Understanding True Happiness

Understanding True Happiness

Discussion date: Thu, Nov 19, 2020 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Silver Spring, Maryland, Community Online on Thursday Evening
November 19, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to all Online on Friday Evening
November 20, 7:00 to 8:45 pm

Dear Still Water Friends,

In Thich Nhat Hahn’s For a Future to be Possible, Thay gives an overview of the Second Mindfulness Training, True Happiness, and discusses its connection with the other four trainings.

When you practice one mindfulness training deeply, you will discover that you are practicing all five. The First Mindfulness Training is about taking life, which is a form of stealing— stealing the most precious thing someone has, her life. When we meditate on the Second Mindfulness Training we see that stealing, in the forms of exploitation, social injustice, and oppression, are acts of killing— killing slowly by exploitation, by maintaining social injustice, and by political and economic oppression. Therefore, the Second Mindfulness Training has much to do with the mindfulness training of not killing. We see the ‘interbeing’ nature of the first two trainings. This is true of all five mindfulness trainings. Some people formally receive just one or two mindfulness trainings. I don’t mind, because if you practice one or two mindfulness trainings deeply, all five mindfulness trainings will be observed.

Instead of stealing, exploiting, or oppressing we practice generosity. In Buddhism, we say there are three kinds of gifts. The first is the gift of material resources. The second is to help people rely on themselves, to offer them the technology and the know-how to stand on their own feet. Helping people with the dharma so they transform their own fear, anger, and depression belongs to the second kind of gift. The third is the gift of non-fear. We are afraid of many things. We feel insecure, afraid of being alone, afraid of sickness and dying. To help people not be destroyed by their fears, we practice the third kind of gift-giving.

Thay’s emphasis on exploitation, social injustice, and oppression mirrors the recognition many of us are having that, as a society, we are being called to review and rework our discriminatory social practices and ingrained prejudices. For me, a visually impaired, white woman, this training has encouraged me to look deeply at my own blind spot — being white, with all the privilege that entails. I am learning to understand my whiteness and why I have overlooked it as I identified primarily as a disabled woman. This phrase in the second training helps me acknowledge my privileged whiteness and history:

I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion.

I am asking questions, reading, and listening in order to better understand the suffering of people of color and others who are oppressed in our society. Thay, in a Dharma talk titled “Understanding is Love’s other Name,” encourages us to listen to other people’s difficulties and suffering.

It is so clear, it is so simple to see that understanding is the ground of love. You cannot love him or her unless you understand him or her. And understanding is not something that just happens like that, you have to practice looking deeply, you have to practice listening deeply in order to really understand. You have to be able to give up your ideas, your prejudices, because you may already have an idea as to how that person can be happy and you want to impose that idea on him or her when by doing so you make him or her suffer. You don’t know, you still may believe that you love him or her. You may be very sincere. You may have a lot of love in yourself. But that is not love yet, that is the intention to love.

The willingness to love and make that one person happy, is not love yet. In order to truly love you have to truly understand. And that is why if you love someone you should try to understand him or her deeply, understanding the kind of difficulties that person has, the kind of suffering that person has, the kind of deep hope and desire that person has within himself or herself, the kind of obstacles that person is encountering in his or her daily life. You have to see all of that. If you can’t see everything, and how could you see everything, you could see a lot but not everything. You should ask him or her, you should go and say “Darling, do you think I understand you enough?” Then he will tell you/she will tell you if you ask with all your heart. “Darling, do you think I understand you enough?”

You can ask the question to your partner, to your father, to your mother, to your daughter, to your son. If it’s a real question, that is, a question that is asked with all your being, that person will tell you and help you to understand more. When you understand you will not continue to do or to say things that will make his or her suffering more. You will help him or her to overcome the difficulties. That is true love, true love comes from understanding.

Several years ago, when I took a self-defense class in which we switched roles, I had a hard time playing, and identifying as, the oppressor. I identified very easily and emotionally with the oppressed person. As my understanding grows, I now make space for the uncomfortable realization in my ideas and beliefs that I come from a background, familial and historical, which represents the identity of oppressor. My identity is made up of both oppressed and oppressor elements. Thay also speaks to this understanding in his poem, “Call Me by My True Names” about Vietnamese boat refugees waylaid by pirates. He writes movingly about identifying with both victim and oppressor:

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate.

And I am also the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

The second training speaks to my heart as a call to deepen my awareness of my humanity. I know I am not alone in exploring this call. The journey inevitably includes encountering previously hidden aspects of ourselves, and of others who may or may not look like us. As we listen and learn to understand each other, it is vital to acknowledge this truth.

In our sittings this week on Thursday and Friday, we will explore the questions:

  • How do we stay open and compassionate when we find life uncomfortable and different than we previously perceived it?
  • How can the Second Mindfulness Training lead us to a deeper, more nuanced understanding of ourselves and others?
  • What questions does the Second Mindfulness Training raise for you?

You are warmly invited to join us!

The text of the Second Mindfulness Training is below.

Many blessings,
Eliza King

This Thursday and Friday evening’s program serves as one of the preparatory classes for practitioners who wish to formally receive the Five Mindfulness Trainings on January 2, 2021. More information about the classes and the transmission ceremony is available on the Still Water website.

The Second Mindfulness Training:True Happiness

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and stop contributing to climate change.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Nov 19, 2020


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