SnowFlower Sun October 2023

Cultivating the Inner Stability of Equanimity

 A Dharma Talk by Don Katz

In the world we usually inhabit, there are evil people doing evil self-interested deeds. These often include political figures these days, whichever side of the political polarization you inhabit – Donald Trump or Joe Biden, whichever – is a malign force in the world that we must work against in the name of love.

In the Buddhist worldview, there are no evil people, only confused people. Donald Trump, Joe Biden, or an individual who has harmed you deeply in this life, whichever: they are confused about what is really real and lost in their hopes and fears they act in ways that harm others. In spite of that, they still are, in essence, of the same nature as all the Buddhas – loving awareness.

Thầy reminds us that we can love those who harm ourselves and others by remembering that, like us, they were once babies and toddlers and small children, with the purity of spirit that we know little ones have. By visualizing those who harm us or harm others as small children, we can connect to the purity in them, that is still their true nature, and can reflect on the ways their environment and their genetics have twisted them so that (like us) they have lost touch with that original purity.

Practices like this are very important so that we can keep our hearts open and tender in a world where many beings are hard and unkind to us and to those around us.

I heard a story recently about a monk who escaped to India after many years in a Chinese prison, including much torture. He was able to have an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and the Dalai Lama was very moved by his story. The Dalai Lama asked, was there any time during your imprisonment when you thought you were lost? And the monk answered, yes, there were several times when I was being tortured when I almost lost my sense of compassion for my torturers, my bodhicitta.

For this monk, it was not losing his life that was most salient, but the danger of losing his compassion, his tender heart.

But at the same time, we don’t want to be so lost in love that we forget the nature of those who are causing suffering. I call this “learning to love a snake.” We can and should love snakes – they are beautiful creatures. But at the same time, when we are with a snake, we should never forget their nature – that they will be frightened, that they may be angry, that they may bite if we get too close.

In the same way, we should practice learning to love those who cause harm in the world to us and to others, but we shouldn’t forget their nature and should take appropriate precautions to protect ourselves, and should do what we can to protect others from the danger created by their confusion, fear, and suffering.


SnowFlower 30th Annual Fall Retreat

Mindfulness, Concentration, Insight, Compassion and Generosity in Divisive Times: What Thich Nhat Hanh’s Teachings on Impermanence and Interdependence Offer Us Today

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