This Dharma talk was given by Christopher Kakuyo Sensei at the Salt Lake Buddhist Fellowship November 4th, 2018
Today I want to share some remarks regarding what seems like an ever deepening polarization of our country and communities – and as of late, an increase of not just polarization but of fearmongering and violence. This seems especially true as we head into the mid-term elections. During this time we are given an opportunity to be mindful and to not be too attached to our expectation of the outcome – even if they turn out the way we like, because the journey through such a transitional time as this and its inherent issues is a much longer road than anything that can be accomplished one mid-term election.
Right now, the world and more specifically our country, is experiencing a generational shift, the labor pains of a new paradigm. For our communities to be strong, safe and healing through these tumultuous days, I think it is important first to set our own houses in order, clearly set our aspirations, and for those of us who have chosen the Buddha Way, we need to see that our practice is invested with vigor, focus and the heart of compassion.
This is especially true in the light of these past few weeks. These past few weeks have been heartbreaking and challenging for many of us and for many communities and it is easy to become overwhelmed – to become fatigued and exhausted by the incessant churn of emotion. Outrage can be exhausting and in the end, limiting when it comes to the transformation of our lives and communities. So how do we accomplish real change? Lasting and transformative change? I think that is a great question and one that I am thinking about constantly. Here are some of the things that I have come up with.
I would like to begin, with a foundational teaching from the Buddha himself, that is appropriate right now. In the dhammapada the Buddha writes,
In the dhammapada the Buddha writes,“ Hatred (including rage, anger, blame) does not cease with hatred but with non-hatred. This is the ancient law.”
Rage, anger, and blame do not cease with more rage, anger, and blame – that is the ancient law. The way to transcend rage, anger, and blame is through non-hatred.
You maybe be looking at me and saying, yeah right? I understand, I really do – too many times a day I observe my mind jump on the rocketship of outrage. When I do, I try to remember that those who peddle rage and fear feed off our rage and fear. It is like the alien robot in KRONOS the 1957 Sci-fi move of the same name. Every weapon Humanity uses against KRONOS fails because KRONOS just greedily absorbs all that energy and the more they throw at him to destroy him the stronger and hungrier for more he becomes. It feels like this often.
It is important to remember that our outrage and disdain waste mental energy — and feed into the narratives of fear. These narratives of fear, outrage, and animosity separate us one from another – deepening our delusions of separateness, feeding the illusion that we are inherently different, better, more worthy than the “Other”. When everyone has to be “Right” we get nowhere. Being attached to the need to be “Right” cuts us off; keeps us from looking inward, feeds the ego-self’s need to know with certainty, we stop asking questions, we stop listening. If I am right and you are wrong, there is no need for me to listen to you.
There is a saying about relationships, “you can be right or you can be in a relationship.” Being attached, being stuck in our monolithic definitions of the “Other” doesn’t acknowledge the ability for people to change – people are not monolithic, always being one thing. We all need to see people as more than just – racist, bigot, snowflake, socialist, capitalist, invader, homophobe or mob – When we do this we fix them in place and buy into our superiority complexes and our inferiority complexes. The biggest challenge with these narratives is that we are so busy telling stories about why we are “right” and they are “wrong” and about their motives, we aren’t listening. As long as I am feeling outrage, hate and fear I am not really listening to anyone if anything I am seeking out more narratives that justify my rage.
I really appreciate this from Robert Wright who wrote, the book, Why Buddhism is True.
“Outrage gets in the way of empathy …. I don’t mean empathy in the usual sense of the word — the “feel their pain” kind of empathy that psychologists call “emotional empathy.” I mean “cognitive empathy” — just understanding how the world looks from the point of view of other people. — Outrage encourages you to depict their motivations in simplistically unflattering terms. As in, “they’re all racists” or a “basket of deplorables.”
And I also love this quote from the Buddhagosa a 5th-century monk who warns us about our outrage –
…you are like a man who wants to hit another and picks up a burning ember or excrement in his hand and so first burns himself or makes himself stink.”
Visuddhimagga IX, 23.
So where do we begin? What does non-hate look like? Non-hate looks like compassion, and empathy – cognitive and emotional. We begin with this insight from James Baldwin
“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hate so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” –
And to touch that pain we need to be able to listen. In our community deep listening is a foundational practice – and this is where we begin – we first start with ourselves in examining our ill will – listening to the suffering of our own hearts, then our families and ultimately this something that we take into our broader communities – and not just with the communities that we ally with but also those we do not. We need to seek out opportunities to do this but if we are harboring desires of retribution this will never happen.
All this is important to realize in the present context because no mid-term election or general election is going to be a panacea – the issues that we are all grappling with are systemic, institutional and karmic and getting caught in the outrage trap will not help us to get to the real issues that are plaguing us. Don’t get me wrong, I acknowledge that such change could alleviate the existential and bodily threat to those in our immigrant and transgender communities. At the same time for the change to be transformative, we need more than elections, we need a personal and collective transformation. To get there I think the first step needs to be that we start listening to one another – as Dennis Rivers has written
Compassionate Listening is not about resolving conflicts directly. It is about helping conflict participants see one another as human, which creates a new mental and emotional space out of which resolutions can emerge.
What is needed is for the conflict participants to be able to identify with one another’s sorrows and joys, to feel connected enough to one another to make the peace worth keeping. In a word, only love will save us. But there needs to be a gradual “on-ramp” to that love, and a person’s gradually deepening practice of Compassionate Listening is one such path,
Some might see this as pollyanna-ish but there are many who have put their very bodies on the line to do this – understanding that “ Hatred does not cease with hatred but with non-hatred. This is the ancient law.”
One example is Daryl Davis who for the past 30 years, as, a black man, has spent time befriending members of the Ku Klux Klan. He says once the friendship blossoms, the Klansmen realize that their hate may be misguided. Since Davis started talking with these members, he says 200 Klansmen have given up their robes.
Here is also something that you may not know. When the Tree of Life shooter was taken to the hospital he was taken care of by Jewish doctors and nurses. The head Doctor that day was Dr. Jeff Cohen and also a member of the Tree of Life Synagogue – he relates,
He’s taken into my hospital and he’s shouting, ‘I want to kill all the Jews,’ and the first three people helping him are Jewish – that;s because We have a very simple mission at and I imagine it’s exactly the same at the other hospitals in the area: We’re here to take care of sick people. We’re not here to judge you,”
For me, this is the really important part of what he had to say – as he went to check in this patient
“I thought it was important to at least talk to him and meet him,” Cohen explained. “You can’t on one hand say we should talk to each other, and then I don’t talk to him.”
What I am not saying here is that all we need to do is love your enemy – and everything will be OK. It will not. Our collect karma and suffering are much deeper than that but moving toward deep listening and loving-kindness can move us in a direction that does not feed the beast of ill will and hatred and allows clarity and equanimity. It allows us to see one another as human beings, which is desperately needed at times like this.
Overwhelmed with the horror of events like what happened not just at the Tree of Life Synagogue but other places like in Charlottesville – we need to be especially aware and mindful because when those we love are hurt when we see the helpless victimized we want it to just stop but returning violence for violence, hatred for hatred, outrage for outrage. This does not solve anything but only deepens the divided. At the same time eschewing violence does not mean we are passive – though we will not return hate for hate we will put our very bodies on the line to protect our brothers and sisters. But what about being angry?
The Buddha taught that hate cannot overcome hate. That doesn’t mean we can’t be angry. Anger in the face of injustice can motivate us to action. But what kind of action? Melvin McLeod a Buddhist meditation teacher has taught that,
“Anger is the power to say no. This is our natural reaction whenever we see someone suffer—we want to stop it.” We can and must stand up to the poison of hatred in our society, and in ourselves. Is our anger the kind of “wise anger” that motivates us out of love for our brother and sisters or is it the passionate volatile anger that does not come from love but from our own fear and suffering? Can we recognize this reality in ourselves? Do we know the difference?
In Buddhism we teach that everyone has Buddha nature – and in the Tibetan tradition it is said that everyone has been one another mother before – when we are feeling outraged we forget this- We are in need of wise anger that motivates us out of love not just for those like us but especially for those not.
I want to close a passage from the Shout of Buddha by Haya Akegarasu, Gyomay Kubose Sensei’s teacher. I think it weaves together the starting point of our wise anger, our desire to cultivate a compassionate heart, the heart of what motivates the Bodhisattva. Many of us have taken the Bodhisattva Vows and doing so, our practice is the help ALL BEINGS – the Bodhisattva does not get caught in the thicket of views and finds any means to help liberate ALL beings even the ones we may see as enemies – because we understand and affirm that all BEINGS have Buddha Nature. This is titled,
” I hate to hear about the fights of isms or clashes between two different faiths. I don’t care about these things.
Somehow I just long for people. I hate to be separated from people by the quarrels of isms or dogma or faith, and what is more, I hate to be separated from people by profit or loss.
I don’t care whether I win or lose, lose or win. I just long for the life burning inside me. I just adore people, in whom there is life.
I don’t care about isms, thoughts, or faiths. I just long for people. I throw everything else away. I simply want people.
It makes me miserable when close brothers are separated by anything.
Why can’t they be their own naked selves? Why can’t longing people embrace each other?
I love myself more than my isms, thoughts, or faiths. And because I love myself so,
I long for people. I am not asserting that my way is Love-ism or Compassionate-Thinking-ism! Somehow I just can’t keep myself in a little box of ism, thought or faith.
I must admit I am timid. Because I timid, I can’t endure my loneliness. I want to enjoy everything with people.
I go to the ocean of the great mind.
I go to the mind of the great power.
Once I hated people because they lived a lie;
once I saw them as devils.
Once I lamented because there was no one who cared about me.
But now I long for them, even when they are devils and liars,
even when they are evil. I don’t care, I can’t help it-I adore them!
They breathe the same life that I do, even though they hate me,
cheat me, make me suffer.
I am so filled with a thirst to adore people that there is no room in me for judging whether a person is good or bad, beautiful or ugly, right or wrong.
This is not the result of something that I reasoned out,
such as that I live by being loved or by loving.
Regardless of any ism, thought, or faith, I cannot be separated from people because of that.
My spirit shines with the mind-of-embracing-people.
Without reason or discussion, I just want to hug everyone!
My missionary work is nothing but a confession of this mind.
May we all cultivate a heart that embraces all things. Namu Amida Butsu.