Dear Still Water Friends,
In Peace is Every Step, published in 1991, Thay (the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh) looks back on the quandary that faced him and other young monastics in the early 1960s as the proxy war between North and South Vietnam became increasingly destructive:
When I was in Vietnam, so many of our villages were being bombed. Along with my monastic brothers and sisters, I had to decide what to do. Should we continue to practice in our monasteries, or should we leave the meditation halls in order to help people who were suffering under the bombs? After careful reflection we decided to do both – to go out and help people and to do so in mindfulness. We called it engaged Buddhism. Mindfulness must be engaged. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. Otherwise, what is the use of seeing?
We must be aware of the real problems of the world. Then, with mindfulness, we will know what to do and what not to do to be of help. If we maintain awareness of our breathing and continue to practice smiling, even in difficult situations, many people, animals, and plants will benefit from our way of doing things.
For those of us old enough to remember the 1960s, there is today a similar tumultuous energy in the US and across the world. It is no longer business as usual. The stakes seem extremely high. Bombs are exploding. World views are colliding. The sustainability of the Earth is threatened. How shall we respond?
Thay explains in Peace is Every Step that an essential insight that guides mindful acting is that we are not separate: our lives our intertwined with other human lives and with all species.
We need the vision of interbeing—we belong to each other; we cannot cut reality into pieces. The well-being of “this” is the well-being of “that,” so we have to do things together. Every side is “our side”; there is no evil side.
Over the decades, Thay has expanded and reworded the Five Mindfulness trainings so that they highlight the engaged insights he acquired over his years of monastic study and practice. This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will recite the Trainings and then explore together the Second 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.
We will begin our Dharma sharing with the question: Am I truly committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting?
You are invited to join us. Below is another excerpt by Thay on engaged practice and a short commentary on commitment by Anne Morriss.
Responding in the Here and the Now
From a “History of Engaged Buddhism” Dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh in Hanoi, Vietnam, on May 7, 2008
… the first meaning of Engaged Buddhism is the kind of Buddhism that is present in every moment of our daily life. While you brush your teeth, Buddhism should be there. While you drive your car, Buddhism should be there. While you are walking in the supermarket, Buddhism should be there — so that you know what to buy and what not to buy!
Also, Engaged Buddhism is the kind of wisdom that responds to anything that happens in the here and the now — global warming, climate change, the destruction of the ecosystem, the lack of communication, war, conflict, suicide, divorce. As a mindfulness practitioner, we have to be aware of what is going on in our body, our feelings, our emotions, and our environment. That is Engaged Buddhism. Engaged Buddhism is the kind of Buddhism that responds to what is happening in the here and the now.
by Ann Morriss, from Starbucks’ “The Way I See It” series
The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating — in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.