Thursday Evening Online Program
Dear Still Water Friends,
Debi and I recently returned from my cousin Ricky’s funeral. Ricky had been missing for several days in May before he was found dead in his car, one shoe on and the door open. Ricky was fifty-nine. His cause of death was a heart attack, more than likely caused by crystal meth. He is the third of four brothers in that family to die suddenly due to substance abuse, the youngest only thirty-seven when he OD’d. The remaining brother could not travel to the funeral because he is in and out of the hospital with rapid a-fib, related to excessive drinking. Their three sisters remain, and those sisters have become adept at burying their brothers. We share a great deal of sorrow together.
Going into that weekend, I knew there would be much storying of Ricky’s best qualities and recalling of people’s best Ricky memories. We all love him, and we shared in that; we also shared a tacit sorrow at his choices. The weekend was a warm, loving, family gathering. I felt unusually close to everyone in my family and our longtime family friends. I remembered the Fourth Mindfulness Training, in particular these lines:
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations.
Afterward, though, I found myself feeling frustration at what we all know but wouldn’t voice. We know too well in our family the ravages of addiction. Across generations. We have seen, repeatedly, the results of long-term substance abuse, for both the addicts and their loved ones. Now we see it impacting several of our adult children. “What has to happen,” I ask myself. “How bad does it have to get?” It is all too easy to be caught, again, in the spiral of judging, blaming, and distancing ourselves from what those addicts do to themselves and to all of us. But, something was different this time. I remembered reading something about a ladder that resonated, and I found it in Interbeing: The 14 Mindfulness Trainings of Engaged Buddhism. Thich Nhat Hanh provides this guidance:
We have to learn how to release the knowledge we currently possess. If someone is climbing a ladder and gets to the fourth rung and thinks they have reached the top, then they will not go any further. That is the end of their inquiry. We must know that there is a fifth rung in order to be able to reach it, and for this we need to let go of the fourth. We should not be caught in what we think we know. We have to be ready to release what we know in order to arrive at another level of knowing and understanding. In the Buddhist tradition, this is the most important thing—learning to release what we know.
The Buddha teaches us to look at things with the eyes of interbeing and to recognize their nature of dependent co-arising, that is, that all things arise in dependence on each other (pratītya samutpāda). When we are able to see in this way, we free ourselves from a world in which each thing appears to have an individual identity. The mind that sees things in their interbeing, dependent co-arising nature is called the mind of nondiscriminative wisdom. This is what we call Right View: the view that transcends all views. In Zen Buddhism, there is an expression describing the insight: “The road of speech has been blocked, the path of the mind has been cut.”
Rereading this in Interbeing has helped me to let go of my anger and frustration with my cousin and with another death by addiction. I can focus on what we are sharing together, that we are not separate, that we interare. Now I can be with the feelings I am experiencing and attend to them with compassion, wisdom, and caring. I breathe in my cousins’ pain and breathe out compassion. I will look deeply into my own anger, attachment, and aversion, and meditate on looking “at things with the eyes of interbeing.”
I would like to offer these questions for your consideration and our Dharma sharing:
- Have there been times when you were able to release what you know in order to arrive at another level of knowing and understanding?
- What helps you to do it?
- What makes it more difficult?
I look forward to our sharing together on Thursday. A related excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh is below.
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Waking Up Gatha
from Present Moment, Wonderful Moment by Thich Nhat Hanh
Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment
and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.
What better way to start the day than with a smile? Your smile affirms your awareness and determination to live in peace and joy. How many days slip by in forgetfulness? What are you doing with your life? Look deeply, and smile. The source of a true smile is an awakened mind.
How can you remember to smile when you wake up? You might hang a reminder—such as a branch, a leaf, a painting, or some inspiring words—in your window or from the ceiling above your bed. Once you develop the practice of smiling, you may not need a sign. You will smile as soon as you hear a bird sing or see the sunlight stream through the window and this will help you approach the day with more gentleness and understanding.
The last line of this gatha comes from the “Universal Door” chapter of the Lotus Sutra. The one who “looks at all beings with eyes of compassion” is Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. In the sutra, this line reads: “Eyes of loving kindness look on all living beings.” Love is impossible without understanding. In order to understand others, we must know them and be inside their skin. Then we can treat them with loving kindness. The source of love is our fully awakened mind.