determines the karmic consequences -- not the overt behavior.

Good Luck. May all go well.
frank jude

To this personal response, my correspondent had this comment:

"I do have compassion for him. That's what makes this so difficult. Knowing why he acts like this (to a degree) and understanding makes me want to just excuse his behavior - but that would give him permission to continue and not help him or me, true. Also, i'm afraid somewhat of his reaction. Big sigh, i will just have to live through this and learn this lesson.

Thanks for the input, it did help."

And my final response:

"Glad to hear it, but I do want to clarify in case there is any misunderstanding. Compassion is always tempered with wisdom (or should be) or otherwise it is what is known as "Idiot Compassion." All this means is that sometimes compassion takes the form of what Christians call "tough love." A strong teaching story has the Bodhisattva of Compassion killing someone out of compassion in order to keep that person from committing a heinous crime and accruing much bad karma. So, as I tell my students, that means he loved this man enough to kill him!

Compassion for your boss is not an invitation to "excuse" his behavior. However, it is you who are in this situation, and therefore it is you who is the final judge as to what is the skillful response. And so I continue to send you best wishes for the most happy outcome!"

frank jude

.: posted by Poep Sa Frank Jude 4:46 PM


Right Action, the second limb of the Sila branch of the Eightfold Path of Peace, is of course based upon Right Thinking and Right Understanding. It is Wisdom in action. It can be simply defined as that action that prevents or alleviates duhkha. Patanjali tells us that duhkha that has yet to arise must be prevented from arising. Right Action is PREVENTIVE MEDICINE! Right Action is bodhicitta in full bloom.

Right Action is embodied in the remaining four of the Five Precepts taught by the Buddha (the fourth precept is Right Speech, which the Buddha felt so important he made a separate limb in his Eightfold Path).

When I first took the Five Mindfulness Trainings (The Five Precepts as taught by Thich Nhat Hanh) I was given as a practice to devote at least one week at a time to a different Training and look as deeply as I could into what it can teach me about suffering and happiness.

Perhaps at least some of you would like to join me on this endeavor for the next few weeks? If you would like to join me, then each day for a week, after your regualar morning practice, read the Training that we are looking into and contemplate non-judgementally the meaning of the Training. Throughout the day, each day of the week, use the Training as a mirror and as a lens to look at your actions -- learning ways to cultivate happiness and alleviate suffering in yourself and in others.

Let us begin with the First Mindfulness Training: Reverence For Life

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals.
I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.

This is the heart of "Engaged Buddhism," the motivating factor for those of us who work for peace in the world. And yet, when I boiled my water for tea this morning, I killed countless organisms that were in the water. The grain and fruit I ate were alive at one time. ALL life depends upon life, so how do we take this teaching?

Knowing that our life necessitates the taking of life, how do we practice non-harming (ahimsa)? What are some practical, down-to-earth responses to this teaching of harmlessness and the cultivation of compassion?

I look forward to hearing from as many of you as possible, as it has been said (truly, I believe) that the heart of all Yoga practice is ahimsa.

frank jude

.: posted by Poep Sa Frank Jude 4:21 PM

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