nonviolence

The benefits of making things hard for ourselves

I find that a lot of the time, when people are cultivating kindness or compassion for a person they find difficult, they do it in a rather vague way. Usually in their meditation practice they just visualize an image of the “enemy” and repeat the appropriate phrases — “May you be well,” “May you be free from suffering,” and so on. That’s what I was taught to do, and it’s what most other people were taught as well.

Creating a challenge

So what’s the problem with this? It’s that when we have difficulties with people, what we really have difficulties with are their behaviors — what they say and do. Those are the things that provoke our own reactivity. When the person in our mind’s eye is just sitting there passively, we’re not triggering the discomfort that leads to us getting annoyed by them. We’re simply not making things hard enough for ourselves. We have to make ourselves uncomfortable in order to learn how to handle discomfort without reacting. We have to put ourselves in the position where reactivity is a real possibility before we can start to recognize the signs that we’re starting to get angry, and then choose not to feed our anger.

So I tend to teach lovingkindness and compassion meditation as opportunities to rehearse facing real difficulties. When you call a so-called “difficult person” to mind in one of these meditations, it helps if we focus very specifically on the things they say and do that tend to trigger us. If we remember or imagine those things very vividly, we’re more likely to create uncomfortable feelings, and it’s those feelings that in turn trigger our reactivity. And now, in the mindful space that meditation offers us, we have the opportunity to sit with those uncomfortable feelings and be present with them. And we have the opportunity to see our anger arising, so that we can choose not to encourage it, but instead to let go of it. We have an opportunity to remember the humanity of the person facing us, and to cultivate an attitude of kindness toward them.

Superheroes of nonviolence

I was thinking about this the other day in the context of the civil rights marches of the 1960s.

When I first heard how Martin Luther King’s civil rights marchers endured, without retaliation, insults, beatings, being hosed with water, and having dogs set upon them, I was astonished and humbled. How was it they could do these things, when I take offense at merely being belittled online?

Later I learned that these brave activists trained to be non-reactive in the face of violence. They rehearsed. They met in groups where they would role-play facing insults and physical assaults, in order to learn how to respond non-violently to violence. They trained in reframing encounters with the police, so that they didn’t see arrest and imprisonment as violations of their freedom but as a badge of honor, to be worn with pride.

They trained in learning that the point of nonviolent resistance was not to insult or humiliate their opponents, but to win their trust, friendship, and understanding; it was to convert the enemy to nonviolence. They trained in understanding that the enemy was the ideology of evil and oppression, and not the persons who were committing injustice.

Training to be more loving

These brave individuals didn’t make some sudden leap to practicing love in the face of hatred; they learned, step by step, to do this. It became clear to me that we can learn to do seemingly superhuman acts of nonviolence through training.

If they could practice love while being beaten with clubs and insulted in vile ways, surely we can learn to do the same with the much more minor irritations in our own lives? And so I suggest that you make your meditation practice into a form of rehearsal. Do you get irritated with the way a household member loads the dishwasher badly, or doesn’t clear up after themselves? Or when someone ignores you, or puts you down? Visualize those things very clearly in your mind’s eye; let the feeling of irritation arise, and allow it to be present, without reacting. If angry thoughts and impulses arise, let go of them. Connect with kindness as you visualize the things that annoy you. Rehearse responding lightly, humorously, kindly, with full sensitivity to the other person as a feeling, vulnerable human being.

To create compassion, evoke powerful suffering

The same applies to compassion meditation, where we train ourselves to be loving and supportive in the face of another’s suffering. It’s fine to call someone to mind and remember that they suffer, but that’s really not very challenging. The Buddhist monk, Mathieu Ricard, explained once how he imagined suffering while meditation. One example he gave was of visualizing a friend, “terribly injured in a car accident, lying in his blood by the side of a road at night, far from help.” This is a potent image, evoking powerful feelings.

In fact, Ricard suggests that we imagine “different forms of distress as realistically as possible, until they become unbearable.”

It’s not about making ourselves suffer

The point is not to make ourselves suffer. It’s to give ourselves an opportunity to develop a compassionate response that envelops, sustains, and protects the person who is suffering. In fact, compassion is heart-warming, nourishing, and loving, and this to a large extent insulates us against sinking into suffering ourselves.

At the same time, it’s best if we stretch our capacity to bear suffering gradually. If we’re not able to respond to suffering with kindness and compassion we’re likely to become overwhelmed. And that’s not going to help us or others.

In short, our meditation practices of kindness and compassion are only going to lead to very slow change if we don’t challenge ourselves. But if instead we vividly imagine situations that provoke us emotionally, we’ll give ourselves an opportunity to really grow the strength of our kindness and compassion. And as the civil rights marchers showed, we can even develop what appear to be superhuman levels of love and compassion.

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Buddhism, vegetarianism, and the ethics of intention

One of the most attractive things about Buddhism is that it considers ethics to be based on the intentions behind our actions. This perspective is radical in its simplicity, clarity, and practicality.

When our actions are based on greed, hatred, or delusion, they’re said to be “unskillful” (akusala), which is the term Buddhism prefers over the more judgmental terms “bad” or “evil” — although those terms are used too, albeit mostly in the context of poetry. By contrast, when our intentions are based on mindfulness, compassion, and wisdom, they’re said to be skillful (kusala).

For many people accustomed to systems of morality based on commandments, rewards and punishments, the Buddhist ethical perspective is liberating and refreshing.

But sometimes the idea that Buddhist ethics is about intention is seen in too narrow a way. The problem is that a deluded mind is trying to become aware of itself! We’re not always aware of our intentions, or may choose to fool ourselves about what our motivations really are. We develop ethical blind spots and adopt evasive strategies to justify our actions and to avoid change. Delusion keeps us tied to our current way of being and stops us from making spiritual progress.

One tool that the Buddha encouraged as a way of breaking out of ethical confusion is paying attention to the consequences of our actions:

Having done a bodily action, you should reflect on it: ‘This bodily action I have done — did it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Was it an unskillful bodily action, with painful consequences, painful results?’ If, on reflection, you know that it led to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it was an unskillful bodily action with painful consequences, painful results, then you should confess it, reveal it, lay it open to the Teacher or to a knowledgeable companion in the holy life. Having confessed it… you should exercise restraint in the future.

If we notice that we’re harming others, or that we’re causing pain to ourselves — for example through inducing guilt — then we need to look more closely at our motivations, being open to the possibility that we’re not clear enough about our intentions. We need to look for and admit to hidden ethical agendas. I wrote about this recently in terms of the way some men harass women on the street, without being willing to look at the fact that their attentions are unwanted and cause suffering.

Another example is the way most people who eat meat say that they like animals. They don’t think of themselves as cruel. Most of them are shocked by actual cruelty and want animal abusers to go to jail. And at the same time, they pay people to abuse animals on their behalf. They don’t think of themselves as doing this, but when they buy meat they’re financially rewarding people who raise animals in stressful and unnatural conditions, transport them, terrified, long distances in trucks, herd them into a slaughterhouse, shoot them in the head, hoist them into the air by their back legs, cut their throats, and then disembowel and dismember them in preparation for being shrink-wrapped and sold.

Although there’s no overt ill intent when you pick up a steak at the supermarket, you’re paying for this whole process to happen — a process that causes affliction to others. And we don’t want to think about all this. We’re shocked by animal cruelty, so for example we don’t want to see videos of animals in slaughterhouses because we’d rather avoid being shocked. That way we can avoid the discomfort that comes from change.

If we’re going to take the Buddha’s teachings seriously as a guide for living, then we need to examine the harmful consequences of our actions, and then look for the hidden intentions and assumptions that drive those actions.

Implicit in buying meat are attitudes like, “You are more useful to me dead than alive,” and “I kind of like you, but I’m hungry, and so I don’t mind you being killed.”

The attitudes are rarely if ever experienced as overtly as that (and I’ve expressed them rather baldly here) but something like that is going on. I know. I used to eat meat.

Meat-eating is just an example. I’ve picked it because so many people who want to follow the Buddhist path fall into the trap of thinking that if their actions are not directly harming others, then there’s no ethical issue at stake. And I picked it because I really hope we can reduce the amount of suffering in our world.

The problem with discussing an issue like this, though, is that it’s emotive, and so the larger point — we should examine the consequences of our actions in order to clarify our hidden intentions — can get lost in our emotional reactions.

Setting aside any such reactions for the moment, the principle of examining the consequences of our actions extends into almost every aspect of our lives. One example is our interaction with the environment. I know that taking my car to work unnecessarily contributes to climate disruption. And I know that climate change causes suffering to people on the other side of the planet. And yet I still take the lazy route. This suggests that I care less about people if they live far away or if I don’t personally know them, and that I value my comfort over others’ wellbeing. My “forgetting” to do my share of the housework suggests that I have a sense of entitlement, and that I think other people’s job is to clean up after me.

The applications are endless; Buddhism is calling upon us to be radically compassionate, radically mindful of our actions.

The principle that reflecting on the consequences of our actions illuminates our unacknowledged motivations is rarely recognized, but it’s one of the most powerful teachings that the Buddha offered us.

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Buddhists and violence

It’s been reported that Aaron Alexis, the former U.S. Navy reservist who went on a shooting spree on a naval base, leaving 13 people dead, including him, was a Buddhist.

This isn’t of course the first time a Buddhist has acted violently. While Buddhism generally has a peaceful history, Buddhist institutions have persecuted non-Buddhists and those from other Buddhist traditions and have sometimes supported war (Japan in the Second World War is a notable example). And Buddhist individuals have committed pretty much every violent act you can imagine, for their own personal reasons, whether that’s greed, hatred, or, in Alexis’ case apparently, mental illness.

Is it possible, in the face of all this, to say that Buddhism is a religion of non-violence? My response would be, it depends what you mean by “Buddhism.”

There is nothing whatsoever in the teachings of the Buddha that supports violence. This was something that the Buddha never once compromised on. He famously said that even ill will — not violence, but mere ill will — cannot be justified under even the most extreme provocation:

“Monks, even if bandits were to savagely sever you, limb by limb, with a double-handled saw, even then, whoever of you harbors ill will at heart would not be upholding my Teaching. Monks, even in such a situation you should train yourselves thus: ‘Neither shall our minds be affected by this, nor for this matter shall we give vent to evil words, but we shall remain full of concern and pity, with a mind of love, and we shall not give in to hatred. On the contrary, we shall live projecting thoughts of universal love to those very persons, making them as well as the whole world the object of our thoughts of universal love — thoughts that have grown great, exalted and measureless. We shall dwell radiating these thoughts which are void of hostility and ill will.’ It is in this way, monks, that you should train yourselves.”

This may seem like an impossible standard. And in fact it almost certainly is! The point is simply that the Buddha’s teaching does not see ill will as anything but destructive. Ill will is antithetical to the practice is the Dharma. If you’re experiencing ill will, then in that moment you are not following the Buddha’s Dharma.

This rather goes against a certain way that we tend to see things. We tend to think that if a person is a Buddhist then they’re a Buddhist, as if the label “Buddhist” was somehow intrinsic to them, as if it described some permanent attribute they had. But people are not really Buddhists in that way. People who call themselves Buddhists at best follow the Buddha’s Dharma some of the time (perhaps almost all of the time, but perhaps hardly any of the time). When we’re being patient and kind in the face of provocation, we’re following the Buddha’s teaching. When we’re experiencing ill will — or practicing violence — we’re not following the Buddha’s teaching. In fact we’re undermining our own practice. Our “Buddhism” is something that comes in and out of focus, or is even something that goes in and out of existence. When we’re being violent we’re not really “doing Buddhism” — we’re doing something else.

The problem with the word “Buddhism” though is that it encompasses much more than “the teachings of the Buddha.” It can encompass all official or semi-official practices and teachings that have emerged, among people who call themselves Buddhists, since the time of the Buddha. And in this sense, as we’ve seen, “Buddhism” is sometimes violent. Right now monks are instigating violence in Sri Lanka and Burma. They see their religion, or culture, or nations as being under threat by non-Buddhists (Tamil Hindus and Rohingya Muslims respectively). And so they’ve been leading riots and committing violent acts. There’s no justification in the Buddha’s teaching for acting this way, but these actions are still obviously part of “Buddhism” in a wider, cultural, historical sense.

Really we need to use separate terms when we’re talking about Buddhism as the teaching of the Buddha and Buddhism as “the stuff Buddhists do and teach.” The term Buddhism is actually quite new, and a western invention, and, as we’ve seen, ambiguous. It’s probably better to talk about “the Buddhadharma” (a traditional term meaning “the teaching of the Buddha”) and save the word “Buddhism” for the cultural phenomena that have arisen from those teachings, even though they sometimes contradict them. But we’re unlikely to be able to establish or maintain that clarity of terminology, and so we’ll probably have to just keep coming back to saying “Buddhists may be doing violent things, but the things they’re doing aren’t in line with the Buddha’s teachings, which are uncompromisingly non-violent.”

But Alexis was not a Buddhist representative. He’s not a Buddhist teacher. He’s just another tragic figure with a mental illness and access to high-powered weaponry — and a person who, at times, practiced Buddhism. The time he took a gun and used it to kill people is not one of the times he was practicing Buddhism.

Let’s be careful not to say that Alexis wasn’t a Buddhist, though. I saw one person say the following: “While you may here in the coming days that ‘Aaron Alexis is a Buddhist,’ you will know that while anyone may claim they are a Buddhist and anyone can attend services or meditation, that doesn’t make them a Buddhist.” But this is falling into the “No True Scotsman Fallacy,” which in this case takes this form:

  • Buddhists are not violent.
  • Aaron Alexis was a Buddhist and he was violent.
  • Therefore Aaron Alexis was no true Buddhist.

This is a fallacy because it seeks to retroactively exclude Aaron Alexis from the category of people called “Buddhists” in order to preserve the “integrity” of the statement “Buddhists are not violent.” Buddhists can certainly be violent. It’s just what when they are being violent they’re not practicing the Buddha’s Dharma. And when Buddhists are being violent, and in so doing failing to follow Buddhist teachings, they’re therefore not reflecting anything about the Buddha’s teaching except perhaps that in the face of mental illness or extreme emotional imbalance, the Dharma sometimes isn’t enough.

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Violent Buddhists and the “No True Scotsman” fallacy

mel gibson in braveheart

Mel Gibson: Definitely not a “True Scotsman”

I recently had a conversation on Google+ (it’s a social network that’s — in my opinion — a much better alternative to Facebook) about Buddhist violence in Burma. Following the alleged rape of a Buddhist woman in Burma by members of that country’s Muslim minority, there was an outbreak of violence in which 2,600 homes were torched and at least 29 people died.

I condemned this violence unequivocally. There is no justification in the Buddhist scriptures for violence. There is no Buddhist doctrine of “just war” or even of “righteous anger.” The Buddha condemned all forms of violence, and famously said that even if bandits were sawing you limb from limb, you should have compassion for your torturers. In fact he said that anyone who had any anger in such a situation would not be one of his followers.

Now that seems kind of crazy, because every single Buddhist experiences anger. I know I do. Does that mean that the Buddha has no followers? I don’t think so. I think what the Buddha meant was that in the moment of being angry you are not following his teachings. In the moment of being angry we are not pursuing the path of mindfulness and compassion.

But back to that discussion on Google+.

See also:

The original thread I was commenting on was started by an atheist, and she had a number of atheist followers who chimed in, citing the violence as evidence that Buddhism is a bad thing (“full of shit”) was one phrase used. I had a feeling that there was a generalized disdain of religion which was being uncritically extended to Buddhism.

But in what way does it make sense to criticize Buddhism itself because of the behavior of people who call themselves Buddhists? If Buddhism (i.e. the Buddha’s teachings) said “violence is wrong unless…” then, sure, I’d accept the premise that Buddhism is full of shit. But it doesn’t. The Buddha was completely uncompromising on the question of violence. When people are violent they’re not following the Buddha’s teachings.

I articulated the point above, and was accused of employing the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. In case you’re unaware of this fallacy, it runs like this:

McTavish says, “No Scotsman would refuse to help an old lady crossing the road.”

Smyth says, “I witnessed, just yesterday, a Scotsman who refused an old lady’s entreaties to help her cross a busy thoroughfare.”

MacTavish replies, “Ah, but he was no true Scotsman.”

What our dear friend McTavish is doing here is trying to justify an unsupportable generalization when challenged with examples contradicting it. [Full disclosure: I am a True Scotsman.]

So, what does that mean in terms of Buddhists who are violent? Well, given that I would never make a generalization of the type “No Buddhists are violent” I don’t need to backtrack as McTavish did. My statement (and the Buddha’s) is more akin to a definition: “The Buddha’s teaching is to practice nonviolence. When someone is violent, they are not practicing the Buddha’s teaching.

So if I said “Scientists do not falsify results” that could be challenged by someone pointing to examples of scientists falsifying results. I could then fall back on the “No True Scotsman” fallacy by arguing that those cheating scientists are “not true scientists.” I’m attempting (using a fallacious argument) to justify a false generalization.

Now if I say that scientists who falsify results are not doing science, there’s no fallacy involved. I haven’t made a false generalization that I am trying to defend. I’ve made a fairly precise statement about what science does and does not consist of.

Similarly, people who are acting violently are not “doing Buddhism.”

The Buddha’s teachings provide no “excuses” for violence — not even the “he did it first” or the “I was just defending myself” types of excuses. There’s no use of the “No True Scotman” fallacy here — just a clear definition.

Now if only we could remember, as Buddhists, that when we express hatred we cease, at least for a while, to be Buddhists.

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When murderers meditate…

Woodcut of Sakuma Genba Morimasa by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, circa 1820s

I wonder what kind of “meditation” Anders Breivik — who shot 69 people on an island in Norway last year, as well as killing another eight with a bomb — was doing?

According to this report,

When prosecutors Friday asked Breivik whether he felt empathy for others, the killer said he taught himself to dull all emotions – “from happiness to sorrow, despair, hopelessness, anxiety, fear” through meditation.

It’s possible that Breivik was not doing anything resembling traditional Buddhist meditation, which encourages compassion and non-repression of emotions. I’d be 100 confident that Breivik was not practicing lovingkindness or compassion meditation!

Traditionally, meditation is only one part of the spiritual path, and it’s accompanied with an ethical code that strongly emphasizes non-harm. Stripped of this traditional context, there’s no guarantee that meditation alone will make someone a better person.

It’s also possible to practice meditation in an unbalanced way that results in an unhealthy form of emotional detachment and a kind of emotional deadening. Sangharakshita, my own teacher, has mentioned seeing some early western practitioners of the Burmese Satipatthana Method becoming very detached from their emotions and from their physical experience. This seems to have arisen from their having misunderstood the nature of the meditation practices they’d undertaken (or perhaps they had a bad teacher or teachers).

But meditation can be used quite deliberately in ways that are at odds with the Buddha’s teaching. It’s said that samurai warriors would practice meditation in order to quiet the mind and make them better warriors, so this use (or mis-use, from the perspective of the Buddha-Dharma) of meditation techniques would not be new.

I’d encourage all meditators to practice lovingkindness meditation as well as mindfulness practices, and to consciously practice the five Buddhist precepts of undertaking not to kill, take that which is not given, commit sexual misconduct, speak falsely, or indulge in intoxication.

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Martin Luther King and Thich Nhat Hanh

Martin Luther King and Thich Nhat Hanh

On the occasion of Martin Luther King Day, it’s worth reading the letter he wrote to the Nobel Peace Prize committee, nominating the Buddhist monk-activist, Thich Nhat Hanh:

1967 25, January
The Nobel Institute
Drammesnsveien 19
Oslo, NORWAY

Gentlemen:

As the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate of 1964, I now have the pleasure of proposing to you the name of Thich Nhat Hanh for that award in 1967. I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize than this gentle Buddhist monk from Vietnam.

This would be a notably auspicious year for you to bestow your Prize on the Venerable Nhat Hanh. Here is an apostle of peace and non-violence, cruelly separated from his own people while they are oppressed by a vicious war which has grown to threaten the sanity and security of the entire world.

Because no honor is more respected than the Nobel Peace Prize, conferring the Prize on Nhat Hanh would itself be a most generous act of peace. It would remind all nations that men of good will stand ready to lead warring elements out of an abyss of hatred and destruction. It would re-awaken men to the teaching of beauty and love found in peace. It would help to revive hopes for a new order of justice and harmony.

I know Thich Nhat Hanh, and am privileged to call him my friend. Let me share with you some things I know about him. You will find in this single human being an awesome range of abilities and interests.

He is a holy man, for he is humble and devout. He is a scholar of immense intellectual capacity. The author of ten published volumes, he is also a poet of superb clarity and human compassion. His academic discipline is the Philosophy of Religion, of which he is Professor at Van Hanh, the Buddhist University he helped found in Saigon. He directs the Institute for Social Studies at this University. This amazing man also is editor of Thien My, an influential Buddhist weekly publication. And he is Director of Youth for Social Service, a Vietnamese institution which trains young people for the peaceable rehabilitation of their country.

Thich Nhat Hanh today is virtually homeless and stateless. If he were to return to Vietnam, which he passionately wishes to do, his life would be in great peril. He is the victim of a particularly brutal exile because he proposes to carry his advocacy of peace to his own people. What a tragic commentary this is on the existing situation in Vietnam and those who perpetuate it.

The history of Vietnam is filled with chapters of exploitation by outside powers and corrupted men of wealth, until even now the Vietnamese are harshly ruled, ill-fed, poorly housed, and burdened by all the hardships and terrors of modern warfare.

Thich Nhat Hanh offers a way out of this nightmare, a solution acceptable to rational leaders. He has traveled the world, counseling statesmen, religious leaders, scholars and writers, and enlisting their support. His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.

I respectfully recommend to you that you invest his cause with the acknowledged grandeur of the Nobel Peace Prize of 1967. Thich Nhat Hanh would bear this honor with grace and humility.

Sincerely,
Martin Luther King, Jr.

See also:

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The path of nonviolence: six principles of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr

Sunada drew my attention to this detailed exposition by Dr. King on the principles and practice of nonviolence. I thought it was worth reposting in its entirety, especially given the levels of violence being directed against the Occupy protestors, and the need for the movement to remain nonviolent:

First, it must be emphasized that nonviolent resistance is not a method for cowards; it does resist. If one uses this method because he is afraid or merely because he lacks the instruments of violence, he is not truly nonviolent. This is why Gandhi often said that if cowardice is the only alternative to violence, it is better to fight … The method is passive physically, but strongly active spiritually. It is not passive nonresistance to evil, it is active nonviolent resistance to evil.

A second basic fact that characterizes nonviolence is that it does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding. The nonviolent resister must often express his protest through noncooperation or boycotts, but he realizes that these are not ends themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent … The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.

Also see:

A third characteristic of this method is that the attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who happen to be doing the evil … We are out to defeat injustice and not white persons who may be unjust.

A fourth point that characterizes nonviolent resistance is a willingness to accept suffering without retaliation, to accept blows from the opponent without striking back. ‘Rivers of blood may have to flow before we gain our freedom, but it must be our blood,’ Gandhi said to his countrymen. The nonviolent resister … does not seek to dodge jail. If going to jail is necessary, he enters it ‘as a bridegroom enters the bride’s chamber…’ “What is the nonviolent resister’s justification for this ordeal to which he invites men, for this mass political application of the ancient doctrine of turning the other cheek?” The answer is found in the realization that unearned suffering is redemptive. Suffering, the nonviolent resister realizes, has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities.

A fifth point concerning nonviolent resistance is that it avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love …

A sixth basic fact about nonviolent resistance is that it is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice. Consequently, the believer in nonviolence has deep faith in the future. This faith is another reason why the nonviolent resister can accept suffering without retaliation. For he knows that in his struggle for justice he has cosmic companionship… a creative force in this universe that works to bring the disconnected aspects of reality into a harmonious whole.

–Martin Luther King. Jr., in Stride Towards Freedom

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Kia quotes the Mahatma: be the change you want to see

wildmind meditation news

Meena Menon, The Hindu: Thirteen-year-old Naomi Scherr was to write an essay on her trip, an educational experience to India. She was seeking admission to a girls’ boarding school and this essay would have been part of her application. But Naomi and her father Alan, who lived near the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, United States, were killed in the 26/11 terror attack on the Trident Hotel here.

Alan Scherr, a former art professor, had come to Mumbai in June 2008 to scout a retreat for members of Synchronicity Foundation, a spiritual organisation. The group rate offered at Trident had worked out best, and so they were at the hotel at the time of the attack. Alan’s wife, Kia Scherr, 54, in an interview to The Hindu, points out: “A month after my husband was here in June, David Headley too was in Mumbai, scouting locations — such extremes in polarities.”

Counter to terrorism

For Kia, the loss of her daughter and husband is irreplaceable but two years on, she has gone ahead to become co-founder of the One Life Alliance, which will train youth to appreciate the sacredness of life and act as a counter to terrorism. She has been in Mumbai since September and will be here till January next to foster her organisation.

A mission of love

Unlike Synchronicity Foundation, which focuses on meditation, the One Life Alliance is the response of love to an act of terror. “I am not here to teach meditation,” says Kia. The mission of her group is to inspire, encourage and honour the oneness and sacredness of life. After the tragedy, she got thousands of responses from all over the world.

“This shows that as a human race we are connected and we value life. Life itself is sacred. These are the times which require us to be on the move and we are committed to honouring the sacredness of life in ourselves and in each other. Our success as human beings is measured by how we interact with each other,” she explains.

Spirit of Gandhi

“Be the experience you want to see. It’s time to bring back Mahatma Gandhi’s saying — be the change you want to see.” She recalls that as a 15 year-old in her social studies class she was asked to choose a topic and a map to go along with it.

“I was attracted to Gandhi then and I chose him as a topic, drew a map of India and tracked his journey.” The spirit of Gandhi is guiding us now, she says with a smile.

The One Life Alliance is developing sacredness of life education and training programmes.

“How do we honour each other, listen and communicate with each other? Conflicts will have to be resolved in a peaceful manner. We also want to bring together people from conflicting countries apart from creating an online global community.” She met U.S. President Barack Obama at the Taj Mahal hotel during his Mumbai visit.

A waiting grandson

Rahi Gaikwad reports:

Little Harsh was only four when his grandfather Assistant Sub-Inspector Tukaram Ombale was shot dead as he tried to overpower Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab during the 26/11 attack. Two years later, Harsh, now six, still believes his beloved grandfather, to whom he was deeply attached, will return any day.

“Whenever we speak of the incident, or when mother gets very emotional, Harsh says, ‘baba [grandpa] is there; he will come.’ He thinks he is going to come from somewhere. That father has gone out and it’s taking long. He expects him,” Ombale’s daughter Vaishali Ombale told The Hindu.

Ombale has four daughters — Pavitra, Vandana, Vaishali and Bharati. Harsh is Pavitra’s son. “He comes over from my sister’s place quite often as only his presence brings the house alive,” said Vaishali. Ombale would shower gifts on his doting grandson and listen to his prattle on the phone. Since 26/11, that call has stopped, but Harsh still imagines he is answering his call. “He would pick up the receiver and speak into it as if he is having a conversation with father,” Vaishali said.

As time has passed, there are some indications that perhaps Harsh accepts that his grandfather is not coming back. “For Diwali, father would buy him clothes and crackers. We do all that for Harsh, but this Diwali he refused. He said, since baba is not there, let’s not do anything.”

Time has not lifted the pall on the household. Vaishali said she was doing her training through correspondence as she must look after the house. Her mother, who was so shaken after the loss, “is doing better,” she said.

Original article no longer available

Bodhipaksa

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Mumbai: Terror, horror, forgiveness

wildmind meditation news

Natasha Korecki, Chicago Sun-Times: In June 2008, Alan Scherr traveled from the United States to Mumbai in search of a place where his meditation group could hold its fall spiritual retreat.

One month later, David Headley, of the North Side, also traveled to Mumbai — but he was in search of the best place to kill as many people as possible.

Both men picked the Oberoi Hotel.

“They couldn’t have been there for more different reasons,” Alan Scherr’s wife, Kia, says now.

It was in the pristine, five-star setting of the Oberoi where Alan Scherr and his 13-year-old daughter, Naomi, were eating dinner the night of Nov. 26, 2008, when terrorists stormed in and began rapidly shooting anyone in their sights.

The father and daughter were slain in a massacre that rained down on Mumbai in a series of coordinated attacks that eventually killed some 170 people, injured hundreds more and branded that date — 11/26 — as infamous in the city as Sept. 11, 2001, is the U.S.

Headley, whose birth name was Daood Gilani, has admitted that he traveled to Mumbai on multiple scouting missions and relayed information to a Pakistani terror group about the Oberoi, the Taj Mahal hotel and other prospective sites as targets. He has pleaded guilty in a deal that allows him to avoid the death penalty. Now in prison, he is expected to be a critical witness in a federal trial in Chicago early next year in which another Chicago man, Tahawwur Rana, is charged in an alleged conspiracy to aid Headley’s efforts in planning the attacks. Rana denies involvement.

Alan and Naomi Scherr were among the six Americans killed in the attacks and are named as victims in Headley’s plea agreement.

Kia Scherr, of Virginia, was in the U.S. when her daughter and husband lost their lives.

Now, for the first time, she’s traveled to the very place they were killed. She plans to be at the Oberoi for the two-year anniversary of the killings, which is Friday.

But she brings with her a message that continues to stun people:

She’s forgiven the terrorists.

“My life ended in that moment. Life as I knew it ended,” says Scherr. “Everything ended. It’s like dying while I’m still alive.”

Scherr, who earlier this month met President Obama in Mumbai, helped form the not-for-profit group One Life Alliance, which advocates peace and forgiveness. On Friday, about 1,000 people will meet at the hotel to memorialize those who lost their lives in the massacre.

Scherr condemns the attackers but said harboring hatred toward them would not allow her to heal.

“Forgiveness has nothing to do with terrorists. It has to do with me,” says Scherr. “If I hold on to anger, revenge, hatred — I’m basically choosing their experience. That’s like taking poison and hoping your enemy dies.”

But Scherr as well as survivors of the attacks say they don’t want people to forget the absolute horror of the attacks.

• •

It was after 9 p.m. on Nov. 26 when the doorbell rang at a hotel room at another five-star hotel, the Taj Mahal. Inside, retired Cook County Judge Benjamin Mackoff and his wife, Carol, were trying not to make a sound.

Mackoff, a prosecutor for seven years, was in his room packing to go home the next day, Thanksgiving, when he heard the rapid gunfire.

He knew what was happening.

The couple, who had already blockaded the door and muffled the room phone with pillows, sat motionless until the door buzzing ceased.

In other parts of the hotel, terrorists pried open guestroom doors and threw in grenades.

At one point, Mackoff peered through the peephole. He caught a glimpse of one of the terrorists pacing outside, talking to his handler on his cell phone — a conversation caught by Indian intelligence.

In all, Mackoff and his wife were holed up in their room for 42 hours, all the while they listened to gunfire and even screams.

Earlier that night, the Mackoffs dined with friends from Australia whom they had traveled with through India for three weeks. The couples left the open lobby at the hotel for their rooms about 9 p.m.

Minutes later, armed men stormed in and shot up the lobby.

The Australian couple was inside their hotel room where smoke from a fire that was set above their floor began to pour in.

They stepped into the hallway for air — and were shot.

The husband fell first; his wife’s body then dropped on top of his, Mackoff said. But she was able to get up and make it to a stairway and eventually to safety. Her husband, whom Mackoff described as a “dear friend,” perished.

Mackoff has a different take than Scherr on the tragedy and the 10 terrorists involved (nine of whom were killed by authorities during the attack). The only one who was captured alive was prosecuted in India and sentenced to death.

“I don’t forgive the terrorists. But I don’t hold them solely responsible. I think they were used,” Mackoff said. “But they had to know they were killing people.”

Like Scherr, he’ll probably return one day to Mumbai, he says. Not to hold a memorial, but to continue pursuing his love of traveling and photographing the world.

“We’re not going to let those bastards . . . ” Mackoff says, his face becoming flush as he pauses to collect himself, ” . . . tell us where we can go.”

• •

Back at the Oberoi, smoke filled hotel rooms so that those inside could barely see.

Charles Cannon, who headed the spiritual group the Scherrs were traveling with, was holed up in his hotel room as instructed, listening to terrorists battle police.

“We could hear these explosions; volleys of gunfire that just rippled through the whole place,” Cannon said. “When we came out of that hotel [room], it was unrecognizable.

“It was a bombed-out war zone.”

Cannon was asked to identify Alan and Naomi Scherr, a task Cannon described as one of the toughest of his life.

“I had to go into that restaurant, stepping over all these bodies and pools of blood and debris,” Cannon said. “And there were the [Scherrs’] bodies. There they were.”

• •

Headley is accused of funneling intelligence to Lashkar e Taiba, a Pakistani-based terror group that wanted to make a worldwide splash with the siege.

The Chicago case, and Headley’s cooperation, has gained worldwide attention. In recent weeks, controversy has surfaced in India after U.S. authorities admitted they had some intelligence on Headley prior to the attacks.

“I would think he is more culpable than the 10 [terrorists] that landed,” Mackoff says of Headley, who will evade the death penalty in exchange for his cooperation. “But I understand there is need for evidence and he may be the only one who has it.”

Not surprisingly, the event “is something I think that has shaped our lives,” Mackoff said. But, he declares, “It has made us stronger.”

Original article no longer available

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“Taneesha Never Disparaging,” by M. LaVora Perry

Taneesha Never DisparagingTaneesha Never Disparaging is billed as a young adult novel, but it’s a perfect read for all ages, exemplifying how spiritual principles can help us face up to our fears and transform hatred into love.

Taneesha Bey-Ross is a typical fifth-grader, facing her weaknesses and challenges in home, school and daily life. Taneesha is funny, creative, honest, and a loyal friend to Carli, a girl she befriended in first grade. Carli lives with her father and wears leg braces. Taneesha is African-American, while Carli is white. It is on their walks home together after school that they encounter their tormentor — a girl twice their size who bullies them and awakens Taneesha’s “evil twin” Evella, who embodies Taneesha’s inner doubts and becomes her inner tormentor. Through Taneesha we learn that we can conquer our fears and self doubts with humor, compassion, patience and love. In the end Taneesha realizes the bully is exactly the same as herself — with her own frailties, fears, and suffering, and that her bullying is a way of coping with this. This recognition allows Taneesha to connect with her enemy on a human level, and the two become friends. Taneesha’s Buddhist background, and the work she does on herself, makes this possible.

Title: Taneesha Never Disparaging
Author: M. LaVora Perry
Publisher: Wisdom Publications
ISBN: 0-86171-550-0
Available from: Wisdom, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

Taneesha’s parents are Buddhist and have raised her in their faith. The family together shares the rituals, teachings, and spiritual vacations, all along the way chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo (“I devote my life to the wonderful Law of the Lotus Flower Teaching of the Buddha”). Taneesha has been practicing Buddhism since she can remember, and like most children growing up in a faith she does so out of love and respect for her parents. However as she grows into her eleventh year she begins to understand on her own the significance of her beliefs and the power of love. “In that moment, an invisible, cozy blanket wrapped around me and I realized something: It was true, I had to face life on my own. But I wasn’t alone. Even when my parents weren’t with me, their love was. And it always would be.”

M. LaVora Perry has herself been a practicing Buddhist since 1987. She was born and raised in Ohio, where she still lives with her own family. She has received numerous awards and is a contributing writer for many publications.

Perry makes Taneesha Never Disparaging an easy and engaging read. Its two hundred pages offer young readers to explore life in the company of a peer. The writing is powerful and profound, and Perry investigates and explores the inner worlds of young people with respect and compassion. She reminds us all the value of family and the wisdom of parental guidance. She reminds us of the important of the personal quest, and of the need to be heard and to make a difference in the world. This is a must-read for young people, especially in these times, where we are all struggling with conflicts, learning how to love one another in the faces of difference, and faced with the need to cherish ourselves through helping others.

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