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Lions Roar : March 2018
IN TIMES OF DOUBT, disbelief, and insecurity, the practice of bearing witness can be an important aspect of our aware- ness and presence. Bearing witness can be defined as acknowledging that something exists or is true. From a Buddhist perspective, and specifically the Zen Peacemakers Order, to bear witness is to embrace both the joy and the suffering we encounter. Rather than simply observing the situation, we become the situation. We become intimate with whatever it is—hunger, SENSEI JULES SHUZEN HARRIS is the founder of Soji Zen Center in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania. ILLUSTRATIONSBYCAROLEHÉNAFF HOW TO PRACTICE Bearing Witness Zen teacher JULES SHUZEN HARRIS teaches us a three-step practice to connect with and serve those who are suffering. poverty, discrimination, disease, or death. When we analyze and judge a situa- tion, we normally come to it with all of our ideas and habitual beliefs. We are only able to see it through the lens of our conditioned thinking. But when we shift to the practice of bearing witness, we sus- pend our analytical thinking and move to a place of open awareness. This allows the witnessing presence to become one with whatever situation we encounter. To bear witness, we need to set aside the focus on our own reactions and enter a place of stillness and receptivity. Bear- ing witness in the world, we are cultivat- ing the same ground of open heart and mind that we practice in our meditation. This brings us to the question, “What is the benefit of bearing witness practice?” Psychologically, it enables us to con- nect with a place of real empathy. It also provides a kind of catharsis, a release from our emotional reactions of pity, shame, or fear. Spiritually, bearing witness invokes a sense of interconnectedness, of oneness, a direct realization of the wholeness of life. Politically and socially, it enables us to see clearly the entire web of causes and conditions that create suffering, and to take effective action to improve people’s lives. Here is a three-step practice of bearing witness that you can do. LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2018 31 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE