Finding Common Ground

….A lot of people want to separate the left and the right, think that everyone on the right is like Trump, and they’re not. They have grown up where they’ve grown up, experienced what they’ve experienced and see the world the way they see it. But if you can sit down and have a good conversation with them instead of calling them stupid or condescending to them, you can actually accomplish some things over time.

I really like this article above. It’s so easy these days to get caught up in heated arguments with political opponents, and forget that they’re people too. 

One of the teachings in Buddhism is that of right speech, which the Buddha explains like so in the Pali Canon courtesy of the Magga-vibhanga Sutta (SN 45.8):

“And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.”

— trans. Thanissaro Bhikkhu

This is because the Buddhist religion is grounded in goodwill toward all beings as shown in the famous Metta Sutta:

Whatever beings there may be,
weak or strong, without exception,
long, large,
middling, short,
subtle, blatant,
seen & unseen,
near & far,
born & seeking birth:
May all beings be happy at heart.

— trans. Thanissaro Bhikkhu

You can’t just wish goodwill toward those who agree with you. Goodwill includes all beings from all walks of life, and all inclinations.

Further, in the Buddhist teachings, people do not exist in isolation. People need one another. All living beings need one another in some manner or form, thus the further one tries to assert their own way, the further they isolate themselves and the further they sink into unease, despair and conflict. 

In other words, people need communities, not cliques.

But all of this starts with right understanding.  Being able to see yourself in other people and other beings is the first step to wisdom, and that will gradually change your point of view from one of cliques and antagonism, to one of inclusiveness.

Love Conquers All

This is another great article by the BBC, and the video is worth watching.  This is a former white-supremacist talking about how he had a change of heart due to the kindness of others.

It reminds me of a famous quote from the Dhammapada, translation by Ven. Acharya Buddharakkhita:

5. Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.

My belief is that many such people who dehumanize and abuse other people are really suffering from self-hatred, but are unable to see it.

One of the things I’ve learned from Yogacara Buddhist thought is how the mind projects itself onto the world around it.  Thus, a mountaineer and an artist will view the same mountain differently even when standing right next to one another.  In the same way, the recurring mental habits in one’s mind create a feedback loop that in turn distorts the world around them according to their disposition.

If a person is filled with self-hate and obsessed with rage, frustration and a sense of inferiority, they will inflict pain and humiliation on others, living by an us-versus-them mindset.  This will in turn reinforce the existing mental habits over and over.

But at the same time, the Buddha taught not to get caught up blind reaction toward such people.  The first instinct is to fight back and punish such people.  Fight violence with violence in other words.  However, as the article above shows, it may be more effective to rely on a combination of truth (not paranoia and lies) and goodwill to counteract such people.  If those people can find personal healing, they may change their ways.

As the Lotus Sutra teaches, all beings are capable of becoming buddhas, they just need the right trigger.

Why The Hell Won’t They Listen?

This is something I’ve been meaning to share for a while.  I found this article by the BBC a few months back about how our minds are naturally tend to be biased toward anything that confirms our already-held beliefs.  This is a well-known psychological phenomenon, but what’s interesting is that the article shows how simply telling someone to be objective and unbiased isn’t enough.  You have to actually get someone to see the other side of a viewpoint before they will break out of their mental shell.

This is of course nothing new to Buddhism.  The Buddha taught that all living beings suffer from an array of mental distortions.  These are called kleśa (क्लेश) in Sanskrit, or in Japanese bonnō (煩悩).¹

It’s like wearing a pair of sunglasses for a really long time.  After a while, you forget you’re wearing them, and you just see the world as filtered through the sunglasses.  If you were to take off the sunglasses, even for a moment, you would be surprised and maybe a bit disoriented at how the world looks.  In the same way, Buddhists strive to undo these mental distortions they project onto the world around them, so they can see things as they are.

But what is the source of these distortions?  Ignorance, particularly regarding one’s own self.  As the BBC article shows, people are inherently biased toward themselves.  They form their world-view from limited information and personal experience, and selfish needs regardless of whether that’s accurate or not.  An attack on one’s views, even if they’re wrong, is an attack on one’s self.  People crave validation, sometimes even at the expense of truth.

However, if one were to see the limitations of one’s own self, and their own viewpoint, they may be able to break out and consider possibilities they never considered before.  That is the first step toward wisdom.

¹ I mention the Japanese word here only because you do here it mentioned in Japanese conversation every now and again.  “People are bonnō” and other such comments.

Live And Let Live

Buddha with the Elephant Nalagiri

Since the past election, there’s been a lot of bitter feelings and such, and I thought back to the story of Shakyamuni Buddha and the elephant.  According to the story, Shakyamuni Buddha’s cousin and betrayer, Devadatta, sought to get rid of his rival, and drove a bull elephant named Nalagiri at the Buddha.

However, the Buddha was unfazed, and as it approached, he radiated peacefulness and calmed it down to the point where the elephant knelt down and submitted to the Buddha.

In times like this, I feel that we can learn a lot from the Buddha.  I know a lot of people upset by the new President, and I see lots of sniping back and forth on social media, and toxicity.  I try to remember the Buddha’s words against anger and resentment in the Kakacupama Sutta (MN 21 in the Pali Canon):

“Suppose that a man were to come along carrying a burning grass torch and saying, ‘With this burning grass torch I will heat up the river Ganges and make it boil.’ Now, what do you think — would he, with that burning grass torch, heat up the river Ganges and make it boil?”

“No, lord. Why is that? Because the river Ganges is deep & enormous. It’s not easy to heat it up and make it boil with a burning grass torch. The man would reap only a share of weariness & disappointment.”

“In the same way, monks, there are these five aspects of speech by which others may address you: timely or untimely, true or false, affectionate or harsh, beneficial or unbeneficial, with a mind of good-will or with inner hate. Others may address you in a timely way or an untimely way. They may address you with what is true or what is false. They may address you in an affectionate way or a harsh way. They may address you in a beneficial way or an unbeneficial way. They may address you with a mind of good-will or with inner hate. In any event, you should train yourselves: ‘Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic to that person’s welfare, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading him with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with him, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will equal to the river Ganges — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.’ That’s how you should train yourselves.

This isn’t meant to be complicit in some of the policies or words of the new president, but treat both political factions as sentient beings to wish them no harm. Eventually all sentient beings will become Buddhas when the conditions are right; it’s just a matter of conditions and timing.

Until then, may all beings be well, may they be free from harm.

Ups and Downs of Life

Dear Readers,

With all the turmoil going on lately, a lot of people are afraid and filled with despair and wonder how we will get through the coming years.  I was thinking about an old post I wrote which quoted a Zen master who spoke to villagers in Japan who had lost their homes to a tsunami in the 15th century.

In particular these words:

This mind withstands the blowing storm winds without moving, withstands eons of rising flames without burning, and withstands the tremors of earthquakes without cracking…This is why the scripture says: “The Tathāgata [Buddha], having left the burning house of the three states [of time], lives in quiet seclusion within the woods. Now within the three states [of time], everything belongs to [him]; All the beings therein are [his] children.”

Or, as the Buddha taught in the opening lines of the Dhammapada:

1. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.

2. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.

Ultimately, the mind is the source of one’s misery or one’s salvation.