Posts Tagged ‘Non-violence’

Cultivating the Seeds of Love

August 4, 2016

Violence continues to fill our daily news cycle. Much of the reported violence is in distant communities, both within the United States and around the world. No matter where the violence occurs—Germany, France, Turkey, Iraq, or Florida—it is always horrible and distressing. Mostly we are powerless to respond. We may live too far away. Alternatively, we may lack the skills and knowledge to be of much help during the crisis. Often all that we can do is fret and stew in anxiety, which is of little help.

It is important to remember that acts of violence do not arise out of nothing. They always have precipitating causes and conditions, which may stretch back over years, decades, and even centuries. The acts of violence that erupt today are the fruit (result) of seeds (causes) planted long ago.

Non-violenceSeed_germination (Love), likewise, does not arise out of nothing. Today’s acts of love are the fruit (result) of seeds (causes) planted long ago. Fortunately, love has causes that can be cultivated. In t
he same way that we can create conditions conducive to violence, we can create the conditions for love to arise. Each and every day, we can choose to plant seeds of love or seeds violence in the world.

Love is the desire for the well-being of others. It is radically inclusive, excluding no one. Practicing love does not require special training, equipment, or techniques. It does, however, require a daily commitment to love one’s “neighbors.” And everyone is our neighbor, whether we meet them in person or through social media. Not only must our actions and speech reflect our desire for the happiness and well-being of others, but our heart and mind must also hold our neighbors lovingly. This is a hard and humbling practice. However, over the long arc of history and even the short arc of our lives, it can be socially and personally transforming.

Over time, we will find that our lives are filled love and not hate. We will, as a result, be happier and at peace. However, these are just the superficial effects of the daily practice of love. The deep and long-term effects of our practice are virtually impossible to discern. Perhaps a kind word or look turns an individual down a better path. Maybe a loving act today plants the seed for some future good we will never see.  Only Buddhas know the full effects of our actions.

Perhaps this is the greatest challenge. Ultimately, the practice of love is an act of faith. Faith that love is more powerful than hate and violence. Faith that love will transform the world into a realm of peace, joy, and well-being, what Christians call “Heaven on Earth” and Buddhists call a “Pureland.”

Peace, Paul

Photo: Seed Germination, USDA

Non-Violence: The Path of Love

March 28, 2016

It is important to remember that love and compassion are far more powerful than violence, during this time of war, terrorism and bombastic political speech. If violence were all-pervasive, the human race would not have survived this long. Humans continue to thrive because we are willing to work together. We have found ways to resolve conflicts without bloodshed and killing. We even help those who are weaker than ourselves. Humans survive because non-violence is the norm and violence is the exception.

Violence is, of course, horrible and needs to be resisted. However, violence does not arise in a vacuum. Violence is almost always the result of other violence. Violence begets violence. If we fight violence with even worse violence, we just perpetuate the seemingly endless cycle of violence fueled by fear, revenge, and trauma. We cannot perpetrate violence in the form of invasion, warfare, and continual bombing and not expect the result to be more violence. Violence cannot, ultimately, be overcome by more violence.

Violence is only overcome through the long slow process of love, compassion, forgiveness, and cooperation. These are the values of religion. As people of faith, we are the ones that can lead our communities, countries, and the world in finding another way to overcome conflicts fueled by hatred and violence. We must have the courage of our convictions and say no to war, militarization, and exaggerated patriotism. We can show the world that love and compassion offer a way to break the cycle of violence.

saint-francisSilent prayer is not enough. We need to pray with our actions. As St. Francis reportedly observed, “There is no point in walking somewhere to preach, if our walking is not also our preaching.” As religious people, we can offer the world a way out of violence. First we need to have faith that an end to violence is possible. The Buddha shows a path leading out of violence. Christ does as well. If we follow the paths set out by many of the great religious teachers, earth can become a “heaven on earth,” a realm of peace and understanding.

We start wherever we are: practicing forgiveness and love towards all, daily, and offering little and big kindnesses towards the people around us. When the opportunity arises, we can, with an abundance of compassion, share that we find talk of violence in its many forms – racism, bigotry, sexism, hatred, etc. – unacceptable. We can likewise express our disapproval of acts of violence. We can also work on projects that offer alternatives to some of the many forms of violence in our society.

The practice of love and compassion is endless. Enemies are finite. When we face “enemies” we recognize that our love is imperfect, limited. Like our enemies, we are sometimes moved by anger. Like us, our enemies are people with lives, and loves, and fears. In many ways, we are not that different from those we call enemies. We all want happiness, security, and the freedom to live out lives fully. It is only our limited ability to love, which is the result of our spiritual ignorance, that enables us to see another as an enemy. If we were spiritually awake, then our love would include everyone and none would be seen as enemies.

Thus religion is the practice or training in love. It is the continual cultivation of the desire for all beings to be truly happy. This is what the Buddha and Christ both taught. Happiness is not found in material things, though having the necessities of life is important. Happiness is found in the care of others and in the deep sense of being held, loved, and at peace.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Image: St Francis

Manifesting the Compassion of the Buddhas

January 27, 2016

Non-violent social transformation – the work of creating a world in which compassion and love are more abundant than greed, hatred, and ignorance – is the outward expression of the inner life of prayer, meditation, and contemplation. It is, to paraphrase Dorothy Day, “the process of building a new society within the shell of the old.”

Buddhism, especially institutional Buddhism, has a reputation for quietism and other-worldliness. This is certainly not always the case, but it has enough truth that in the West there has been a move to identify and texually and philsophically support a socially engaged or social justice ethic within Buddhism. This is valuable work. For surely the world needs more people, committed to non-violence and compassion, working for concrete and real change. Our cultivation of compassion on the meditation cushion is tempered and honed in the difficult relationships of daily life.

Personally, I like Mahatma Gandhi’s idea that his life has been a series of “experiments with truth.” I think that we can borrow this idea as a guide to applying the Buddhist Dharma to social issues. We cannot hope to find a definitive Buddhist text to tell us what is acceptable regarding social action. No. The Buddha is a teacher, giving instructions that we must apply to the living of our own lives. He is not telling us what to do but rather showing us a path that we need to explore ourselves.

Central to this path, especially in the Mahayana, is the cultivation of compassion, which is informed by ethical restraint, mental cultivation, and penetrating insight (prajna). Ideally, at first, we learn about these and train in them under the close guidence of a teacher. However, after a period of time we will finish our training. We have learned the basics.

Inspired by the Buddha, guided by the Dharma, and supported by the Sangha we begin to test our skills and awakening in the world. There is no one right way to do this. For one person it may involve feeding the hungry, for another person it might mean campaigning for the rights of animals.  The community of practioners – the Sangha – and the precepts are our reality check. If we find that our work requires killing, or stealing, or lying, then perhaps we are on the wrong path. Likewise our Sangha members may challenge us and question our actions, forcing us to look at our life and actions from different perspectives.

AvalokitesvaraOur vow is to save all beings.  Our compassionate response to suffering arises out of the natural awakening of that vow in our hearts. As our vow and practice matures, we become the upaya (skillful means) of the Buddhas. We are in the world offering a warm smile to the frustrated grocery clerk, or a pair of hands to catch a child that has wandered too far afield and needs to be returned to its parents, or a patient ear for a grief stricken relative.

The key, however, is that the Buddha’s compassion must be expressed in the world in real and concrete ways. We cannot wait for others to act, to fix a problem or address a need. We have a personal responsibility to act, to respond, to make sacrifices to create the world we want to see.

Compassionate action in the world, is both the path and the goal. On this path we hold to and rely on the precepts. We cannot alleviate suffering if we create more suffering with our actions. Not only should we avoid negative speech, but we must find ways to value those around us, especially those who are our enemies. We must be willing to save everyone, not just the people we like. The Buddhas compassion extends to all.  Which is not to say that we need to accept or agree with people who are acting in harmful ways. Certainly not. For they harm not only the people around them, but harm themselves as well.  However, we must avoid villainizing opponents, enemies, and antagonist. Rather we should strive to see them with the eyes of compassion, recognizing that they are just like us in wanting happiness and trying to avoid suffering.

The religious practice of social engagement is the practice of embracing the world as our teacher. Each encounter and each difficulty shows us the limits of our compassion. They provide opportunities for us to learn and grow.  Through Engaged Buddhism life becomes the laboratory in which to experiment with the practice of love and compassion.

Transformation, both of ourselves and of society, takes time and patience. We cannot practice compassion towards the perptrators of great evils if we are not yet able to forgive our neighbor or co-worker. As Shantideva says: “There’s nothing that does not grow light through habit and familiarity. Putting up with little cares I’ll train myself to bear with great adversity.”

Begin the practice of Engaged Buddhism wherever you find yourself at the moment. There are suffering people around us every day. There are injustices and marginilized people in every community. Look around. Often the help that is needed is small. Yet it is through these small acts of kindness that we manifest the unconditional compassion of the Buddhas in the world.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Creating a More Compassionate Society

December 9, 2014

peter_maurinIn this last month of the year, I have found myself dipping back into the writings of Dorothy Day. I am rereading parts of her autobiography, “The Long Loneliness.” She and Peter Maurin and the Catholic Worker continue to inspire and shape the way I understand what it means to live a religious life.

Being a Buddhist myself, some of the Catholicism does not resonate. Nevertheless, the fundamentals of striving to live a life rooted in faith and love and forgiveness are solid. The emphasis on voluntary poverty, non-violence, and a willingness to take personal responsibility for effecting positive change in the world are as relevant today as they were when the Catholic Worker was founded in 1933.

Watching the grotesque theater that passes for politics, it is clear that politicians are not going to be able to address the serious issues facing us today. There is just too much money and power to be had by protecting the status quo: A world of greed and hatred.

We, individually and in small groups, must find ways to live lives that value and promote peace and compassion. The seeds of a more compassionate, a more loving, and more peaceful tomorrow are found in the accumulation of innumerable little daily actions, words, and thoughts. It is found in how we treat our neighbors. Do we speak kindly and compassionately about others, or do we engage in gossip and vicious speech? Do we think about those who are difficult, or have wronged us, with compassion and forgiveness or anger and impatience?

This is the hard long term work of creating a more compassionate society. Of course it is not enough to be satisfied with our own inner transformation. We must also do the important work of creating a better world by, “Resisting oppression and assisting the afflicted.” This is where the rubber meets the road. To end war, or end hunger, or protect children from harm and exploitation, we must be willing to work towards these goals in real and concrete ways. We ourselves may not see an end to war or poverty. But if we adhere to non-violence, compassion, and love as our method, we will find the goal is already present in the work that we do.

Life is short. Tomorrow may never arrive. Today, let’s begin to live compassion filled lives so that our children may grow up in neighborhoods, cities, and societies that are free of war and privation.

Peace, Paul

Photo of Peter Maurin care of Jim Forest

Friends

November 3, 2014

I have been travelling the last couple of weeks. During my travels I have had the opportunity to meet new people and renew old friendships. I have hung out with like minded individuals as well as quite a few people whose views were radically different from mine. Most of these people, whether rich or poor, religious or non-religious, urban or rural, were good hearted people. They were people trying to do the right thing, based on the norms of the community in which they live.

We are all shaped by the people and social structures in which we live our daily lives. The speech and behaviour that we hear and see day in and day out, shape our own thoughts, speech and behaviour. Consciously or unconsciously, we become the things that we consume through our senses. If gossip and back biting are the norm, then we will become gossips. If we continually consume words and images of hatred, fear, and judgement then we will live lives filled with these same qualities. Likewise, if we are surrounded by words and actions of compassion, kindness, and concern for others, then these are the qualities that will adorn our lives.

As religious practitioners we must remain aware of the influence of the ambient culture on our lives. However, if our goal is to create a more loving and compassionate world, a world free of violence and oppression, then we need to make sure that we have friends whose values are in line with that goal. We also need to strive to align our own conduct of Body, Speech, and Mind with the values of compassion and non-harming so that we can be a friend and support to others striving to live world transforming lives rooted in love and compassion.

Peace, Paul

Other Centered Salvation

March 3, 2014

As religious practitioners it is good to be aware of our motivation for practicing religion. Buddhism identifies two basic religious motivations: self motivation and other centered motivation. In the former, we are primarly interested in our own salvation. Religious practice is about ensuring our own personal liberation form suffering. Self salvation may be an assurance of our own rebirth in heaven. It might also take the form of self perfection, in which we undertake various practices or austerities to help us transcend the sufferings of existence. Self salvation can also be found in striving for a personal religious experience of release or transcendence. All of these are important and common forms of salvation.

The desire for salvation from suffering can, however, also arise as a compassionate response to the suffering of others. This is other centered salvation. It is seeking salvation to alleviate the suffering of others. This altrusitic motivation is the force that motivates Saints.

We can walk into any church or temple and find many good people who are practicing the way of self salvation. However, it is also likely that we will find a few people whose hearts are so on fire with compassion that they must live their lives in the service of others.

In Buddhism we might call these people Bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas have vowed to save all of the numberless sentient beings. It is not a vow to save just the nice and good people. It is a prayer to save all, even those who are causing great harm in the world. It an aspiration to save all beings, whether they are animals, ghosts, demons, celestial beings, or humans.

Of course, we are imperfect and deluded human beings. Our motivation tends to be mixed. Sometimes we just want to escape. At other times we are moved by concern for others. The Bodhisattva path can itself be a form of self salvation, a sort of justification of self by good works.

Therefore the Bodhisattva path must be rooted in both compassion, for the suffering of others, and wisdom, which takes us beyond self. As long as we are caught up in the limitations of self centeredness, we will judge. That is the human condition: judgeing and comparing. To get beyond judging there must be an encounter with that which is measureless. This is the nature of religious experience. It is the arising of Wisdom. Bliss and joy are just side effects. The real power of awakening, of transending self, is that we are overwhelmed by unconditional love and compassion.

Touched by the measureless, we find the strength to persevere in the endless work of saving all beings. Those whose hearts have been awakened by the pain of others are not be content to abide in heaven while others continue to suffer. Such a life would be hell. We must get our hands dirty and strive to help all. It is not that Bodhisattvas are better than those who are content with their own salvation. Bodhisattvas are just driven to help all who suffer. The very existence of suffering beings is unbearable to the Bodhisattva.

If you are called to walk the Bodhisattva path, do not think that your will end suffering with some heroic act or effort. That is the thinking of self centeredness. Humbled by encountering the measureless, we accept our limitations. We recognize that we will not be able to see or understand the fruits of our actions. Therefore we try to live in such a way that our very lives embody, in some small way, the potentiality of unconditional love and compassion.

Feed the hungry. Strive to end war and hatred and violence. Work to stem the tide of greed and consumerism. Do these things because suffering is unacceptable. The way of the Bodhisattva is the way of love and compassion. Violence, greed, and ignorance are the very roots of all suffering. They are the three poisons of existence. The antidote is indiscriminate love and compassion administered consistently and with the patience of the Buddhas.

Peace, Paul

Karma

April 17, 2013

Karma is a term that has insinuated itself so deeply into American culture, that one can hear it at the grocery store, in the laundry matte, as well as in your local Buddhist community.  It is a term that is misunderstood and misused by Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike. Which is unfortunate, because Karma, in Buddhism, is both the cause of our suffering and the means to attain liberation from suffering. It is the cause of our suffering when we cling to self, and it is the liberation from suffering when action arises out of non-self.

In is simplest form, Karma means action.  It is causal. The effect is known as the “fruit of karma.” The Buddha, being practical, focused on the former, the cause, which can be changed, and not the latter, the effect, which can’t.

Our daily actions of Body, Speech, and Mind condition our future experiences. Constructive actions tend to create constructive or positive future experiences. Destructive actions tend to create destructive or negative future experiences.

Now of course our daily actions are just one aspect of the multitude of causes and conditions that are acting on us at any given moment. Unfortunately we have almost no ability to change the majority of causes and conditions impacting us, including the results of our previous actions.

However, we do have an opportunity to influence the multitude of our daily actions of Body, Speech, and Mind.  The Buddha recommended the five precepts as the best tool for creating constructive or positive conditions in our own lives.  Practicing the five precepts helps create the conditions in which we can deepen our practice of the Dharma and ultimately awaken as Buddhas.

The five precepts are:

  1. To abstain from taking life
  2. To abstain from stealing
  3. To abstain from sexual misconduct
  4. To abstain from wrong speech
  5. To abstain from intoxication

The precepts are not just applied in a few grand moments of our lives. The precepts are to be lived and practiced in the minutia of our lives.  For if we want to change, if we want to create constructive conditions in our future experiences, then it is the little moment-to-moment actions and choices that we must change. We change how we interact with the people and beings around us, and try to align those interactions with the precepts and the Buddha Dharma.

Each moment, each interaction provides us with an opportunity to create the conditions for more suffering in the future or less suffering in the future. If we act in accord with the Buddha Dharma, which is after all not self, then we are create the conditions for positive future experiences.  The ultimate positive future experience being, awakening as a Buddha and helping beings escape from suffering and the causes of suffering.

If, however, our actions of Body, Speech, and Mind are just part of our self building project, actions that arise out of greed, hatred, and ignorance, then our future experience will tend to have more suffering.

We will fail to practice the precepts in hundreds of little ways.  To drive in a car is to take the lives of innumerable insect beings.  Because of our own limitations, we will offend some with our words, or speak words that are unkind, or speak words that are untrue. And as Gandhi pointed out, living with more than we need is to steal from those who do not have enough.  The list of our shortcomings is almost endless.

We are, after all, deluded beings.  Only the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have perfected the precepts.  We do the best we can, confessing our failures and striving a little harder each day to practice the precepts and the Buddha Dharma.

Ultimately we must take refuge, recite Namo Amida Bu, recollect that the Tathagata is the source of all virtues, and give our lives over the Buddha Dharma.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Buddhist Monks Continue Protests in Burma

September 24, 2007

MonksHere is news about the latest protests by monks in Burma. Burma is home to imprissoned Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Monks’ Protest Is Challenging Burmese Junta

Peace, Paul