Practicing Reverence for Life

Turquoise Shield Bug (Edessa rufomarginata) from Belize

Practicing Reverence for Life

Discussion date: Thu, Nov 03, 2022 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Thursday Evening Online Program
November 3, 2022 7:00 to 8:45 pm Eastern time

Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday evening Still Water begins its series on the Five Mindfulness Trainings with an exploration of 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.

For me, reverence for life is to be dumbstruck with the beauty and wonder of the Sequoias, or of a tiny mite. It is to hold a new infant and grasp in an instant the surging of life that is in us and around us. Always. It is to stand in awe of the mystery that is beyond words and concepts.

Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh ) teaches us that practicing reverence for life is something we can do everyday, throughout the day. In a Lion’s Roar article he explains how we can do it when we are walking:

Many of us walk for the sole purpose of getting from one place to another. Now suppose we are walking to a sacred place. We would walk quietly and take each gentle step with reverence. I propose that we walk this way every time we walk on the earth. The earth is sacred and we touch her with each step. We should be very respectful, because we are walking on our mother. If we walk like that, then every step will be grounding, every step will be nourishing.

We can train ourselves to walk with reverence. Wherever we walk, whether it’s the railway station or the supermarket, we are walking on the earth and so we are in a holy sanctuary. If we remember to walk like that, we can be nourished and find solidity with each step.

To walk in this way, we have to notice each step. Each step made in mindfulness can bring us back to the here and the now. Go slowly. Mindfulness lights our way. We don’t rush. With each breath we may take just one step. We may have run all our life, but now we don’t have to run anymore. This is the time to stop running. To be grounded in the earth is to feel its solidity with each step and know that we are right where we are supposed to be.

Each mindful breath, each mindful step, reminds us that we are alive on this beautiful planet. We don’t need anything else. It is wonderful enough just to be alive, to breathe in, and to make one step. We have arrived at where real life is available—the present moment. If we breathe and walk in this way, we become as solid as a mountain.

Thay’s way of thinking about reverence is for me the energetic heart of the First Mindfulness Training. When our hearts can be touched by a photo of the shriveled bodies of undernourished children, and, when we can also marvel at the beauty of a flowering amaryllis, the rest of the training falls into place. Of course, we want every thing and every one to bloom and prosper, to live their lives to the fullest. Of course, we wish to let go of “anger, fear, greed, and intolerance.” We know these mind-states cannot nourish life. Of course, we want to learn ways “to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals.”

In Living Buddha, Living Christ, Thay reminds us that the practicing reverence for life also includes self-understanding and self-compassion:

To practice nonviolence, first of all we must learn to deal peacefully with ourselves. In us, there is a certain amount of violence and a certain amount of nonviolence. Depending on the state of our being, our response to things will be more or less nonviolent. With mindfulness —the practice of peace—we can begin by working to transform the wars in ourselves. Conscious breathing helps us do this. But no one can practice this precept perfectly. We should not be too proud about being a vegetarian, for example. We must acknowledge that the water in which we boil our vegetables contains many tiny microorganisms, not to mention the vegetables themselves. But even if we cannot be completely nonviolent, 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. If we create true harmony within ourselves, we will know how to deal with family, friends, and society.

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will begin our exploration of the First Mindfulness Training with these question:

  • In there something in this training that particular touches you or inspires you?
  • How do you practice reverence for all of life?
  • Are there situations in which practicing reverence for life challenges you?

You are invited to join us.

A related reading on spiritual living by Thich Nhat Hanh appears below.

Warm wishes and many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner


Spiritual Strength

by Thich Nhat Hanh from Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet

Every one of us should have a spiritual dimension in our life so we can confront and transcend the challenges and difficulties we encounter every day. One way we can speak about spirituality is in terms of energy: the energy of awakening, of mindfulness—the kind of energy that helps us to be there, fully present in the here and now, in touch with life and the wonders of life.

We tend to distinguish between the spiritual and the non-spiritual. We associate the spiritual with the spirit and the non-spiritual with the body. But this is a discriminative way of seeing things. Say, for example, I make some tea. We need the tea leaves, the hot water, the teapot, and a cup. Do these elements belong to the realm of the spiritual or the non-spiritual? As soon as I pour the hot water into the teapot with mindfulness, there is the energy of mindfulness and concentration in me, and suddenly the tea, the water, and the teapot all become spiritual. And, as I lift up my cup and hold the tea in my hands with mindfulness and concentration, the act of tea-drinking becomes something very spiritual. Anything touched by the energy of mindfulness, concentration, and insight becomes spiritual, including my body enjoying the tea. And so, the distinction between the sacred and the profane is not absolute. We live in the world and what is so-called “worldly” can become spiritual once we bring the energy of awakening to it. Mindfulness, concentration, and insight can be generated in every moment of your daily life, and it’s these energies that make you spiritual.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Nov 03, 2022


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