Thursday Evening Online Program
August 11, 2022 7:00 to 8:45 pm Eastern time
Dear Still Water Friends,
This Thursday evening, after our sitting meditation, we will recite together the Five Mindfulness Trainings and then focus our Dharma Sharing 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.
For me it is a challenging and powerful training. Sitting with the training this past week, my attention was especially drawn to the sentence in which Thich Nhat Hanh identifies “dualistic and discriminative thinking” as the underlying cause of killing and harmful actions.
Dualism refers to our tendency to simplify reality by creating two opposing notions, such as good and evil. Thay writes in Understanding Our Mind:
We need to go beyond ideas of being and nonbeing, coming and going, same and different, birth and death. Coming into existence and going out of existence are only a pair of opposites. … Being and nonbeing are merely mental categories we use to grasp reality. Reality is free of these notions. The true nature of reality is nirvana — freedom from notions. Everything goes beyond these dualities — the Buddha, you, the leaf, the mango. As far as reality is concerned, these ideas do not apply.
In everyday English “discrimination” refers to the recognition of differences. We differentiate this from that: moths from butterflies, pleasant sounds from unpleasant sounds. (Social discrimination occurs when we treat certain categories of people unjustly or prejudicially.) In Buddhist writings, discriminative thinking also refers more generally to all analytic or rational thinking. As one teacher explained it to me, “It is when we cut the world into nouns.”
If we are not engaging in “dualistic and discriminative thinking” what are we doing? Thay explains an alternative in Interbeing: The 14 Mindfulness Trainings of Engaged Buddhism
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 non-discriminative wisdom. This is what we call Right View: the view that transcends all views.
In The Energy of Prayer, Thay gives the example of St. Francis and the almond tree:
One day in winter, Saint Francis of Assisi was practicing mindful walking and he came upon an almond tree. He stopped before the tree, breathed, and prayed, “Almond tree, tell me about God.” And then, quite naturally the almond tree blossomed into flower, even in the biting cold of winter. In the historical dimension, our daily reality, the almond tree does not yet have flowers. But in the world of the ultimate dimension, the almond tree has had flowers for tens of thousands of years. As far as the historical dimension is concerned, the Buddha lived and died and we are not the Buddha. But as far as the ultimate dimension is concerned, we are already Buddha. So being in touch with the almond tree is a way of being in touch with God. You will not find God in an abstract idea. This is something very important. God is here for us through very concrete things.
I believe that not only saints but most of us have moments when non-discriminative wisdom appears in our lives. Perhaps when we are awed by the Milky Way and we viscerally feel ourselves to be a part of the universe. Perhaps when our hearts are melted by a child, a loved one, or a puppy and we feel the intensity of our caring and connection.
In the 1990s, during a Winter retreat at Plum Village, a bit of non-discriminative wisdom slowly grew that radically changed my relationship to my family of origin. For years I had experienced pressure from my family as a colonizing force that I had to resist if I wanted to retain my sovereignty. Emotionally, I needed to be separate. Then, my understanding shifted. I summed it up with the phrase, “I am my father’s son, and my father is his father’s son.” But it was much more than that. I was deeply and intuitively aware of the flows of energy from my ancestors into my parents and into me. That’s just the way it was — for me and for everyone. This glimpse of interbeing empowered me to be more compassionate to my ancestors and parents, to myself, and to everyone I encountered. It also allowed me to relax. Rather than resist, I could embrace.
You are invited to join us this Thursday evening. We will begin our Dharma sharing with these questions.
- Have there been times when non-discriminative wisdom has arisen in your life?
- Are there ways non-discriminative wisdom has helped you to more deeply practice the First Mindfulness Training, Reverence for Life?
- Are there other aspects of the First Mindfulness Trainings that are especially alive for you?
In the reading after the announcements, an excerpt from Lama Dawa Tarchin Phillips explains how a brief encounter with an elephant helped him realize what it meant to belong—completely.
From “Belonging” by Lama Dawa Tarchin Phillips
In Black and Buddhist: What Buddhism Can Teach Us about Race, Resilience, Transformation, and Freedom
We came to an abrupt halt. No one spoke a word, not even a whisper. We simply inched up to the edge of our seats. Hovering…
You could hear a pin drop. There was no sound but the soft swaying of grass in the wind and the slow, exhilarated breathing of the members of our small group.
We watched as the giant, ash-gray bull elephant slowly stepped onto our path—gentle, unwavering, majestic. Mid-stride, he turned, at ease, confident, calm, and looked right at us, assessing our presence. Then, he marched past us and continued on his way into the open plains of the Ngorongoro.
What had just happened? Not outside of our Jeep where this beautiful animal had crossed our path, but inside of me? What had just happened inside my body and mind? I had been reset, reconnected by recognition. The powerful encounter with nature shoved me into a realization of what it meant to belong—completely. …
Now, standing in an open Jeep in the middle of the vast, African wilderness, I reclaimed myself, my life, and my place in the world—in silence. I reintegrated all the dismembered parts of myself, of humanity, and of the Earth.
And I healed.
I reconnected to the planet as my material source and re-arose as my natural, authentic, majestic true self—in ways both profoundly spiritual and physical. The event changed the course of my spiritual practice and work. …
Can we overcome the experience of being a tourist in this life, entitled to taking whatever we want from our experience and leaving only trash behind, and instead transform into pilgrims on a sacred journey, traveling in life to reconnect with all our amputated parts until our sense of wholeness is fully restored? Can we step into all of who we are, fully embodied, and discover our colorless, liberated self-less being that is ever powerful, gentle, and unharmed as if we had arrived on the very first, timeless day?