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Buddhadharma : Winter 2011
17 WINTER 2 01 1 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY our hands on any chocolate. And when the chocolate disappears, we get nervous, upset: “Oh no! Now I’m unhappy!” But of course it’s not the absence of chocolate that’s mak- ing us unhappy; it’s our fixed ideas, and our misunderstanding the nature of chocolate. Chocolate, like all our pleasures and all our problems, is impermanent—chocolate comes, chocolate goes, chocolate disappears. And that’s natural. When you understand that, your relationship to chocolate can change, and when you deeply understand this, you will truly have no fear. FROM WHEN CHOCOLATE RUNS OUT, WISDOM PUBLICATIONS, AUGUST 2011 THE TYRANT WITHIN Peter Kuhn discovers more than he bar- gains for during a Bearing Witness Retreat at a former Nazi concentration camp. Last summer my wife and I spent four days at Auschwitz II, also known as Birkenau. The size of a small city, it housed upwards of one hundred thousand prisoners at a time during World War II. I was surprised by the lush green beauty surrounding the countless rows of ruined barracks. I expected bare, fal- low ground, but instead noticed birds, grass, flowers, and even deer in the ruins of the gas chambers and incinerators. Experiencing a moment of joy, I wondered how I could possi- bly find happiness in such a place. How could there be beauty in a place of such horror? In a moment of penetration that reached to my bones, it struck me that nothing is either all “this” or all “that.” All dharmas are both this and that, defiled and immaculate, as our teachers the Buddha and Thay frequently remind us. Meditating on the railroad tracks where incoming prisoners were unloaded and sorted for work or immediate death, I heard an ancient train whistle blow. I touched the part of me that is the Nazi officer, pumped up with arrogance and discrimination, lust- ing for power and domination, waiting for the next trainload of “sub-humans” to arrive. I touched the shadow of fear and shame as the crematoria were shut down every time a plane flew overhead, for fear of discovery. I realized that, deep in their heart, even perpe- trators convinced they were right knew the injustice. I also saw myself as a Nazi camp guard, waiting for the same train with sadness and dread. I realized the Nazis were victims as well. Those who refused to serve were exe- cuted; many lived in fear for their lives and the safety of their families. Others were vic- tims of ignorance, or were swept away in the collective consciousness of their time. The quiet voice of humanity was often drowned by blind obedience of the rationalized safety of conformity. Seeing myself as a prisoner in a boxcar, I thought I would commit suicide rather then endure the degradation of the camp. Then I realized that if I killed myself, I would destroy my capacity to help others and offer even the slightest comfort. I saw myself—the poten- tial political, religious, or sexual prisoner—as both victim and potential victimizer. A week later, in a dharma sharing group, someone asked, “Why would you go to Auschwitz?” I didn’t know how to answer, but it became evident to me over the next few days: I went to heal. Out of the ashes, I came to realize that even what I found unacceptable or abhorrent was worthy of my compassion. Looking deeply into other, I saw self. Listening to the echoes and voices at Auschwitz, I heard ERICHANSON