Friday, October 19, 2012

Modern Applications of the Buddha's Teachings on Love and on the Suffering Attributable to Misperception

Previous installment:"The Suffering Caused By Misperception"

by Jack Lawlor

Love is a universal message in world religions. Buddhism, however, may be unique among religions in its emphasis on the need to prevent the injury and tragedy caused by human misperception.

Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh urges us to cultivate the following qualities through the engaged, consistent practice of meditation based on mindful breathing in order to live in love, free of misperception in the manner suggested by the Buddha:
  1. The cultivation of stopping, or "Shamatha" in the Pali language: i.e., to recognize and let go of compulsions and prejudices which cause misperception;

  2. The cultivation of concentration, or "Samadhi". Everything in our culture encourages distraction and reduces our ability to concentrate, thwarting our ability to understand what is actually going on;

  3. Dwelling in "Appamada", the absence of madness. Once we cultivate stopping and concentration, we dwell in awareness, free of misperception that causes us to say and do things we do not understand;

  4. The cultivation insight, or Vipassana. Once we dwell in concentration, our perception clears, and we can see and understand underlying causes and conditions not only effecting us, but others. We are capable of seeing and understanding things from the vantage point of other beings;

  5. The cultivation of compassion, or Karuna. Once free of our own obsessions and misperceptions, we better see and understand what is going on, how we have an impact on others, and how they influence us, opening the way to compassion; and
  6. The cultivation of understanding, Prajna. The practice of compassion deepens our understanding of the radical impermanance and interdependence of all beings, giving rise to wisdom.
There's another set of exercises which Thich Nhat Hahn urges his students to practice when encountering uncertainty and confusion. They might be practiced in U.S. Air Force and CIA drone command posts, safely tucked away thousands of miles from violent operations. Rather than live compulsively, driven by habit energies, Thay suggests that we first take refuge in mindfulness of breathing, and then ask ourselves:
-- Am I sure of what I am doing? If we are not sure, the moral thing to do may be to refrain from action until deep looking and inquiry suggest what we should do or not do;

-- What am I doing? Am I trying my best to do technical read-outs nin my drone's computer and surveillance camera, or am I killing someone who may not even be the person my government has labelled a "terrorist' on the basis of information unknown to me. What am I REALLY doing?

-- Am I giving into habit energy? What tendencies and beliefs have I inherited from my nation, my family, my society? Do I need to question and challenge their resort to violence under these circumstances? Isn't the use of violence at odds with other things I have been taught by the nation, the family, the society I love?

-- Are my acts making it possible for all beings to live, to be their best? In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, it is believed that all beings have bodhicitta, the heart and mind of love that is capable of manifesting both compassion and wisdom simultaneously, not only for one's own benefit, but for the benefit of all beings. Will my actions injure the bodhicitta in others? If they do, won't my acts cause ever escalating levels of suffering?

Next installment: "The Nearsighted Drone"

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