Courage in Both Hands

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Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday evening, after our meditation, we will recite together the Five Mindfulness Trainings and focus our Dharma discussion on the second training, True Happiness. As I was reading the training this week, a phrase jumped out: “I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions.” Phrases with similar meaning are encountered often in the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh and other Buddhist teachers. But there was a time in my life when the idea was shockingly new.

At a peace rally in the beginning of my senior year at Pomona College I met Allan Hunter, a recently retired Congregational Minister. He invited me to his house for tea, and over the next nine months I went back to have tea with him many times. Bit by bit I learned a little about his life. As a young man, he traveled widely in Asia working with Christian social action movements. Later, after receiving a doctorate in theology, he served for almost 40 years as the pastor of the Mount Hollywood Congregational Church. He was a mystic and a social activist, and had worked closely with the labor and civil rights movements, and other social justice efforts. He was a Christian pacifist and an admirer of Gandhi. For many years he was the national vice president of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. When I met him he was in his seventies and he moved slowly with the help of a cane. But somehow I sensed there was a strength of spirit in him that was beyond anything I had ever encountered or even imagined.

In the foreword to Courage in Both Hands, his collection of stories about non-violent heroes, Allan Hunter wrote:

The highest and most important thing in us and in those we oppose is the capacity … to see goodness and become part of it. The darkness within is strong. Granted. But the light is stronger. Ultimately anyway. And that light — not our despair or the fury that defies it — is our Center of Reference.

Allan Hunter taught me that an inner connection found through meditation and prayer, combined with fearless outward expressions of love, creates the conditions for true happiness, a happiness that does not depend on external conditions. At the time I didn’t fully appreciate how great a gift Allan Hunter was giving me, but the seeds he planted in me are still growing.

I would like to begin our discussion of the Second Training by honoring our teachers. Who are the people that first taught us about true happiness? What are the lessons we learned from them? You are invited to join us.

The text of the second mindfulness training is below, and also a short appreciation by Sharon Salzburg of her teacher, Dipa Ma.

Many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner

p.s. The dictionary definition of the phrase "to take your courage in both hands" is "to decide to do something, even though you are nervous or frightened about it."

The Second Mindfulness Training: True Happiness

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting.

I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to working in a way that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

Going Forward

By Sharon Salzburg, from A Heart as Wide as the World

I cried when Dipa Ma died, thinking, "No one will ever love me like that again." What I have found instead is that the legacy of love she left behind has remained a part of me. The inspiration of her words and actions still guides my life, motivating my practice, teaching me as I teach others.

One of my favorite memories of Dipa Ma is from the early seventies when I and many of my friends were living in India, practicing meditation quite ardently. One of my friends received a letter from his mother, who was furious that he was there in India practicing Buddhism. She said, "I would rather see you in hell than where you are now." H e was pretty shocked and couldn’t imagine how to respond. He told Dipa Ma about the situation, and whenever he saw Dipa Ma after that, she would ask him, "How is your mother? Is she feeling better? When you meditate, do you send her lovingkindness?" Later, Dipa Ma gave my friend a hundred-rupee note, which a student had given to her as a donation. At that time the note was worth about twelve dollars, which was a lot of money for Dipa Ma. She gave it to him, saying, "Go buy a present and send it to your mother." One of the Buddha’s teachings suggests that if you are angry with someone, you should give them a gift. That two-thousand-year-old teaching suddenly came alive for my friend in the form of this woman, who had so little herself, providing the money for her student to make a gesture of reconciliation.

I remember Dipa Ma not only as my teacher but as a woman, and a mother, and a grandmother. Once, someone asked her if she found her worldly concerns a hindrance. She said, "They are not a hindrance because whatever I do, the meditation is there. It never really leaves me. Even when I am talking, I am meditating. When I am eating or thinking about my daughter—this does not hinder the meditation." When she visited the United States with her family, I remember watching her playing games with her young grandson, Rishi, laughing and laughing, and then getting up to instruct someone in meditation. Then, perhaps, she would go wash her clothes by hand and hang them out to dry. She might do walking meditation and then return to the house to sit. Rishi would be running around the room, while Dipa Ma’s daughter would be cooking or watching television at a high volume. And Dipa Ma would be meditating right there in the midst of all that. Whenever anyone sat down in front of her, she would open her eyes and shower the person with blessings.

Even though she was barely four feet tall and in frail health, Dipa Ma’s energy was powerful. I remember her as a dynamic warrior in practice and a very demanding teacher. When Joseph Goldstein and I saw her in India not long before she died, she suggested that we try to sit in meditation for two days. She didn’t mean a two-day retreat, but two days of nonstop meditating. Both of us were convinced that we weren’t capable of doing something like that (and I wonder if she really thought we were). But when we started to protest, she just said, "Don’t be lazy."

I still hear her voice whispering to me, challenging me to extend myself to find what I am actually capable of, especially when I feel limited in terms of the amount of love and compassion I can arouse. As with all of us, my capacity for lovingkindness far exceeds my ideas about my capacity. When I find myself hesitating, not going forward and manifesting the connection I am able to, I see an image of her opening her eyes and blessing someone, or offering my friend that money to buy his mother a gift, or I hear her voice telling me, "Don’t be lazy." Then I go forward.