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Friday, August 10, 2007

Reconciliation, path to lovingkindness

Reconciliation, path to lovingkindness - Dailynews


“My mind fills with anger each time I see his face or hear him speak,” one student reports. “I find myself wishing ill will towards all of them,” another says with a painful voice, ashamed of her own reactions.

“I simply cannot practice loving kindness for these people”, says a third. In the past three years many meditation practitioners have been coping with such emotions as they have struggled to find the Buddhist peace of mind in relation to national events and political leaders they view as being harmful.

Similar feelings of outrage, of seething anger or disgust, are frequently reported by students coping with a difficult person at work, a betrayal by a teacher or a friend, the painful breakup of a marriage, or an unjust family situation.

On meditation retreats and in my weekly meditation group I am often asked by students what they should do in circumstances where the hostility and sense of separation has persisted despite hours of loving kindness practice and repeated attempts at forgiveness.

These are well-trained students who understand that their feelings are only causing suffering to themselves and that anger often gets in the way of wise action. Yet their feelings of overwhelm from frustration and rage persist.

It is quite a conundrum. How to you find a way to not succumb to outrage and alienation yet keep your passion and motivation for the hard fight for justice and the social good?

Likewise, when your marriage is dissolving, how do you let go of anger, bitterness and blame while at the same time stand up for what you believe to be right, particularly when there are children involved? One student recently told me she didn’t trust herself to meditate.

She found herself seething by the time she got off the cushion because it had so increased her fixation on how poorly she had been treated both by her ex and her former in-laws.

A man on retreat-flooded with hopelessness over the recent loss of his family when his wife left him for another man, taking their two children with her-asked if he should just go home. “Maybe I need antidepressants, not meditation,” he ruefully proclaimed.

For the last five years, both in retreat and daily practice situations, I have been offering students reconciliation practices as ways of working with their experiences of hostility and alienation.

In many instances, students have reported dramatic reductions in their emotional turmoil.

Particularly in difficult marriage and family circumstances, they have found that consistently working with reconciliation meditation has enabled them finally to be able to move forward with their lives.

Reconciliation means “to restore to compatibility or harmony” and “to restore the sacred.” It is also defined as “to make consistent or congruent” - for example, to reconcile your ideals with reality.

When you practice reconciliation, you are both reconciling yourself to the truth that in this moment there are painful differences or polarities between you and another, and rather than allowing your heart to become closed to the other, you are seeking to align the mind/heart to include them just as they are.

To include all people and all conditions in your experience is the congruence taught by the dharma. You are acknowledging the truth of interdependence and non-separateness or, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, that we “inter-are”. In his book Old Path, White Clouds he devotes an entire chapter to teaching reconciliation based on the vinaya.

Vipassana meditation is a means of cultivating insight through being mindful of what is arising and passing. Reconciliation practice is the aligning and softening of the heart to be reconciled with this moment just as it is.

When you are reconciled, your experience returns to wholeness because nothing is being left out. There is then the possibility of insight to arise.

Reconciliation begins by acknowledging the truth that there are substantial differences. It is not contingent on those differences disappearing, and it certainly does not imply that you will become best friends with everyone.

Rather, the intention to be reconciled is the wish to be connected to the sacred oneness of this moment despite any differences and, by acknowledging the truth of that oneness, to find harmony with any situation, even the painful.

This does not mean that you have to approve or passively accept unwholesome actions. Nor do you have to forsake passionately advocating for what you believe to be right.

It simply means that you do so while treating the other as sacred, as the “thou” so famously stated by Martin Buber. It is the understanding reflected by the Dalai Lama when he refers to the Chinese as “my friends, the enemy”.

One of my students had been “frozen in anger” for many months, unable to deal with the practicalities of divorce, struggling to forgive her husband even while he continued a pattern of hurtful actions. She finally realized that her stuckness was due to her implicit demand that he change.

Through reconciliation practice, she was able to accept him as he was and negotiate a parting that minimized the turmoil for their young child. A second student, to his amazement, actually reconnected with his alienated wife once he reconciled himself to certain difficulties in her personality.

Another person was able to let go of the outrage long held toward an abusing father, while one more found that an intolerable supervisor at work could actually be tolerated, if not respected.

In none of these instances did the students report strong feelings of compassion and loving kindness for the other person. Instead, each student experienced a release of an inner tension that had been blocking their acceptance of the truth of how things were.

Once the truth of the moment had been accepted, each of their situations could be worked within a manner that brought inner peace, and even at times an outright resolution. They were able to be reconciled whether or not their antagonist was participating in the process, and it felt great!

Reconciliation is not an end point of practice. It is a beginning place for continuing to free your heart. Through reconciliation, you gain the momentum towards loving kindness - an unconditional well-wishing that flows freely from the unencumbered heart, independent of conditions. The Dalai Lama emanates such a feeling.

The woman who was finally able to divorce her husband is only now able to experience moments of loving kindness towards him as another being “who just wishes to be happy”, as the Buddha taught.

Likewise, the student with the difficult boss reports that on some occasions when his boss is acting out, there arises the “heart’s quiver” of compassion for such a tormented soul. Reconciliation provides the acknowledgement and alignment that allows for such heart qualities to emerge.

One student reported his success in practising reconciliation towards political leaders he found detestable. He imagined his views and feelings as constituting one circle of existence and the values and unskilful actions of the politicians to be a separate circle.

Through reconciliation he came to realize there was a third, larger circle of existence containing both smaller circles.

This understanding allowed him to find some harmony with people he’d previously held in contempt. I sometimes refer to this larger circle as the “ground of reconciliation.” By resting in this place, we can avoid “taking birth” in the small circle of a separate identity.

Reconciliation practice can also be brought into the larger community. One long-term vipassana student in Arizona has formed an organization of fellow lawyers who are committed to the practice of being reconciled.

Members of this group recently agreed to represent divorcing spouses in settlement talks, with the understanding that if the parties cannot reconcile their child and material differences out of court, then both lawyers will resign.

In Greensboro, North Carolina, community leaders have started a truth and reconciliation commission modeled on the one in South Africa in an effort to reconcile community differences regarding the 1979 slayings by members of the Ku Klux Klan.

It is worth remembering that the Buddha constantly admonished us not to cling to views and taught that hatred never conquers hatred. Even the famous murderer Angulimala was given the opportunity to discover reconciliation through the Buddha’s compassion and loving kindness.

May you be reconciled with those with whom you have had difficulties in your life. May all beings everywhere be reconciled. May the merit of your reconciliation practice be to the liberation of all beings.

Courtesy: Inquiring Mind.

Seeking freedom within one’s experience Lesson from the Buddha’s life

The following teaching on the Four Noble Truths is taken from a talk given by Venerable Viradhammo during a ten-day retreat conducted in Bangkok for Thai lay people, in June 1988.

This teaching is not aimed at just getting another kind of experience. It is about complete freedom within any experience.

This evening we might begin by considering the legend of the life of the Buddha. Now we could consider this story as factual history. Or we could also look at it as a sort of myth - a story that reflects back on our own development as beings seeking truth.

In the story we are told that before his enlightenment, the Bodhisatta (Buddha to-be) lived in a royal family with a lot of power and influence.

He was a very gifted person, and had all that any human being could wish for: wealth, intelligence, charm, good looks, friendship, respect and many skills. He lived the princely life of luxury and ease.

The legend has it that when the Bodhisatta was first born, his father the king received a prediction from the wise men. They said there were two possibilities.

Either this son would become a perfectly enlightened Buddha, or he would become a world-ruling monarch, of course the father wanted his son to carry on the business of being a monarch, he didn’t want him to become a renunciate. So everybody in the palace was always trying to protect the prince.

Whenever anyone grew vaguely old or sick they were taken away, nobody wanted the prince to see the reality of oldage, sickness and death for fear that he would become disenchanted with sensuality and power and turn his mind to deeper thoughts.

But then at the age of twenty-nine, curiosity struck. The prince wanted to see what the world outside was like. So off he went with his charioteer and, what did he see? The first thing he saw was a sick person, all covered with sores, in pain, and lying in his own filth a thoroughly wretched human condition.

“What’s that?” The prince asked his attendant. The attendant replied, “That’s a sick person.” The prince realised, for the first time, that these human bodies can become sick and painful. The attendant pointed out that all bodies had this potential. This came as a great shock to the prince.

The following day he went out again. This time he saw an old person: all bent over with age, shaking, wrinkled, grey-haired, barely able to hold himself up.

Again, shocked by what he saw, the prince asked, “What’s that?” “That’s an old person”, the attendant replied. “Everybody grows old.” So the prince realised that his body too had this potential to become old. With that he went back to the palace, quite bewildered by it all.

The third time he went out, he saw a dead person. Most of the townsfolk were busy, happily waving at their attractive prince, thinking he was having a great time. But behind the crowds, there were people carrying a stretcher with a corpse on it, going to the funeral pyre.

“And what is that?!” he asked. So the attendant replied: “That’s a corpse. All bodies go that way. Your body, my body, they all die.” That was a really powerful one for him. That really shocked him.

The next time the Bodhisatta went out he saw a mendicant monk sitting under a tree meditating. “And who is that?” he asked. The attendant replied. “That’s a sadhu, someone who is seeking the answers to life and death.”

So we have this legend. Now what does this mean for you and me? Is it just a historical tale to tell our children, a tale about a person who didn’t see old age, sickness or death until he was twenty-nine?

For me, this story represents the awakening of a human mind to the limitations of sensory experience. Personally I can relate to this from a time when I was at university. I questioned life a lot.” What is it all about? Where is this all going to?” I used to wonder about death, and started thinking. “What is the point of getting this university degree? Even if I become a famous engineer, or if I become rich, I’m still going to die. If I become the best politician, or the best lawyer, or the best whatever..... Even if I was to become the most famous rock star that ever existed..... Big deal.” At that time, I think Jinni Hendrix had just taken too much heroin and died.

Nothing I thought of could answer the question of death. There was always. “So what?..... So if I have a family? So if I am famous? So if I am not famous? So if I have lot of money? So if I don’t have a lot of money?” None of these things resolved this doubt. “What about death? What is it? Why am I here? Why seek any kind of experience if it all goes to death anyway?

Questioning all the time like this made it impossible for me to study. So I started to travel. I managed to distract the mind for a time, because travelling was interesting. Morocco, Turkey, India..... But I kept coming back to this same conclusion. “So what? So if I see another temple, if I see another mosque, if I eat yet another kind of food - so what?”

Sometimes this doubt arises for people when somebody they know dies, or if they become sick, or old. It can also come from religious insight. Something in the mind clicks, and we are awakened to the fact that no matter what experiences we have, they all change, they come to an end, they die. Even if I’m the most famous, powerful, richest, most influential person in the world, all that is going to die. It’s going to cease.

So this question - “So what?” - is an awakening of the mind. If we were to do this ten-day retreat with the idea of getting “a meditation experience”, then “So what?” We still have to go back to work, still have to face the word, still have to go back to Melbourne, still have to go back to New Zealand....So what! What is the difference between “a meditation experience” and doing a cruise on The Queen Elizabeth II? A bit cheaper maybe!

The Buddhist teaching is not aimed at just getting another kind of experience. It is about understanding the nature of experience itself. It is aimed at actually observing what it means to be a human being. We are contemplating life, letting go of delusion, letting go of the source of human suffering and realizing truth, realizing Dhamma and that’s a different process altogether.

When we are doing mindfulness of breathing we’re not doing it with the effort to get something later. We’re doing it to simply be with what is: just being with an in-breath, being with an out-breath.

And what is the result when we’re being mindful in this way? Well, I think we can all see. The mind becomes calm, our attention is steady; we are aware and with the way things are.

So already, we are able to see that calming the mind is a healthy and compassionate thing to do for ourselves. Also, notice how this practise creates space in the mind. We can see now the potential for really being attentive to life. Our attention is not caught up.

We’re not being “kidnapped” all the time. We can really work with attention. If we are obsessed with something, then our attention is absorbed into the object of obsession. When we’re worried, exhausted, upset, excited, desiring, depressed and so on, our attention energy is lost. So by calming the mind we’re creating space and framing attention.

And there is beauty in that. When we go outside after this meditation period, maybe we’ll notice things in a different way - the green trees, the smells, what we’re walking on, the little lotuses in bloom.

These pleasant experiences calm and relax us and are very helpful. In New Zealand they go trekking in the mountains for relaxation.

But this kind of happiness, or sukha, is not the full potential of the Buddha. A lot of joy can come with this level of practice, but that is not enough. The happiness of a relatively calm mind is not complete freedom. This is still just another experience. It’s still caught in “So what!”

The complete freedom of the Buddha comes from the work of investigation. It is completely putting an end to all conflict and tension. No matter where we are in life, there are no more problems.

To be continued

Photographic exhibition of Buddhist pilgrim places August 11,12 in Colombo

A photographic exhibition of historic Buddhist pilgrim places will be held at the National Art Gallery, Colombo 7 on August 11 and 12. The exhibition is titled ‘Nethra Pooja’ - paying homage with eyes.

Most photographs at the exhibition are Janaka Wettasingha’s contributions over the past four years as page one pictures or illustrations to articles in Budusarana or in the Daily News on Poya days.

Janaka Wettasinghe is the staff photographer of Budusarana, the weekly Buddhist tabloid published by ANCL.

The exhibition will be inaugurated at 2.45 p.m. on August 10, Friday by First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa and Minister of Media and Information Anura Priyadharshana Yapa.

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