These rambling thoughts were originally posted to Patreon on Monday, September 16th. I liked the thought bubble and wanted to share at the site.
Although I am not Buddhist I often put myself into the practices of Buddhist teachers for current perspective. I am of the idea that I can read a little deeper and use my own contemplative practice to marinate in another. In this way I can open up my own framing and see things from a different light.
Today, Sunday, I became actively involved in a Thich Nhat Hanh group which was devolving into a very hostile conversation. Not only did the posting ask me to speak from my own practice, but it offered me context to observe infighting, in and between religions exists, it also opened me to all of the colors that people will use to paint a "spiritual" point, including bypassing, overriding other people, bullying, denial, anger and violent thought.
I found myself being that person standing between.
Now I am not clean of feeling anger about these differences. For context it was Christian readers feeling threatened and attacked because they were asked to speak from or to the group in Buddhist language. The group is for this, and learning this, Buddhism and the teaching of Thich Nhat Hanh.
It is very easy for us to immediately go to the defensive, but if I have my Buddhism right, this is not The Way. For me hardness, excuses for spiritual severity (when not fending for ones life, and even then I find it self-questionable), are often signs of need to disconnect with the outer world and reconnect with self, inner world, or the natural world. When I see it in myself I tell myself to step back, make the time to rest. When I see it in other friends and teachers, I try to offer the same in a way that it will land for them.
I find that I have been practicing new ways to disconnect from social media and reconnect more with my surroundings.
The group chat in the Thich Nhat Hanh group embodied this and offered an opportunity to lean in on the parts I know about this philosophy. One I found and read came from the Awakening of the Heart: Essential Buddhist Sutras and Commentaries.
If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. We can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-” with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, “inter-be.”
If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. So we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way, we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.
Looking even more deeply, we can see we are in it too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also, so we can say that everything is in here in this sheet of paper. You cannot point out one thing that is not here—time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything coexists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. To be is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is. Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source.
The word “emptiness” should not scare us. It is a wonderful word.
Suppose we return the sunshine to the sun. Do you think that this sheet of paper would be possible? No, without sunshine nothing can be. And if we return the logger to his mother, then we have no sheet of paper either. The fact is that this sheet of paper is made up only of “non-paper elements.” And if we return these non-paper elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all. Without non-paper elements, like mind, logger, sunshine, and so on, there will be no paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.
He goes on to quote,
If a wave only sees its form, with its beginning and end, it will be afraid of birth and death. But if the wave sees that it is water and identifies itself with the water, then it will be emancipated from birth and death. Each wave is born and is going to die, but the water is free from birth and death. (Full article here)
We want everything to be about everything we are experiencing, but that is only a small part of what is happening. Life is very tough, honey I KNOW it is, and there are people who have it 1000 times harder than I. I am not here to bypass their problems or create false comparisons about how suffering is relative. When I suspend my perspective, and that is entirely possible with a good practice, and hang it on another and allow for that philosophy or practice to guide me, I can see new things.
Like people talking in the group, like people in the world, we need more space to dialogue with the self. To disengage the mind and find this emptiness, to find then that fullness.
In my personal practice I might find that meditating on the Stone or the Cup, on the earth and my body and home, or the concepts of compassion in the modern magickal traditions of perfect love, and perfect trust. If The Heart Sutra teaches us that form may be empty of self but it’s full of everything else, how does the laws of magick and the love of the Goddess that shines with such light in all things lead me out of the framework of battling, arguing, and rightness, and into a place where I am listening, especially when I need to disconnect, to myself and to those I am with in this space, or virtually speaking?
It is entirely possible I miss many points as I am not a practicing Buddhist. I am here to draw from the world the messages of my heart, mind, and body, through my practice and experience. But this is what it reads for me,
Not everything has to be about what I am doing. When I am tense or agitated maybe what I need is to step back and breath, engage practice rather than be right. That I am watching carefully the desire to be right, as this may acutely show up in a moment but it is a silent meme peering from within all of us, that fears being abandoned and masks as making everything before me, about me. Sometimes it helps to engage those like Thich Nhat Hanh who make a loving and powerful example of that self-less-ness and mindfulness I need in the world. There words can guide me back to my own heart, to be soft.
These are the things filling my mind this week.
You read this first on Patreon.com/ScottKSmith