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Lions Roar : September 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2006 47 but a harmony. Creation would not be creative if it did not swallow up all things in itself, including its own opposite.” That region in which a dhammin dhammiko (dharma practitioner) dwells is, therefore, beyond the countless illusor y forms of dualism—Christian and Muslim, spiritual and secular, East and West, Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative, black and white, male and female, life and death—that moment by moment we impose upon our ex- perience, thereby obscuring it. We are all these opposites. And none of them. Recogniz- ing this, a young Thich Nhat Hanh and his fellow monks during the Vietnam War were empowered to come self- lessly to the aid of the wounded women and children on both sides of the civil strife that overwhelmed their country. They chose not to merely tend their gardens or remain in the monastery memorizing beautiful sutras (although they certainly did such important things, not blind to the classics but not bound by them either), but put the dharma in prac- tice, here and now, by alleviating the suffering of sentient beings regardless of their politics, their past, or their deeds. Clearly, they understood Shakyamuni Buddha’s counsel that we must “Give up what is behind / Give up what is before / Give up what is in the middle / Cross to the other shore.” Those words refer, of course, to the movement from delu- sion and ignorance to awakening. But, as with all things in the polyvalent dharma, they provide us with upaya kaushala (skillful means) when we feel “unable to fit into this society” and feel that “the culture must change.” Indeed, it must. And like all impermanent things, it will, whether we want it to or not. The point is that we must always first examine ourselves. When he feels anger or fear, a Buddhist rightly asks, “Who feels this anger and fear? What is this I that knows despair and depression?” (Hunting for the self, one soon discovers, is as futile as searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.) During periods of great transition, like this moment in his- tory, we cannot afford to be trapped and limited by our own narratives, by a miscellaneous list of egoistic “likes” and “dis- likes,” or by the forever-running magic show that is a product of the conditioned Monkey Mind. All that we must give up. As Thich Nhat Hanh and his disciple Claude Anshin Thomas teach endlessly and so beautifully, if we want peace, we must be peace ourselves. When I wonder how to achieve right speech, I try to remember one of my favorite Zen sayings, Open mouth, already big mistake, and frisk my planned utterance at three gates before I release it into the world. These three gates are questions: Is it true? Is it necessary? Will it do no harm? Like right speech guided by nonviolence and ahimsa (harmlessness), right action necessarily demands that our deeds do not contribute to division and divisiveness in the world. Leaving our private gardens, we got to our workplace, the professional and service organizations we belong to, and other places in the social world where we work in concert with other men and women on life-enhancing, dukkha-re- ducing projects too great for us to accomplish individually. Such work is done with no thought of reward. If we feel we have achieved “merit” through such action, we—inspired by the bodhisattva ideal—might transfer in our practice that “good” karma to other sentient beings for their benefit and happiness, seeking nothing for ourselves, for when we prog- ress enough along the path we no longer create for ourselves the dualism involved in either “good” or “bad” merit. And, once done, we “let go” that particular project and move on to the next, understanding that everything in life, each pre- cious moment, is an opportunity for spiritual practice, not to be wasted by a lack of mindfulness. We live always in the present moment (for where else is there to live?), not becom- ing “stuck” on results, nor to “hope” or “despair,” those false polarities that are more about the needs of the fictitious ego, so full of itself, than anything else. For when we hope, we prelive or project an imagined fu- ture spun from our conditioned desires and fears. Hope is baggage we no longer need to carry into this stormy new century, once we “cross to the other shore.” Hope is thirst (trishna), the cause of suffering identified in the second no- ble truth. Hope begs the question and, as every practitioner knows, hankering for the experience of nirvana—enlighten- ment or liberation—is a major impediment on the path, an obstacle to addressing the real, quotidian demands of the here, the now. If we are not monks but lay practitioners, we must work and practice daily at the white-hot center of sam- sara with a glorious hopelessness and devotion to the ten paramis (virtues): loving-kindness, compassion, joy in the happiness of others, equanimity, giving, keeping precepts, forbearance, assiduousness, meditation, and wisdom. The paramis vouchsafe no guarantees. They offer no safety net. But for followers of the dharma, this exhilarating challenge, during the Buddha’s time or in our own era of complex and tempestuous change, has always been quite enough. ♦ Hope is baggage we no longer need to carry into this stormy new century. Hope is a major impediment to addressing the real, quotidian demands of the here, the now.