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Buddhadharma : Winter 2011
BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY WINTER 2 0 11 22 prevent Angulimala from harming him, he clearly said to Angulimala, “You must stop your murderous ways.” In the ninth precept of the Order of Interbeing, founded by Thich Nhat Hanh, is the teaching, “Have the courage to speak out about situations of injustice even when doing so may threaten your own safety.” And the twelfth precept is, “Do not kill. Do not let others kill. Find whatever means pos- sible to protect life and prevent war.” When you ask “Should we respond?” and “How should we respond?” you are bringing up the teaching of the Bud- dha’s whole lifetime of practice and his response to “just this” or “things-as -it-is,” as Suzuki Roshi used to say. Our whole life of practicing the buddhadharma is to study how best to respond to whatever we meet with wisdom and compassion. My teacher often says, “Respond, don’t react.” We cultivate the four immeasurables (loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity) and the six paramitas or “perfections”—the virtues perfected by an awakening being in the course of their development: dana paramita (generosity), sila paramita (discipline or precepts), kshanti paramita (patience or forbearance), virya paramita (energy or exertion), dhyana paramita (meditation), prajna paramita (wisdom)—all to be able to respond to whatever we may meet in the most beneficial way. Moreover, the first pure precept is to refrain from all harmful actions. So my answer to you is: Yes, we should respond to every- thing we encounter with an open and loving heart, without anger or judgment, trying to connect with the Buddha in the person we are responding to. Falling into old habits of anger and judgment just puts us in a hell realm along with those who may be perpetrating the violence. I appreciate a prayer of the great teacher Shantideva, “May those whose hell it is to hurt and hate be turned into lovers bringing flowers.” And I try to heed the warning of Mark Twain, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” So you have raised a big question. How shall we respond? How shall we respond to life in each moment? Learning non- reactivity and calmness is the teaching of a whole lifetime, so we need not be discouraged if we are not sure what to do, or how to intervene to resolve an angry or violent situation. Asking oneself these questions means that compassion and kindness are already established. At times, one’s calmness alone will make an impression; at other times, one might need to call the police or Child Protective Services. In order to make the most skillful response we need to stay awake and stay present and connected as much as we can in each moment. Above all, bring compassion to violence, even when it is directed at you. TENZIN WANGYAL RINPOCHE: According to dharma teachings it is more a question of how to act rather than whether to act. There is no encouragement to be either passive or active, but there is guidance on action. We can speak of actions of body, Nonviolence does not equal passivity or nonresponsiveness. It means bringing forth the qualities of heart we are training ourselves in, namely, loving-kindness, courage, patience, and wisdom, and doing our best to enact them in the heat of the moment. Pausing to be mindful of just one breath can help calm the mind. Calmness offers the possibility of responding out of wisdom and compassion, rather than out of anger. Standing up to injustice and preventing those who are caus- ing harm from continuing to do so can be an expression of love and compassion. It protects not only oneself and others but the perpetrators as well by preventing them from being harmed by their own unskillful actions. Our conditioning tells us to fight or flee but the dharma tells us to stand our ground and be aware of the emotions being stirred up, and then to take the wisest and most compas- sionate action possible in a given situation. Of course, the wis- est action may be to fight (without anger) or to flee (without fear). What would it mean to fight or flee without self-centered aggression and because it’s the sensible thing to do? In unjust situations, this can be extremely difficult to do. Sometimes the only thing we can do is be patient and try not to make a situation worse until a beneficial and creative action becomes clear. Because this is such a difficult arena, it’s extremely benefi- cial to learn skills for meeting violence with nonviolence. The Buddha’s guidelines for wise speech can provide invaluable skills. These include practicing speech that is truthful, kind, unifying, and useful, and letting go of speech that is untruth- ful, unkind, divisive, and indulgent. Also, Marshal B. Rosen- berg’s Nonviolent Communication (NVC) approach provides language and communication tools that are in line with the Buddha’s teachings. It’s important to recognize the power of our individual actions, no matter how small they may seem. In the face of suffering, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless. It is possible to slide into passivity and even indifference. Dharma practice encourages receptivity not passivity, and equanimity not indifference. Of course, we can never know how we will act in a given situation until we are actually in it and we act out of whatever wisdom and compassion is available to us in the moment. ZENKEI BLANCHE HARTMAN: A monk asked Yun Men, “What is the teaching of the Buddha’s whole lifetime?” Yun Men replied, “An appropriate response.” I have also heard this translated as “Teaching facing oneness” and I have been told that the characters literally read “one meets one,” or “each meets each.” In a situation such as you described, I think it means to be totally present in order to discern if there is a way to intervene without escalating the violence. As for the Buddha’s teaching on stopping violence, you might read the “Angulimala Sutta: About Angulimala” online at accesstoinsight.org. Although the Buddha called on some supernatural powers to get Angulimala’s attention and to