Practicing Openness and Nonattachment to Views

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Thursday Evening Online Program
March 10, 2022, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Dear Still Water Friends,

One of the things I love about this practice is its simplicity. Be here now. This uncomplicated, yet profound reminder so often points me in the direction of increased calm, clarity, and connection with myself and others. But there are times, like with the recent invasion of Ukraine, that the relevant teachings in this practice are much more complex and challenging than showing up in the present moment.

This week I participated in several discussions with members of the Still Water community about the conflict in Ukraine. We all share deep empathy and suffering for the millions of people being attacked, threatened, and displaced. We also hold a wide variety of views about how ethically to respond to the violence and horror and about the path of action that is most likely to reduce the tremendous suffering.

As I listened to the different ideas and options, I wondered about how we can stay present and open to each other even when our views do not align. I returned to my breath and thought about Thay’s (Thich Nhat Hanh’s) emphasis on openness and non-dualistic thinking, which are highlighted in the first and second of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings that Thay developed as a modern version of the Bodhisattva precepts of Mahayana Buddhism:

Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. We are committed to seeing the Buddhist teachings as a guiding means that help us learn to look deeply and develop our understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill, or die for. We understand that fanaticism in its many forms is the result of perceiving things in a dualistic or discriminative manner. We will train ourselves to look at everything with openness and the insight of interbeing in order to transform dogmatism and violence in ourselves and the world.

Nonattachment to Views
Aware of the suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, we are determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. We are committed to learning and practicing nonattachment to views and being open to others’ experiences and insights in order to benefit from the collective wisdom. We are aware that the knowledge we presently possess is not changeless, absolute truth. Insight is revealed through the practice of compassionate listening, deep looking, and letting go of notions rather than through the accumulation of intellectual knowledge. Truth is found in life, and we will observe life within and around us in every moment, ready to learn throughout our lives.

Thay, Sister Chan Khong, and the other founders of the Order of Interbeing created these trainings in a context of war and intense conflict of views. He writes about it in Interbeing: The 14 Mindfulness Trainings of Engaged Buddhism:
The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings were born in a sea of fire in 1966 in Vietnam. The situation of the war was extremely hot. And we know how hot the fire of fanaticism can be. That is why the very first precept is about nonattachment to views, openness, and tolerance, because we see that attachment to views, narrowness, and fanaticism is the ground of a lot of suffering. As members of the core or the extended community, we know that we have to learn about and gain the insight of interbeing. We should not be dogmatic, we should not be attached to any kind of ideology or views.
These words remind me of the necessity to stay open to differing views in our community about how to respond to the situation in Ukraine. When I hear others, I endeavor to listen deeply and see how the seeds of their thoughts and feelings are inside of me, too. I am aware that regardless of our views about this conflict, we all long for true peace in Ukraine and Russia.

Sometimes openness feels dangerous to me. I worry that I might let in the wrong views. But when this anxiety strikes, I breathe. I breathe and remember that to have peace in myself and peace in the world, I must keep my heart open to those around me.

This Thursday evening after our meditation period, our Dharma sharing will focus on the practice of openness. Please join us. We will begin with these questions about our practice of openness and nonattachment to views:

  • How do we stay present to different views and the people who hold them, even when it feels hard, dangerous, or wrong?
  • Can we listen deeply enough to really understand someone else’s heart and how they have come to hold the views they express?
  • When is it easy? When is it difficult?

An excerpt from Thay on listening to each other is below.

You are also invited to join us this Sunday, March 13th, for a silent walk and gathering honoring and remembering Thay. The details are below.

Warm wishes,


Honoring and Remembering Thay — A Silent Walk and Gathering
You are warmly invited to join the Still Water community on Sunday, March 13th (10:00 – 11:30 am) at the Audubon Naturalist Society’s Woodend Sanctuary for a silent walk and ceremony honoring the passing of Thich Nhat Hanh. In the Vietnamese Buddhist tradition, special ceremonies of mourning and spiritual support are held daily and weekly for the forty-nine days following a person’s death. This walk and gathering honoring Thay will be one of many ceremonies that will occur world-wide on the weekend of the 49th day. We hope you can join us. More information and a registration link is on the Still Water website.

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Cultivating Connection
From Silence:The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise
by Thich Nhat Hanh

Never in the history of humankind have we had so many means of communication—cell phones, texting, e-mail, online social media—but we are more distant from each other than ever. There is remarkably little true communication between family members, between members of a society, between nations.

As a civilization we surely have not cultivated the arts of listening and speaking to a satisfactory degree. We don’t know how to really listen to each other. Most of us have precious little ability to express ourselves or listen to others with openness and sincerity. When we can’t communicate, energy gets blocked inside and it makes us sick; and as our sickness increases, we suffer, and our suffering spills over onto other people.

If we want to be more connected to others, we don’t need to text them more; we need to listen to them more. Deep listening leads to understanding. Understanding leads to greater connection. The way to listen more deeply is not simply to try harder. Rather, it is to take time in practice that starts with silence—that is, with quieting our internal Radio Non-Stop Thinking.

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