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Lions Roar : January 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2013 44 if you remove the non-human elements, the human being is no longer there. So a human cannot be by herself alone. She has to inter-be with everything else in the cosmos.” According to Thich Nhat Hanh, our insight into interbeing is the key to our happiness. “Suffering and happiness inter-are,” he said. “If you understand suffering deeply, you know how to make good use of suffering in order to produce happiness. You know that happiness is made of non-happiness elements, and one of these non-happiness elements is suffering. So suffering has a role in making happiness possible. “It’s like the lotus and the mud. Without mud, you cannot grow a lotus. Without the mud of suffering, you cannot create happiness. This is why, if you touch the nature of interbeing, you don’t try to run away from suffering anymore. Instead you try to embrace your suffering. You look deeply into it to understand its nature and to learn how to make good use of suffering to produce happiness.” “If you have gone through a war,” Thay continued, “you have the capacity to appreciate the peace that’s available in the here and now. Many people do not appreciate peace until a war breaks out. But against the background of suffering, you appreciate the peace that’s available.” Likewise, when a person is healthy, he may not appreciate his health. But when he falls sick, he regrets that he did not fully enjoy being healthy and then, when he gets bet- ter, he does fully enjoy it. “So suffering and happiness inter-are. They are like left and right, above and below, the mud and the lotus. The understanding of interbeing removes all discrimina- tion—all dualistic thinking—and creates harmony, understand- ing, and peace. The practice of mindfulness has the purpose of bringing you the insight of interbeing.” For a concrete method of practicing mindfulness in daily life, Thich Nhat Hanh has crafted the five mindfulness trainings, a mod- ern distillation of the four noble truths and the noble eightfold path. These trainings are (1) reverence for life, (2) true happiness, (3) true love, (4) loving speech and deep listening, and (5) nourishment and healing. “The five mindfulness trainings, are based on the insight of interbeing,” Thay told me. “The insight of interbeing is the ground of better ethics. Then the five trainings are applied ethics that can help reduce suffering and bring more happiness.” In his book Good Citizens, Thay wrote, “ The five mindfulness trainings, are offered without dogma or religion. Everybody can use them as an ethics for their life without becoming Buddhist or becoming part of any tradition or faith. You are just yourself, but you try to make a beautiful life by following these guidelines.” Following the trainings, he wrote, “leads to healing, transforma- tion, and happiness for ourselves and for the world.” 1. Reverence for Life While at Plum Village, I shared meals with my dharma family under a tree hung with a swing set. There were more than twenty of us, and we didn’t start eating until we were all seated and we’d taken a moment to contemplate our food as a gift from the earth, the sky, farmers, packers, deliverers, and cooks. Then the bell rang and we took our first bites, silently. In order for us to more fully appreciate what was on our plate, there was no talking as we ate. Just the tiny clinking of forks, knives, spoons. Many people report that at first they find it awkward to eat in silence. But for me, right away it was a relief. Normally I eat with the TV on or with a book in my hand or while talking. Normally, I think this two-things-at-once eating will relax me. Maybe it does a little, but not like eating in silence with my dharma fam- ily. In the quiet, I could actually concentrate on the flavors and textures and origins of each mouthful. Steaming bowls of soup with a clear broth, delicate rice noo- dles, and chewy mushrooms; bread pudding made from hunks of baguette, mashed bananas, and dark chocolate; pasta salad punctuated with the salty punch of wrinkled black olives. All the food at Plum Village is vegan, reflecting the first mindfulness training, reverence for life. Like many Plum Village practitioners, when I pay attention to what I eat, I don’t want to eat flesh—to eat the suffering of animals. Sister Jewel, who grew up in Chicago and Nairobi, talked to me about the subtleties of reverence for life. “We inter-are with everything, so if we harm anything we’re harming ourselves,” she said. “If we see that deeply, then we can only practice reverence for life—for all of life.” At Plum Village, the sangha takes every opportunity to guide people toward reconciliation, peace, and non-violence. This includes hosting retreats for Israelis and Palestinians. To begin, the Israelis and Palestinians separately learn to relax and get in touch with their feelings, their suffering. Then, after a week of experiencing the safety of their own group and the peaceful, lov- ing environment of Plum Village, the Israelis and Palestinians come together for conversation, during which they learn that the other group has also suffered. Previously, according to Sister Jewel, “they saw each other as the enemy, but when they really talk and listen to each other, they see that they have a lot in com- mon.” After experiencing a retreat at Plum Village, many Israelis and Palestinians are inspired to work for peace and reconcilia- tion between the two communities. “We emphasize sangha living because if you have that kind of solid foundation for your life, you will be a peacemaker,” said Sister Jewel. “You will be someone who doesn’t contribute to violence and who protects life. Protecting life—loving life— starts with loving the life in ourselves and not discriminating against our own suffering, our own pain. When we don’t dis- criminate against the ugly things or the painful things in us, then we also learn not to discriminate against people who we believe are not very kind, not very wholesome. Discrimination is the root of the destruction of life. When we think that some- thing is not okay, when we believe that ‘This is me and that’s not me,’ that discrimination is the root that gives rise to the