With the Sangha

by Mark Chmiel

Yesterday Brian, Melissa, Katie and I met in my home for our sangha’s second Saturday of the month meditation.  We listened to a talk Thich Nhat Hanh gave 30 years ago, in which he advocated being in contact with real suffering.  One example he gave was when he, Phuong, and their friends visited refugees in camps around Hong Kong; the misery  of the children, in particular, was heartbreaking.   When he came back to Paris, and saw the lives people were leading, a question arose in him: “How can people live like this [in Paris] when things are like that [in the refugee camps]?”  He claimed that when you are in touch with that kind of suffering, you can become an instrument of compassion.

Another example he gave was how his students in the School of Youth for Social Service after the 1968 Tet Offensive chose to bury the bodies of the dead that were left all over the place.  No one else dared to give the victims a burial; it was too dangerous.  After having sat in meditation to prepare themselves, the young students did that demanding work.  The students did mindful breathing, even mindful smiling, as they picked up the bodies and placed them on trucks.  Thich Nhat Hanh said that the young people had no other way to respond than with such mindfulness.

We then shared some of the precepts from the Vietnamese Buddhist Order of Interbeing. Maybe one of them will speak to a person or two at this blog…

Do not believe that I feel that I follow each and every of these  precepts perfectly. I know I fail in many ways. None of us can fully fulfill any of these. However, I must work toward a goal. These are my goal. No words can replace practice, only practice can make the words.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Do not think that the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice non-attachment 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.

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 narrowness.

Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world.  Find ways to be with those who are suffering by all means, including personal contact and visits, images, sound. By such means,  awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world.

Do not lose yourself in dispersion and in your surroundings. Learn to practice breathing in order to regain composure of body and mind, to practice mindfulness, and to develop concentration and understanding.

Do not utter words that can create discord and cause the community to break. Make every effort to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

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 you are not sure of. Always speak truthfully and constructively. Have the courage to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten your own safety.

Do not kill. Do not let others kill. Find whatever means possible to protect life and to prevent war.

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