Letting Go of “Sides”

In this world, a lot of harm is caused by righteousness, including those of religious views.  Unitarian Universalist congregations are a very special community.  You have done what many people are unable to do, let go of the divisions between religions.  We may have not considered that letting go of  “sides” is an important part of our spiritual journey. To complete it, we are instructed to let go of everything, all views entirely. I expect just giving voice to this idea causes lots of views to arise in your minds. Great! Let’s be brave.

Exerpted from the Chinese teaching poem: Faith-Mind by Seng-ts’an, Third Chinese Patriarch

The Great Way is not difficult for those not attached to preferences. When not attached to love or hate, all is clear and undisguised. Separate by the smallest amount, however, and you are as far from it as heaven is from earth.

If you wish to know the truth, then hold to no opinions for or against anything. To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind…Indeed, it is due to our grasping and rejecting that we do not know the true nature of things.

Observing the intensity of the polarization in our nation and communities, we can certainly accept that for and against is as a disease of our contemporary society.

In the Buddhist philosophical tradition we have one description of the path towards enlightenment distilled into eight accomplishments and symbolized as an 8-spoked wheel. One spoke on that wheel is Right View. Even the translation Right View is misleading because the concept is multi-layered, more an evolving of understanding.  At the beginning of our journey, when our minds are childlike we need to be encouraged to observe the difference between healthy and unhealthy behaviors, or that which causes harm to ourselves and others. All traditions have a moral code, views of right and wrong. However there is complexity and breath of understanding of spirituality as we mature. Can we lie to save a life for instance?

When our behaviors are tamer, we investigate where we wish to go. Using concepts, we describe enlightenment and the path to the fruition of our journey. We develop views about which belief system has the most clear and helpful understanding of that fruition. In Tibetan Buddhism we have a philosophical debate system. It sounds like a football game when the monastics are debating views about which Buddhist tenet systems are the most complete.  Finally, we put our theories into practice and investigate our minds in meditation, using the views as a support for understanding. As we progress finally let go of all views because they are in fact concepts not realizations. Our religions and philosophies are conceptual, to finally free our minds we let go, even of this raft that has held us on our journey. Right View is ultimately letting go of all views.

Hold on you might be thinking about now. Of course there is clear right and wrong justice and injustice. How can I advocate something like this as a spiritual path?

We might identify truth or fruition in all traditions as the capacity for profound wisdom and compassion. When we examine what this really means in Buddhism, it is the vastness of peaceful mind not bound by conceptuality. It is the nature of limitless compassion, a clear, spacious, compassionate, wise mind. Like the sun shining and the rays reaching the whole earth, the enlightened mind it is not discriminating. It does not judge which beings to help, which are deserving and which are not. Unwavering from the state of wisdom and kindness, one sees the suffering of all beings and has the wisdom to know what is needed.

What about taking action? What does it look like when we don’t frame our thoughts and actions as for and against with righteousness as in justice and injustice?

Thicht Nhat Hanh taught his students in Vietnam to serve the people without taking sides in the war. Students  brought food and medicine to the North and South even as bombs dropped, and were vilified for not taking sides. Thicht Nhat Hanh himself worked untiringly for peace, at the Paris Peace talks, and in the US, the land of the bombers of his countries’ villages. After the war, because he had not created consepts of enemies, he was able to facilitate reconciliation between US army veterans and Vietnamese people. In the bigger picture, he did not stop one war but he did bring a lasting peace to many minds and through the clear peace, joy and dignity of his meditation practice, this peace is rippling internationally.

How do we start exploring letting go of sides? Begin by noticing how pervasive this kind of thinking is, how quickly concepts of like and dislike arise in our minds.  Can we feel the subtle contraction of our mind when we give rise to dislike in fairly simple situations? Rather than judging ourselves for having this very universally human disease, can we examine our minds like scientists. Like rooting for Super Bowl teams, what happens in my mind when I take a side. Can I simply look at the mental experience.  What about things I feel very strongly about. When I feel close to righteous about an opinion, what is happening in my mind? Is my experience of my mind vast and open? One of the trainings for meditators in the caves is to examine love and hate and question if there is a difference, what is the quality of openness in the heart of our experience of strong emotions.

Having any view involves judging and or defending. We can ask is my mind in this moment soft open flexible or closed. Am I creating habits of mind that are leading where we want to go or reinforcing habits in the opposite direction?

From the Buddhist perspective the most pervasive subtle and insidious “for and against” is the notion of I and thou. The belief that we are separate and independently existing rather than interconnected. This is the primal ignorance that is the root of suffering. It is also a constructed view of mind. Look at how we define me and mine. My family couple, plus children, plus aunts and uncles cousins great and grand nieces and nephews?  We construct boundaries and determine how far and wide we stretch our heart. I will honor the life transitions and joy markers of these people, the hopes and dreams of these people. They are my family, they are important to me so much so that I will rejoice and grieve with them, do everything in my power to help them to be happy. Look at how arbitrary these boundaries are. The day you got to he pound there are one hundred anonymous dogs and cats.  You choose one and in that moment, they are yours and you want the best for them, feed them care for them, provide medicines and toys.

What if every crying child was equally important to us, every child held in our hearts as our family. Shantideva teaches:

I should eliminate the suffering of others because it is suffering; just like my own suffering.  I should take care of others because they are sentient beings just as I am a sentient being.

If one thinks that the suffering that belongs to someone is to be warded off by that person himself, then why does the hand protect the foot when the foot does not belong to the hand?

Hands and other limbs are thought of as the members of a body. Shall we not consider others likewise- Limbs and members of a living whole?

Just as I defend myself  from all unpleasant happenings, however small. Likewise I shall act for others’ sake to guard and shield them with compassion.

May we truly understand this mind that has the capacity to love limitlessly like the sun shines, with no barriers or reservation.