Monday, September 2, 2013

My Thoughts On War

People say war is sometimes necessary, using Hitler as an example. But if we hadn't ignored the poverty in Germany he never could have gained power. We always wait until conditions have deteriorated so much that dictators take over. Then we say there are no non-military options to deal with it. There is always ample warning before a dictatorship forms. It doesn't happen overnight and we know the conditions that enable it. It can be stopped, nipped right in the bud.

Even though we have endless examples to learn from, we still act as if there's no way to predict a dictatorship forming and therefore no way to stop it. Like the fly that hurls itself into the glass door over and over and over, we are certain that if we do it just one more time it will somehow work out differently. But it doesn't. It can't.

War isn't necessary. It's the end product of years of indifference and willful ignorance.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Yesterday an errand took longer than expected and I wound up far from home in need of lunch. I popped into a small Thai restaurant for a bowl of curry. When I was almost finished, a man came in to pick up his take-out order. When he left, the Thai waitress came over and said he had paid my tab. 

I was just stunned. I've heard of this happening but it's never happened to me. She said often monks come in there and others pay their bill. I looked around the small restaurant-- every table had 2 people except for one, where a man was checking out the menu. I whispered to the waitress that I was gonna pick up his tab when he ordered. She said it wasn't necessary, but you know I was giddy like a little kid just thinking about paying it forward.

I paid and left there on cloud nine. I was a kinder and more careful driver. I smiled all the way home. I was more loving towards my dogs and flowed into a stressful situation that arose for one of our beloved sangha members. Today my heart still feels softer and more open. It was such a beautiful example of how one person's act of kindness has a ripple effect that can never be measured.

And that curry was totally awesome. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Letter to Adam, The Newtown Killer

I love this response from Douglas Bachman, an American Buddhist monk living at Thich Nhat Hanh's monastery in France. He displays the profound compassion of the Buddha's teaching-- that it isn't enough to forgive those who harm, but that we must have the courage to see ourselves in them and them in ourselves, and that we must change ourselves in order for the world to change. The original link is here. I'm posting the letter in case the link expires.

A Letter to Adam, The Newtown Killer
Saturday, 15th of December, 2012 
Dharma Cloud Temple
Plum Village
Dear Adam,
 Let me start by saying that I wish for you to find peace. It would be easy just to call you a monster and condemn you for evermore, but I don't think that would help either of us. Given what you have done, I realise that peace may not be easy to find. In a fit of rage, delusion and fear—yes, above all else, I think, fear—you thought that killing was a way out. It was clearly a powerful emotion that drove you from your mother's dead body to massacre children and staff of Sandy Hook School and to turn the gun in the end on yourself. You decided that the game was over.
But the game is not over, though you are dead. You didn't find a way outof your anger and loneliness. You live on in other forms, in the torn families and their despair, in the violation of their trust, in the gaping wound in a community, and in the countless articles and news reports spilling across the country and the world—yes, you live on even in me. I was also a young boy who grew up in Newtown. Now I am a ZenBuddhist monk. I see you quite clearly in me now, continued in the legacy of your actions, and I see that in death you have not become free.
You know, I used to play soccer on the school field outside the room where you died, when I was the age of the children you killed. Our team was the Eagles, and we won our division that year. My mom still keeps the trophy stashed in a box. To be honest, I was and am not much of a soccer player. I've known winning, but I've also known losing, and being picked last for a spot on the team. I think you've known this too—the pain of rejection, isolation and loneliness; loneliness too strong to bear.
You are not alone in feeling this. When loneliness comes up it is so easy to seek refuge in a virtual world of computers and films, but do these really help or only increase our isolation? In our drive to be more connected, have we lost our true connection?
I want to know what you did with your loneliness. Did you ever, like me, cope by walking in the forests that cover our town? I know well the slope that cuts from that school to the stream, shrouded by beech and white pine. It makes up the landscape of my mind. I remember well the thrill of heading out alone on a path winding its way—to Treadwell Park! 
At that time it felt like a magical path, one of many secrets I discovered throughout those forests, some still hidden. Did you ever lean your face on the rough furrows of an oak's bark, feeling its solid heartwood and tranquil vibrancy? Did you ever play in the course of a stream, making pools with the stones as if of this stretch you were king? Did you ever experience the healing, connection and peace that comes with such moments, like I often did?
Or did your loneliness know only screens, with dancing figures of light at the bid of your will? How many false lives have you lived, how many shots fired, bombs exploded and lives lost in video games and movies?
By killing yourself at the age of 20, you never gave yourself the chance to grow up and experience a sense of how life's wonders can bring happiness. I know at your age I hadn't yet seen how to do this.
I am 37 now, about the age my teacher, the Buddha, realised there was a way out of suffering. I am not enlightened. This morning, when I heard the news, and read the words of my shocked classmates, within minutes a wave of sorrow arose, and I wept. Then I walked a bit further, into the woods skirting our monastery, and in the wet, winter cold of France, beside the laurel, I cried again. I cried for the children, for the teachers, for their families. But I also cried for you, Adam, because I think that I know you, though I know we have never met. I think that I know the landscape of your mind, because it is the landscape of my mind.
I don't think you hated those children, or that you even hated your mother. I think you hated your loneliness.
I cried because I have failed you. I have failed to show you how to cry. I have failed to sit and listen to you without judging or reacting. Like many of my peers, I left Newtown at seventeen, brimming with confidence and purpose, with the congratulations of friends and the approbation of my elders. I was one of the many young people who left, and in leaving we left others, including you, just born, behind. In that sense, I am a part of the culture that failed you. I didn't know yet what a community was, or that I was a part of one, until I no longer had it, and so desperately needed it.
I have failed to be one of the ones who could have been there to sit and listen to you. I was not there to help you to breathe and become aware of your strong emotions, to help you to see that you are more than just an emotion.
But I am also certain that others in the community cared for you, loved you. Did you know it?
In eighth grade, I lived in terror of a classmate and his anger. It was the first time I knew aggression. No computer screen or television gave a way out, but my imagination and books. I dreamt myself a great wizard, blasting fireballs down the school corridor, so he would fear and respect me. Did you dream like this too?
The way out of being a victim is not to become the destroyer. No matter how great your loneliness, how heavy your despair, you, like each one ofus, still have the capacity to be awake, to be free, to be happy, without being the cause of anyone's sorrow. You didn't know that, or couldn't see that, and so you chose to destroy. We were not skillful enough to help you see a way out.
With this terrible act you have let us know. Now I am listening, we are all listening, to you crying out from the hell of your misunderstanding. You are not alone, and you are not gone. And you may not be at peace until we can stop all our busy-ness, our quest for power, money or sex, our lives of fear and worry, and really listen to you, Adam, to be a friend, a brother, to you. With a good friend like that your loneliness might not have overwhelmed you.
But we needed your help too, Adam. You needed to let us know that you were suffering, and that is not easy to do. It means overcoming pride, and that takes courage and humility. Because you were unable to do this, you have left a heavy legacy for generations to come. If we cannot learn how to connect with you and understand the loneliness, rage and despair you felt—which also lie deep and sometimes hidden within each one of us—not by connecting through Facebook or Twitter or email or telephone, but by really sitting with you and opening our hearts to you, your rage will manifest again in yet unforeseen forms.
Now we know you are there. You are not random, or an aberration. Let your action move us to find a path out of the loneliness within each one of us. I have learned to use awareness of my breath to recognise and transform these overwhelming emotions, but I hope that every man, woman or child does not need to go halfway across the world to become a monk to learn how to do this. As a community, we need to sit down and learn how to cherish life, not with gun-checks and security, but by being fully present for one another, by being truly there for one another. For me, this is the way to restore harmony to our communion.

(Douglas Bachman--Br. Phap Luu-- who grew up at 22 Lake Rd. in Newtown, CT., is a Buddhist monk and student of the Vietnamese Zen Master and monk Thich Nhat Hanh. As part of an international community, he teaches Applied Ethics and the art of mindful living to students and school teachers. He lives in Plum Village Monastery, in Thenac, France.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Diary of a Buddhist Nun

Found a stinkbug in the house. Carried him outside and shook him off my hand. He flew a foot and then landed in a puddle of water. Looked like he wasn't gonna learn to swim fast enough. Plucked him out with a leaf. Put him down on the ground where he immediately rolled onto his back and got stuck. Rolled him over. Reminded him I cannot spend my day babysitting his accident-prone little stinky self. Reminded myself that if I had let him stay in the house in the first place, none of this would have happened. LOL

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Beneath My Celebration Today, There is This

Though I don't find common ground with Republicans on political issues, I have empathy for their deep sense of fear today, as they watch what they consider to be their stable world crumble into dust.

They were in complete denial of the tidal wave of support of Latinos, women and African Americans for President Obama and Democrats. Somehow they thought that if they kept insulting enough of those people it would fire up enough of the remaining folks and they'd win the day. They thought that they could lock women back down into "traditional" roles once again-- subjugate them, demean them and hopefully even turn them back into property with just a few more laws. They thought their white privilege was more powerful than the voices of people of color. They truly thought most Americans hated gay people they way they do.

It's clear they didn't see this coming.

May they open their hearts to change instead of slamming them closed with deeper hatred and bitterness.  The world could sure use their energy if they focused it on benefiting beings.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Late Night in the Hood

I was up until 3 am last night. A neighbor came over to my yard at midnight while I was out letting my dogs go potty. She beat around the bush for a bit with small talk about the dogs and then suddenly burst into tears. It turns out her dad had just died and she wanted to talk to someone "spiritual" about it. By midnight I'm all done in, but I couldn't turn her away. I invited her in and just let her talk.

I knew I'd pay for it big-time today. By the time morning came I could barely stand up. I've had to double my steroids for the day, maybe tomorrow too. But you know, she was at peace when she left.

We didn't talk about Buddhism, we didn't talk about any religion. We talked about compassion-- for one's self and for others. We are all united by the common denominator of suffering and by the ability to transcend it through compassion.