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09 April 2005

Comments

Paul

Amadeus:

Thank you!

A few thoughts arise in relation to you article.

We need to be very careful when we group individuals together and label them. For example we group individuals together by race and then interact with them based on our ideas about them as a group. This is racism. Or we group them together by sex, which becomes sexism. The same would seem to apply to the group you have identified as the “American Christian Right.” You seem to be aware of this difficulty but it is a little unclear.

In your article you make the following comment:

"As I recall from my readings of Thich Naht Hahn, and have been reminded several times by members of the virtual Sangha (thank you very much for keeping me honest) is that “we are those that we dislike”. I am Jerry Falwell, James Dobson and Pat Robertson. I cannot separate from them, because they cannot separate from me."

I have deep respect for Thich Nhat Hanh, but I think this statement is somewhat problematic. Yes there is no self existent permanent unchanging Self. Yes “we” arise in dependence on complex causes and conditions. But we cannot overlook the differences between individuals. You are not Jerry Falwell and to state otherwise is make an assertion that contradicts our common experience.

The difference, in mind, is in the choices we make day in and day out. Do I choose to cultivate hate in my life or do I choose to cultivate love. Do I choose to cultivate an ethical life or unethical life? Buddhism 101: “Mind is the master and takes the lead. If the mind is pure then happiness follows like one’s shadow. If the mind is polluted then sorrow follows like a wheel follows a cart.”

Unfortunately there is no permanent part of ourselves that we can point to and say, “I could never _______ (do, say, think) that. We don’t know. There are no guarantees. Everything is groundless and constantly changing. All we can do is to make the best choices we can, given the information that we have. After that it is all Faith.

Thanks for your thoughts!

Paul

Connie

Amodeus,

I think that, from my understanding of Buddhism, this is worth considering...

Falwell and others like him are blind, and consumed with anger. I don't see why you are surprised with any inaccurate statement he makes. He is not trying to be accurate, he is trying to feed anger and hatred and a sense of "us against them". He is creating enemies and threats.

This is not unusual behaviour. It is something people who like power do. It is something that comes from and feeds fear.

Worrying about the unfairness of this world is unhelpful. Helping others get on in this world is helpful. Active love, Metta or Boddhicitta is helpful.

None of it is faith, it is very practical. It makes life better, both our own, and any we help. We cannot argue down the Falwells of this world. We can only demonstrate an alternative way of being.

Connie.

Amadeus

Paul,

I wanted to respond to your comments on my post. First of all, thank you for taking the time to respond.

I believe I understand your point about grouping individuals. If I understand you correctly, my post seemed to group unfairly those like Falwell, Robertson and Dobson into the "American Christian Right"? To be clear, Falwell, Robertson and Dobson proclaim themselves as members of the American Christian Right, Religious Right, Christian Conservatives, The Moral Majority, etc.. If you were to call their offices and ask where they set on the ideological spectrum, they would answer as such how I characterized them.

Likewise, in the United States, evangelicals of the ideology of Robertson, Falwell, and Dobson are characterized a such not to demean them or put them in a blanket category, but because there exists an American Christian Left and they are a different ideological group.

Placing Individuals In A Catagory: Lets take religion, it would be the same as referring to Buddhists, Christians or Jainists. Buddhists, Christians and Jainists have different ideological viewpoints, so it is only a necessity that we identify them appropriately. Christians aren’t Jainists, Buddhists aren’t Christians, but those of all races are human beings. I myself characterize my self as an American Buddhist Liberal. I am also a human. I am ideologically different than an American Christian Conservative and I am OK with that. I wouldn’t want people to confuse us, so the label seems appropriate to me.

Categorizing For My Article: All Christians aren’t being subject to the same level of ridicule as the Christian Conservatives are, so there is importance in identifying them specifically. Likewise, because Christian Conservatives have caught the ire of many Buddhist writers, it is important that they likewise be identified.

I hope I have answered your concern. If this is not your point, I apologize.


As for the statement by Thich Naht Hahn that I recycled-- I am in full agreement with Thay on this notion. To not see ourselves in those we despise, we run the risk of withholding compassion. By this statement alone, “I am Jerry Falwell” means that if I were to have grown up like Jerry Falwell, in his family, in his city, seen the things he did, had relations with others of his mind, etc, I could be possibly of the same thought process of Falwell today. This notion is not to say that I forget what Mr. Falwell has done or give him a free pass for his actions, which I disagree with. It is saying that his condition could have been my condition if I were to have grown up as he.

The main idea here is compassionate opposition. To be clear, this notion of Thay’s is solely to deal with issues of compassion and anger. In his idea, which I happen to agree, it is often so easy to hate, despise and want to destroy those that we are opposed to. The issue is to always have compassion. We all need to realize that those we are offended by are sometimes only separated by one degree of difference. Maybe it is the simple fact that we didn’t grow up in his family.

‘Tis true, my daily activities and actions are much different than those of Mr. Falwell and others like him. I don’t find much of what him or others that think like him, to be in communion with mankind or even nature. But, though I am mentally a different individual than Falwell, that does not mean that I still, given a certain set of circumstances, wouldn’t act like him.

I fully understand what you are saying; I think you are just going one step further than my initial point of compassion. You definitely make some good points to ponder.

Amadeus

Connie,

What you say maybe all true about Falwell’s motivations. The reality is, I have opposition to his way of thought, his words and actions. My point and my point only is that although I have opposition, I must always try to have compassion for those that are my opposition. I can say, as a political opposition researcher, I have spent many a day and night in deep anger and sadness over the actions of the Christian Conservatives. I had very little compassion or understanding for them and it was eating me up. Note: Having “compassion” and “understanding” doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with them or give them a free pass for their actions.

Compassion: Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it

It is clear that those like Falwell are suffering and are in pain. They lash out against those they think that are causing their suffering and pain, but it is all illusion. One hopes that their illusion will vanish and they won’t suffer anymore, thereby causing them to not want to make others suffer. This is probably a fat chance, but we can hope can’t we?.

As for your words about “unfairness”, I disagree in part. In the practical use of being fair, I would like to see myself one day exhibiting a disposition that is free of favoritism or bias. The goal is more or less to be impartial. This does not mean that I won’t still have preferences for those that follow the eight-fold path. It also doesn’t mean that I am passive in the sense of allowing those to walk all over me or others. It just means that in being “fair” I am opening my mind to hear what they have to say, thus being in a better state to try and change their minds.

The question of fairness can maybe be answered by “The Four Immeasurables”:

May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May all beings never be without true happiness free from suffering.
May all beings abide in the great impartiality, free from clinging to loved ones and aversion for others.

I suspect that if Falwell and those like him followed just one of these immeasurables, they would not be who they are today. In my opinion, it is important that we extend this prayer to each of them regardless of how our minds see them. I guess from your statement, I hear you saying that because they have been “unfair” that I should be “unfair” to them. Is this correct or am I misreading into what you are saying?

Helping others get on in this world is helpful. Active love, Metta or Boddhicitta is helpful.

Nothing more to say, other than I agree whole-heartedly.

We cannot argue down the Falwells of this world. We can only demonstrate an alternative way of being.

I once thought we could change minds about Falwell. That those opinion leaders could dissuade people from following the path of the hateful and the uncompassionate. It never worked. The followers have grown two-fold. Now, of course, the best way to combat his hatred, corruption and divisive ways is to be the anti-thesis. Like you have said, we need to “demonstrate an alternative way of being.”

Thank you for your comments. ~Amadeus

Dharmavidya

Thank you for pursuing this discussion. The essence of it seems to be about the meaning of compassion and understanding. It may seem strange to all of you in North America but as a European I have hardly the haziest notion of the persons you are referring to. They are not part of my world, so it is difficult to comment. I am aware in a general sense that Christianity is quite often associated with the political right in North America just as it is associated more with the left here in Britain, but Jerry Falwell - who is he? You don't need to answer that - I probably do not need to know. I am just noting that we live in different worlds in this respect.

Some questions of general principle do, however, arise, and in the interests of investigation, I will add my mite. Reading the discussion I found the question coming up in me: Do I have to believe that I could be like that other person in order to have compassion for him or her? Perhaps the answer is "No". Such vicarious identificaction could sometimes help at a rule of thumb level, but perhaps true compassion can be free from identification. Perhaps seeing ourselves as separate could be a mature stance. I do not mean by that, seeing oneself as better or seeing oneself as worse - comparison must have an element of identification and, therefore, of self - so it is questionable whether that is the true compassion that Buddha was pointing out. There is actually very little basis that I am aware of in the Buddhist texts for ideas of seeing ourselves in others or them in us. The Buddhist message is cleaner than that.

I think one of the things that is being discussed in this thread is the way in which, in practice, comparison of self and other impedes compassion. Distance can give objectivity and it may be easier to be compassionate - certainly easier to be even handed - when identification is less. The thought experiment "If I had been brought up as that person was brought up, would I be like them..." is an interesting one, of course, but we cannot know the answer - I suspect the answer is "No" - but we might have been worse. Are we really so sure anyway of our own virtue as it is? What we do know, however, is that the person is as they are and what we can assume is that they have their reasons. We do not know what makes the other person tick. I have only a limited understanding of what makes me do so. Knowing that I do not know helps me to accept that others are as they are. I do not need them to be what they are not and I do not entirely understand what they are. This does not prevent me feeling respect. Thank you for your contributions - this weblog has got off to an excellent start.

connie

Paul

I'm sorry my comment on unfairness was unclear. I simply meant that the world is not "fair", and worrying about it's unfairness is not helpful.

Bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people. Part of that comes from our dividing the world into "good" and "bad". It is probably more accurate to say "things happen".

We can see it as a test of faith, we can see it as karma... those are just our "seeing". How we interpret it seems less important to me than how we respond to it.

I certainly was not saying you were being unfair, or should be unfair. I was saying "things happen, looking for justice, or feeling bad about 'injustice' doesn't help."

Saying that, I do not mean we should ignore the plight of people. Where people are in pain and need, it is good to help if we can. That's what love/compassion/agape is all about. And we should try to act, as Buddhists say, "skillfully" and with our best understanding of what really helps.

Supporting political tolerance is helpful. Being an example of openness, love, compassion is more helpful. Opposing Jerry Falwell is not helpful, because he is already working hard to create opponants. He thrives on the idea of enemy, of opponants, of other. It feeds fear and hatred, bonds his followers into a threatened, cohesive group. He will create enemies where none exist. No point in proving his assertions.

You are right, we all get caught up in "aversion", hatred, judgement if we don't watch ourselves. It is better to think of those we dislike as our teachers, as Buddhas or "children of God". I'm talking about what we do inside, here.

I'm not talking abour giving up, in a political sense. Sometimes we need to act according to our own understanding. This action may include stopping someone whose actions are causing pain and hardship. I think we should act. I just don't believe hatred, distain, or 'opposition' is a good place to act from. It is not a helpful place, in terms of helping us keep our own balance, and our own connection with devine love (boddhicitta/metta).

This is all "easier said than done", of course, but most things of value are.

Good luck

Connie

Tom

Dharmavidya writes, "There is actually very little basis that I am aware of in the Buddhist texts for ideas of seeing ourselves in others or them in us."

I think what is said is centrally important, but I disagree. I think the phrase "seeing ourself in others and them in us" is not so much to be taken literally [or lightly] as to be understood as full identification with others' struggles, in much the way Amadeus writes about it in his post.

Huang-po said, "The Buddha and all sentient beings are the One Mind and nothing else."

I think that universalism, One Mind, is a part of Ch'an and a part of ripened spirituality generally.

Dharmavidya

Universalism - yes. One mind - no.

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