Dear Still Water Friends,
This Thursday evening our gathering will include monastic Sisters from Blue Cliff Monastery in Pine Bush, New York. The topic they would like to explore with the Still Water Community is how we embody understanding and compassion in our daily lives. Thich Nhat Hanh writes in Your True Home:
We all know that understanding and compassion can relieve suffering. This is not just a platitude; where there is understanding and compassion, there’s relief and help for ourselves and others. Our practice is to keep that understanding and compassion alive. As busy as we are, when we take time to look a little bit more deeply, we can always find more understanding and compassion to offer.
Sister Ocean, who will be among those joining us on Thursday, suggests that we begin our Dharma sharing with these questions:
- How do we really apply the practices of understanding and compassion in our daily lives?
- Can we tell the difference between making excuses and true understanding?
- Can we tell when we’re engaging in pity or burnout versus genuine compassion?
She adds, “While there are no easy answers, everyone can develop these qualities that are the foundation for transformation, healing, and freedom.”
You are invited to join us this Thursday.
Some related readings by Thich Nhat Hanh on understanding, love and compassion are below.
Love and Compassion in Daily Life
by Thich Nhat Hanh, from Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
Sometimes, we can use meditation as a way of hiding from ourselves and from life, like a rabbit going back to his hole. Doing this, we may be able to avoid some problems for a while, but when we leave our “hole,” we will have to confront them again. For example, if we practice our meditation very intensely, we may feel a kind of relief as we exhaust ourselves and divert our energy from confronting our difficulties. But when our energy returns, our problems will return with them.
We need to practice meditation gently, but steadily, throughout daily life, not wasting a single opportunity or event to see deeply into the true nature of life, including our everyday problems. Practicing in this way, we dwell in profound communion with life.
Sound and light have the ability to penetrate everywhere, and love and compassion can do the same. But if our love is only a kind of imagination, then it is not likely to have any real effect. It is in the midst of our daily life and in our actual contact with others that we can know whether our mind of love is really present and how stable it is. If love is real, it will be evident in our daily life, in the way we relate with people and the world.
The source of love is deep in us, and we can help others realize a lot of happiness. One word, one action, or one thought can reduce another person’s suffering and bring him joy. One word can give comfort and confidence, destroy doubt, help someone avoid a mistake, reconcile a conflict, or open the door to liberation. One action can save a person’s life or help him take advantage of a rare opportunity. One thought can do the same, because thoughts always lead to words and actions. If love is in our heart, every thought, word, and deed can bring about a miracle. Because understanding is the very foundation of love, words and actions that emerge from our love are always helpful.
Understanding and Love,
by Thich Nhat Hanh, from a Dharma talk at the Congressional Retreat, October 28, 2011
The person who has love, who has compassion in him or in her, is a happy person. How do we have compassion and love in us, how do we cultivate that kind of energy? The answer is that we have to have understanding. If there is no understanding, there cannot be any love. Suppose there is a father who does not understand his son or a husband who does not understand his wife. Even if they try to make the other person happy, the more they try, the more they make the other person suffer.
Understanding means, first of all, to understand the difficulties and sufferings of the other person. This is why understanding is the foundation of love. If you do not understand someone, especially his or her suffering and difficulties, then there is no way you can love him or love her and make him or her happy. It is very clear. Understanding is the foundation of love. Understanding is another word for love. To love means to understand.
How do you cultivate understanding? Just by having enough time to look deeply and to recognize the suffering in us and in the other person. So many of us care only about having enough money to survive. We think of happiness as having the capacity to maintain the comforts that we have now: a house like that, a car like that, an income like that. We believe that without these things there is no way to be happy. But we already know that even if we have a house like that, a car like that, and an income like that, if there is a lot of fear, anger, and confusion in us, then we are not happy either.