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Buddhadharma : Fall 2005
buddhadharma| 53 |fall 2005 screensavers. “The effect is really magnanimous, it’s marvelous,” says Schmidt. “I think of it as building a metta environment on a day-to-day basis, fertil- izing the ground so that when the weeds of conflict come up, they’re easy to pull.” The weeds of conflict are never so thick as in wartime. Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on conflict were spawned in the suffering of the Vietnam War. Known for his efforts to resolve conflicts among nations, Thich Nhat Hanh is also perhaps the strongest modern proponent of taking seriously conflicts within the sangha. Several of the fourteen precepts in his Order of Interbeing address conflict and its causes, with the eighth precept (Harmony in the Community) going so far as to invite making “every effort to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, no matter how small.” Thich Nhat Hanh’s commitment to a mature response to conflicts has transformed the tradi- tional monthly repentance ceremony in his com- munity. Now called beginning anew, the ceremony has become a weekly event for his monastics. Its four steps include naming the beneficial qualities of the person with whom you are in conflict; express- ing regret that your interactions have caused dis- cord; sharing, in non-blaming language, something that’s been hurtful to you; and finally, asking the other what actions might help restore harmony to the relationship. Clearly, the maintenance of a harmonious sangha is vitally important to Thich Nhat Hanh. In his book, Interbeing, he describes a traditional practice called karman procedure, which takes place whenever the sangha gathers to recite the precepts, to make a decision, or to transmit the precepts. The meeting begins with someone asking, “Has the community gathered?” The next ques- tion is, “Is there harmony in the community?” He writes: “If [yes] is not the answer, the meeting can- not proceed. This practice [was] established during the time of the Buddha, and has been practiced by communities of monks and nuns throughout the last twenty-five centuries.” Mary Rinkin, an ordained member of the Order of Interbeing, was so inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh’s approach to conflict that she co- founded a graduate program in conflict resolution at Oregon State University and included classes on mindfulness training. “Our basic teaching is that it’s through our suffering, and our transforming of it, that we are liberated,” she says. “To me it’s the same teaching; it’s through our conflicts and our ability to transform them that we actually expe- rience harmony and relationship and connection and deeper understanding. For me, conflict is the richest opportunity we have for learning about ourselves, and about others.” All Buddhist schools share a belief that although conflict in the sangha is inevitable, it’s also an oppor- tunity for practice. In this regard, Buddhist communi- ties have advantages over other communities. Unlike a business or a neighborhood, the sangha is built on a fo undation of love, trust, friendship, and a shared commitment to a spiritual life. Those common goals make the sangha a safe learning environment, a fer- tile laboratory in which to test our practice. Still, no sane teacher would guarantee a comfortable ride. As in the old Zen story, sangha life resembles a barrel of rocks that is shaken just hard enough and long enough to blunt all the sharp edges. Dana Curtis likens those sharp edges to the ego, and the barrel to interpersonal conflict. “Conflicts give us a chance to clearly see the fixed or rigid self, the one who resists change, who is right at all cost, and makes others wrong,” she says. “It gives us the opportunity to open to our suffering, and the suffering of others, and in so doing, experience compassion, the seed of reconciliation.” We want to be careful not to reduce this spiritual tradition to just an enhancement to psychotherapy or conflict resolution. The view of the practice needs to be constantly expanded to include concerns that we have beyond this life. — Michael Conklin phoTogrAphATinSighTMediTATionSocieTyByliBByVigeon