Only Understanding and Love Can Transform Suffering

”Help-Giving” by Bournemouth Borough Council (UK)

Only Understanding and Love Can Transform Suffering

Discussion date: Thu, Nov 11, 2021 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Silver Spring, Maryland, Community Online on Thursday Evening
November 11, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to all Online on Friday Evening
November 12, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm

Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday and Friday evenings Still Water begins its series on the Mindfulness Trainings with a focus on the First Training, Reverence for Life:

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals.

I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.

As I considered why I find this training so compelling, I came across a brief passage from Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) in The Mindfulness Survival Kit that seems to capture the training’s power and promise: “Violence can’t end suffering. Only Understanding and Love can Transform Suffering.”

I believe most people want to stop contributing through harmful actions and words to their own suffering and the suffering of others. However, they struggle with how best to do that. Sometimes they may even believe that they can stomp out suffering with harshness or aggression. But Thay reminds us that peace can only be achieved through peaceful means.

In For a Future to Be Possible, Thay describes how our efforts to act nonviolently will be ineffective if we rely on dualistic categories and emphasize blame and condemnation.

If we divide reality into two camps — the violent and the nonviolent — and stand in one camp while attacking the other, the world will never have peace. We will always blame and condemn those we feel are responsible for wars and social injustice, without recognizing the degree of violence in ourselves. We must work on ourselves and also work with those we condemn if we want to have a real impact.

It can be overwhelming to acknowledge the harm that occurs as a consequence of our actions. For example, when we consider our own contributions to climate change, we can become discouraged. However, Thay teaches that it is impossible to entirely eliminate our violent actions. He notes that even as vegetarians we engage in killing microorganisms when we cook our food. Instead of becoming deterred by our inability to be perfect protectors of all forms of life, Thay encourages us to focus on the concrete actions that we can take. He writes in For a Future to Be Possible:

To practice nonviolence, first of all we have to practice it within ourselves. In each of us, there is a certain amount of violence and a certain amount of nonviolence. Depending on our state of being, our response to things will be more or less nonviolent. Even if we take pride in being vegetarian, for example, we have to acknowledge that the water in which we boil our vegetables contains many tiny microorganisms. We cannot be completely nonviolent, but by being vegetarian, we are going in the direction of nonviolence. If we want to head north, we can use the North Star to guide us, but it is impossible to arrive at the North Star. Our effort is only to proceed in that direction.

You are invited to join us this Thursday and Friday evenings. After our meditation we will focus our Dharma sharing on the First Mindfulness Training.

  • How has our mindfulness practice helped us cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals?
  • When and why is this training difficult to practice?
  • Have you noticed ways your own anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, have harmed yourself or others?

Below is an excerpt by Thay explaining why “Only understanding and love can transform suffering.”

Warm wishes,

Rachel Phillips-Anderson


Upcoming Still Water Special Events:

  • Transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings — January 8th, 2022
    The Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center will again join with the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax to transmit the Three Refuges and the Five Mindfulness Trainings. This year the transmission ceremony will take place online on Saturday, January 8th, 2022, beginning at 9:00 am and ending before noon (Eastern time).
  • Still Water Five Mindfulness Trainings Preparatory Classes — November 11th to December 19th, 2021
    Practitioners who are interested in receiving the trainings on January 8th are asked to participate in preparatory classes. Still Water will offer a series of five classes, between November 11th and December 17th, 2021, each exploring one of the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Each of the training classes will be offered twice per week, on Thursday and Friday evenings, from 7:00 to 8:45 pm. Aspirants need only attend one of the evenings per week, though they may attend both evenings if they choose.

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From The Mindfulness Survival Guide by Thich Nhat Hanh

When we practice the First Mindfulness Training, we strengthen our eyes of interbeing. Our look has to be wide and open so that we can see without being caught in ideologies and dogmas. We can see that when we kill someone we kill ourselves. When we meet someone we think of as an enemy, we tend to think that we need to protect ourselves, and that hurting the other person will help keep us safe. But hurting another person doesn’t keep us safe. We may think the only way to be safe is to attack the other person. But hurting or killing the person we think of as our enemy will only make more enemies. We have to understand our own anger and suffering and help the person we think of as our enemy to alleviate his or her own suffering. Violence can’t end suffering. Only understanding and love can transform suffering.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Nov 11, 2021


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