Dharma Topic: Nurturing Compassion

Dharma Topic: Nurturing Compassion

Discussion date: Thu, Oct 06, 2005 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

Last week Thich Nhat Hanh offered a retreat at Deer Park inEscondido, California, on the theme: Liberty, Responsibility, and the Pursuitof Happiness.

This Thursday, October 6, Still Water will bring the DeerPark retreat to Silver Spring. After our meditation period, we will watch asegment from a Question and Answer in which Thay talks to a young man whosebrother is on his way to Iraq as a Marine. Also, four Still Water friends whowere at the retreat (Joseph Byrne, Peter Cook, Patti Murphy, and MitchellRatner) will share their experiences and insight.

Below is a related excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh’s new book: Calmingthe Fearful Mind.

Additionally, this Thursday is a first Thursday and we willhave our Still Water Orientation starting at 6:30 pm. If you have questionsabout Still Water or about the basic mindfulness practices of breathing,sitting, and walking, please come. Experienced practitioners are also encouragedto attend to share their insights.

Following our recent first Thursday tradition, the firstmeditation period will include a guided meditation and we will have a briefexplanation of walking meditation.

The best times to join us this Thursday are:

  • For the Orientation at 6:30;

  • Just before the first sitting at 7 pm;

  • At 7:25, at the beginning of walking meditation; or,

  • At 7:35, at the beginning of the second sitting.

(To allow others to maintain concentration and continuity,we ask that practitioners not enter during the walking meditation.)

Hope to see you,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher


DEFENDING OURSELVES WITHOUT VIOLENCE (From Thich Nhat Hanh, Calmingthe Fearful Mind: A Zen Response to Terrorism (Berkeley, California:Parallax Press, 2005), pp. 32-34.)

There are many other ways to defend ourselves: throughdiplomatic foreign policy, forming alliances with other countries, humanitarianassistance. These are all approaches motivated by the wisdom of interbeing. Whenwe use these approaches to resolve conflicts, the army doesn’t have to do much.They can serve the people by building bridges and roads and mediating smallconflicts. This is not idealistic thinking; armies have worked this way in thepast. With good foreign policy, the army will not have to fight.

Of course, when a country is invaded, the army should resistand defend the people. It is also sometimes necessary for other countries tohelp a country that is being invaded. But that is quite different from attackingother countries out of national interest. The only really necessary andappropriate circumstance under which an army should resort to violence is tophysically defend itself or an ally from a direct invasion. And even in thiscase, much suffering will result.

Military action can be compassionate, but the compassionmust be real compassion. If compassion is only a screen masking anger and fear,it is useless. It upsets me that former generations have committed the samemistakes and yet we don’t learn from them. We haven’t learned enough from thewar in Vietnam. There were so many atrocities committed there. So many innocentpeople were tortured and killed because they were perceived as either”communist” or “anticommunist.”

Mindfulness has so many layers. When we kill because wethink that the other person is evil and that killing them will bring peace, weare not practicing Right Mindfulness. If we are mindful, we will see beyond thepresent situation to the root and the future consequences of our act in thatmoment. If we are truly mindful, other insights will arise: “This person Iwant to kill is a living being. Is there any chance for him to behave better andchange his present, harmful state of mind? Maybe I have a wrong perception andone day I will see that he is just a victim of misunderstanding, and not reallythe evil person I think he is.” Mindfulness can help a soldier to see thathe may just be an instrument for killing being used by his government.

A general who is mindful of his actions is capable oflooking deeply. He may not need to use weapons. He will see that there are manyways to deter the opposite side and he will exhaust all other means beforeresorting to violence. When nothing else works, he may use violence, but out ofcompassion, not out of anger.

Discussion Date: Thu, Oct 06, 2005


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