May All Beings Be Reconciled: A Meditation on Reconciliation
Each month, Tricycle features articles from curious mind archive. curious minda Buddhist journal that was printed from 1984 to 2015, has a growing number of articles from its back issues available at www.inquiringmind.com (to help curious mind complete your archive by making a donation here). Today’s selection from the Fall 2004 issue, Reconciliation.
“My mind fills with anger every time I see his face or hear him speak,” reports one student. “I find myself wishing them all ill will,” said another in a pained voice, ashamed of her own reactions. “I just can’t practice goodness for these people,” said a third. Over the past three years, many meditation practitioners have had to deal with such emotions as they struggle to find Buddhist peace of mind from national events and political leaders they view as harmful. Similar feelings of outrage, seething anger, or disgust, are frequently reported by students dealing with a difficult person at work, a betrayal by a teacher or friend, the painful breakdown of a marriage, or an unfair family situation. .
At meditation retreats and in my weekly meditation group, students often ask me what they should do in circumstances where hostility and feelings of separation have persisted despite hours of loving kindness practice and repeated attempts. of forgiveness. They are well-trained students who understand that their feelings only cause pain to themselves and that anger often gets in the way of wise action. Yet their feelings of frustration and rage persist.
It’s quite an enigma. How do you find a way not to succumb to outrage and alienation while maintaining your passion and drive for the hard fight for justice and social good? Likewise, when your marriage dissolves, how do you let go of anger, bitterness, and blame while standing up for what you believe is right, especially when children are involved? A student recently told me that she doesn’t trust herself to meditate. She found herself seething the moment she got off the cushion because it had increased her fixation so much about how badly she had been treated by both her ex and her former in-laws. A retired man – flooded with despair over the recent loss of his family when his wife left him for another man, taking their two children with her – asked if he should just go home. “Maybe I need antidepressants, not meditation,” he sadly proclaimed.
Over the past five years, in both retreat and daily practice situations, I have offered reconciliation practices to students as ways to work with their experiences of hostility and alienation. In many cases, students reported dramatic reductions in their emotional turmoil. Particularly in difficult marital and family circumstances, they have found that consistently working with reconciliation meditation has ultimately enabled them to move forward in their lives.
Reconciliation means “to restore compatibility or harmony” and “to restore the sacred”. It is also defined as “to make coherent or congruent” – for example, to reconcile your ideals with reality. When you practice reconciliation, you both come to terms with the truth that there are painful differences or polarities between you and the other right now, and, rather than letting your hearts close to each other, you seek to align the mind/heart to include them as they are. Including all people and all conditions in your experience is congruence taught by the dharma. You recognize the truth of interdependence and non-separateness or, as Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, that we “inter-are”. In his book Old Path, White Clouds he devotes an entire chapter to the teaching of reconciliation from the vinaya.
Vipassana Meditation is a way to cultivate insight by being aware of what is happening and happening. The practice of reconciliation is the alignment and softening of the heart come to terms with this moment as it is. When you are reconciled, your experience returns to wholeness because nothing is left behind. Then there is the possibility that insight will arise.
Reconciliation begins with the recognition that there are substantial differences. It doesn’t depend on those differences disappearing, and it certainly doesn’t imply that you will become everyone’s best friends. On the contrary, the intention to reconcile is the wish to be connected to the sacred unity of this moment despite all differences and, recognizing the truth of this unity, find harmony with any situation, however painful. This does not mean that you should passively approve or accept unhealthy actions. Nor should you give up passionately defending what you believe to be right. It just means that you do it while treating the other as sacred, like the “you” so aptly expressed by Martin Buber. This is the understanding reflected by the Dalai Lama when he refers to the Chinese as “my friends, the enemy”.
Reconciliation is not an end point of practice. It is a starting point to continue to free your heart.
A student of mine had been “frozen with anger” for many months, unable to cope with the practicalities of divorce, struggling to forgive her husband even as he continued a series of hurtful actions. She finally realized that his blockage was due to his implicit request that he change. Through the practice of reconciliation, she was able to accept him as he was and negotiate a separation that minimized the turmoil for their young child. A second student, to his surprise, actually reconnected with his estranged wife once he came to terms with some personality difficulties. Another person was able to let go of long-felt outrage at an abusive father, while another found that an intolerable supervisor at work could actually be tolerated, even respected.
In none of these cases did the students report strong feelings of compassion and caring for the other person. Instead, each student felt a release from an inner tension that had blocked their acceptance of the truth of the way things were. Once the truth of the moment was accepted, each of their situations could be worked through in a way that brought inner peace, and sometimes even outright resolution. They were able to reconcile whether or not their antagonist is involved in the process, and it feels good!
Reconciliation is not an end point of practice. It is a starting point to continue to free your heart. Through reconciliation, you gain the momentum toward loving-kindness – unconditional good-will flowing freely from the heart unhindered, independent of conditions. The Dalai Lama gives off such a feeling. The woman who was finally able to divorce her husband can only now experience moments of loving-kindness towards him as another being “who just wishes to be happy”, as the Buddha taught. Similarly, the student with the difficult boss reports that on some occasions, when his boss takes action, there arises the “trembling of the heart” of compassion for such a tormented soul. Reconciliation provides the recognition and alignment which allows such qualities of heart to emerge.
One student reported success in practicing reconciliation with political leaders he found loathsome. He imagined his opinions and feelings as constituting a circle of existence and the values and awkward actions of politicians as a separate circle. Through reconciliation, he came to realize that there was a third, larger circle of existence containing the two smaller circles. This understanding allowed him to find some harmony with people he had previously despised. I sometimes call this larger circle the “ground of reconciliation”. By resting there, one can avoid “taking birth” in the small circle of a separate identity.
The practice of reconciliation can also be brought into the wider community. A long-term vipassana student in Arizona formed an organization of fellow lawyers who engaged in the practice of reconciliation. Members of this group recently agreed to represent divorced spouses in settlement talks, on the understanding that if the parties cannot reconcile their child and material disputes out of court, both lawyers will resign. In Greensboro, North Carolina, community leaders launched a truth and reconciliation commission modeled on the one in South Africa in an effort to reconcile community differences over the 1979 killings by members of the Ku Klux Klan.
It is worth remembering that the Buddha constantly urged us not to cling to opinions and taught that hate never conquers hate. Even the famous murderer Angulimala had the opportunity to experience reconciliation through the Buddha’s compassion and benevolent love.
May you reconcile with those with whom you have had difficulties in your life. May all beings everywhere be reconciled. May the merit of your reconciliation practice be to the liberation of all beings.
May all fathers and daughters be reconciled.
May all mothers and sons be reconciled.
May all mothers and daughters be reconciled.
May all fathers and sons be reconciled.
May all brothers and sisters, sisters and sisters, and brothers and brothers be reconciled.
May all mothers and fathers be reconciled.
May all husbands and wives, lovers and partners be reconciled.
May all friends and foes be reconciled.
May all teachers and students be reconciled.
May all communities and their members be reconciled.
May all countries and their citizens be reconciled.
May all warring nations be reconciled.
May all races and religions be reconciled.
May all people everywhere be reconciled.
May all peoples and this Earth be reconciled.
May the merit of this practice be to the liberation of all beings.
Excerpt from the Fall 2004 issue of curious mind (Vol. 21, No. 1) © 2004 Phillip Moffitt
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