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Buddhadharma : Winter 2006
buddhadharma| 11 |winter 2006 firSt thoughtS dear mr. PreSident On August 8, after crying tears of sorrow over the situation in the Middle East, Thich Nhat Hanh sent this letter to President Bush. Dear Mr. President, Last night, I saw my brother (who died two weeks ago in the USA) coming back to me in a dream. He was with all his children. He told me, “Let’s go home together.” After a millisecond of hesitation, I told him joyfully, “OK, let’s go.” Waking up from that dream at 5 a.m., I thought of the situation in the Middle East, and for the first time, I was able to cry. I cried for a long time, and I felt much better after about one hour. Then I went to the kitchen and made some tea. While making tea, I realized that what my brother had said is true: Our home is large enough for all of us. Let us go home as brothers and sisters. Mr. President, I think that if you could allow yourself to cry like I did this morning, you will also feel much better. It is our brothers that we kill over there. They are our brothers, God tells us so, and we also know it. They may not see us as brothers because of their anger, their misunder- standing, and their discrimination. But with some awakening, we can see things in a different way, and this will allow us to respond differently to the situation. I trust God in you; I trust buddhanature in you. In gratitude and with brotherhood, Thich Nhat Hanh Plum Village, France do chimPS have buddhanature? David Berman considers the spiritual and psycho- logical implications of new evidence tracing the human species to chimpanzees. A new genetic analysis of humans and chimpan- zees, by the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mas- sachusetts, suggests that the two lineages may have diverged more recently than previously thought and that our chimp and human ancestors may have crossbred – that is, had sex with each other – and produced a hybrid, from which we descend. Is an understanding of our evolutionary history informative, and even relevant, to who we really are? For most of us, who we are is a matter of psy- chological self-image more than of genomic fact, so the first question is: When you read this news, and you picture the courtship between that proto- chimp and that first-generation, slightly human mutant (if you do), and you think of yourself as the long-term result of that unholy union, does your self-image shift? I, being a big fan of Darwin, and a big fan of chimps for that matter, am not bothered. (If anything, it cheers me up a little bit.) But if you think of the importance of ancestry and lineage in some families, and in some cultures – if you con- sider the devastation that has been wrought by the revelation that such-and-such a forebear was of the wrong color, for example – you can see how the chimp/sex thing could be a big challenge to some people’s notion of “who we really are.” Then there’s the everyday Buddhist view of “who we really are”: a body and mind held together by alaya-vijnana, the storehouse consciousness, which still presumably contains some dim karmic vestige of cause and consequence all the way back to the days of simian romance and beyond, back to the bog, back to beginninglessness. And from that point of view we might even run into a little doctrinal problem. We don’t have a creation story that col- lides headlong with Darwinism as the monotheistic religions do, but how coherent does our account of the inherent buddhanature remain as we move back in evolutionary time? Does a chimp have the buddhanature? “Wu.” What about a tubeworm? What about the first paramecium mutating in the primordial ooze? I wonder how many generations I’ll have to spend as a paramecium just for asking the question? And then there’s the Buddha’s transcendent view – “who we really are” is no one at all. If illusTraTions anThony russo