Prayer

This morning I attended another minute of silence, this time for those who died and who are currently suffering from the devastation of Grenfell Tower in London. As I stood in the little shop (Rainbow Apothecary) with Claire and a new shop assistant (sorry, I didn’t catch her name) I opened my soul out towards those who have been devastated by this latest tragedy. I could feel a wave of grief, rolling across this nation, across all these islands as yet more lives have been lost, this time due to utter negligence. The anger that was felt on Friday night as people took to the streets was muted, and here was a space for quiet mourning, for healing and for prayers.

I also thought of the man who was killed outside of the mosque at Finsbury Park last night, as a man in a van drove up the pavement and started hitting people, with an agenda that he stated which was to “kill all Muslims”. I pray for strength for his family, and for those who are in hospital, and for the human spirit to be healed, so that terrible events like these stop happening in this country, or in any country.

I prayed for those in Portugal, whose homes and lives have been destroyed by forest fires. I prayed for the 17 year old girl in the US who was killed on her way home from the mosque. I pray for the 65.6 million people were displaced in 2016, (more than the population of Britain, and half of them children), and even more this year.

I prayed for all who are suffering.

I prayed to My Lady for healing for all those affected by disaster. I prayed to those who are still looking for loved ones, who are in hospital, who are confused and don’t know where to turn. May they find the help that they need, and may they find strength for the coming days. I prayed to My Lord to help guide souls across, who may be wandering in the devastation and ruin. Most of all, I prayed for peace.

Prayer and silence are necessary, for the emotions and trauma of the events to find a place within your soul, a place where they can be felt and expressed with understanding and respect.

May there be peace in our hearts and minds, and towards all fellow beings.

 

Engaged Buddhism

Witnessing a discussion on social media made me a little uneasy at the way people treat other people whom they believe are wrong, either in virtual or real life.  I have seen this in the past many times; sometimes it is abuse, mockery, or belittling – yet each time it stops and makes me think about what I am doing to affect the world, looking at my reasoning, my motives, my intention. What I have been working on this past year is that those who disagree with us, those who challenge us, those who we absolutely hate, those we think are harmful to our world – all these people we need to accept.

Accept, you say?

Acceptance, yes, but in an egaged way.  This is not passivism.  Thich Naht Hanh coined the phrase “engaged Buddhism”, and this is active compassion in trying to create a better world.  Essentially, we accept that there are people out there who are different from us; we accept the world for being the crazy, mixed up, sometimes awful, sometimes beautiful place that it is.  We do not mock other’s beliefs, just as much as we do not condone the beliefs of others that we think are harmful and that cause suffering.

It’s a little hard to get the head around this concept. It’s taken me months to see where that balance point lies.

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote 14 principles of engaged Buddhism. The first one is the best.

“Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.”

I personally love this. It reminds us that ideas are just that – ideas. It also demonstrates that everyone’s perception differs in slight or large ways, and that being bound up in our opinions can cause huge amounts of suffering.  Our opinions are constantly changing – as we learn and grow, as we sacrifice ignorance, we change.  This is reflected in the second principle –

“Do not think the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice nonattachment from views in order to be open to receive others’ viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times”.

Number three covers the area of engaged Buddhism, where we confront issues that we think could be harmful to others.

“Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education. However, through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrow-mindedness.”

Note that here the key word is compassion – compassion is creating an understanding of all points of view and working respectfully with that new understanding to find a resolution if there is confrontation. Sometimes resolution cannot be found, but that does not mean we should stop trying, for who knows when the tides may turn? Thich Naht Hanh worked tirelessly during the Vietnam War, helping those who suffered from the tragedy that conflict brings. He never took a side, and was therefore looked upon with suspicion from both sides, eventually exiled from Vietnam after he went to speak in the United States about ending the suffering caused by war.

So often people think that the Buddhist notion of compassion is loving all things and allowing yourself to become a doormat.  The ninth principle covers this neatly;

“Do not say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people. Do not utter words that cause division and hatred. Do not spread news that you do not know to be certain. Do not criticize or condemn things of which you are not sure. Always speak truthfully and constructively. Have the courage to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten your own safety.”

It is possible to speak out against an injustice in the world, against something you believe is wrong, without using words that cause division and hatred. Thich Nhat Hanh has been doing this for over half a century.  Using hateful terms, mockery and discredit of a person’s character are usually our first instincts in a confrontational situation. Stopping, pausing and truly thinking a situation out before you speak or act can result in much smoother and compassionate dialogue.  Instead of instantly reacting to a situation, you are engaging with the other person, not seeing an “Us and Them” concept but one of a unified world, where we are all connected.  I personally do truly believe that what we say, we are. Having studied the Buddhist principle of Right Speech on the Eightfold Path for a while now, it has changed my behaviour, how I act instead of reacting to a situation.  It has really been an eye-opener.

These are but a few principles of this concept of engaged Buddhism – more can be found out through his book,  ‘Interbeing’: Fourteen Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism, revised edition: Oct. l993 by Thich Nhat Hanh, published by Parallax Press, Berkeley, California.

May our hearts be open so that we can love those who challenge us, and in doing so create a world where harmony instead of discord is the song that we sing. It can be so tremendously difficult when those who challenge us are harming others with their actions.  May we engage instead of reacting. May we speak from our hearts, with love, compassion and kindess.

(To see all fourteen precepts of engaged Buddhsim, you can read them here)

Listen

They key to understanding and compassion often lies in the art of listening.  Many people hear what you say, but not many truly listen.

Often, when we are “listening” to someone speak, we are already forming our own replies in our minds before the person has even finished speaking.  It is impossible to actually truly listen to what they are saying when we are doing so. I make a conscious effort to truly listen, and still occasionally slip up, catching myself and saying “Listen”.  And when the person has finished talking, and I’ve truly listened, then I reply, if the answer is worthy.

The art of listening, I fear, is dying.  It isn’t simply physical sound, but also when we read articles, books – other people’s words in any form – that misinterpretation can happen because we are not truly listening to them, as we are too involved in our own opinions and attachments to the subject matter.  After developing the art of listening, I find that I am reading books that I read a year or two years ago, and I am getting so much more out of these books, as I am simply paying more attention to the voice contained within the pages, and not my own.

I remember watching a parliamentary debate for the first time on television, and being astounded at the complete disregard there was for not only listening, but even hearing.  Party members would get maybe a sentence or two out before their opposing party made as much noise as possible, expressing their displeasure before the person had even finished speaking. I remember thinking “is this the way that adults really talk to each other?  No one can understand anyone else – what is the point?” It was rude and obnoxious, and saddened me that these were the people who were running the country.

Have you ever observed two young toddlers together, who haven’t learned to speak yet? More often than not, they will make noises and “talk” to each other, and the other will listen with rapt attention before replying.  I love this so much – how is it that we have forgotten this simple wonder of sharing and communication with another human being?

On the internet, it is even easier to misinterpret, to not listen, because most of the time we don’t even consider that the person we are talking to is even a real person – they are an abstraction, an online presence of the real person.  It allows for rudeness and trolling as well, which would, I hope, never happen in a real life situation with people you don’t even know (and worse if it is people that are known!). So many people will read a blog such as this, and not truly read it, but coming in with their own opinions, and without the art of listening, not really understand the message that is coming across.  In our dualistic society, we have cultivated a culture of Us and Them, and if you are not with Us, you must be with Them, therefore what you have to say is irrelevant – oh, and I’m going to comment on your post. Or worse, people skim read and then comment – it is as disrespectful as interrupting someone in mid-sentence, or a parliamentary debate.

We can develop the art of listening in the Spring, when all of nature is awakening to the returning warmth and sunlight, the life-giving rains and flows of energy that run through the land and our very own souls.  Go outside, and truly listen.  Don’t simply think “I hear birds”.  Really, really listen to each bird in the multitude, not merely hearing their song but truly listening.  You will find a connection with that soul, and from there meet the multitudes of other souls we share this little planet with. You will also step outside the chattering of the self and experience a world of so many souls you cannot even begin to count, giving a much bigger perspective of the world by stepping away from the self.

In Druidry, especially in the Bardic traditions, we learn the art of listening.  To play music, to sing a song, to tell a story, to recite history, to satire current affairs, we need to really know the subject, to take it deep within ourselves and make it a part of our own story before we can tell it with any sort of meaning.  In order to do so, we must first listen with every fibre of our being – not just with our ears, but with our hearts and souls as well. Imagine if you did this with everything – your cat, your next door neighbour, the rising moon, a politician, the spider on your wall.  Everything has a story worth telling, and worth listening to.

When we listen, we make a connection that transcends the superficial relationships that are so prevalent in today’s society.  We reach out, soul to soul, in love and in respect, with honour.  We don’t even have to like the person, but we can still do so honourably, acknowledging their words as expression of their souls, which is turn is an expression of everything in the universe.

It gives a whole new depth, a whole new dimension to explore, and is well worth the effort.