Monday, February 9, 2009

I and Thou

We were visiting my step-son and daughter-in-law and our grandchildren in Pasadena, CA for Thanksgiving when the attacks in Mumbai took place. Witnessing the events from over here (USA) was eerie for me, as I have often been to the places where the attacks occurred. I have clear memories of being in those places and moving about that part of Mumbai while leading groups who had come to India to participate in programs on Gandhi and nonviolence. At times while I watched it unfold on a TV screen or a computer monitor there was a sense of unreality about it, a feeling of being a step removed from it all, and I was 8,000 miles away. However, at other times it felt very close and real as these were places and people as familiar to me as the streets and shops and neighbors in my hometown here in the USA.

What I didn’t want to feel close and familiar to me were the intolerance and prejudice that appeared to motivate those who were perpetrators of the violence. Yet, try as I may, I can’t hide from the automatic, habitual reactions of intolerance and prejudice in one form or another toward individuals and groups that still surprise me when they often arise. The work with these habitual reactions is two fold: through practice replacing these habits of thought and feeling with more wholesome ones; and, in the mean time, acknowledging that they are there while preventing them from shaping my behavior.

These habitual reactions of intolerance and prejudice are also one of the things the perpetrators and I have in common. As much as I want to consider myself different or separate from them, and though my behavior is different from theirs (the forms of violence and the harm I participate in are less physical and more subtle), I share with them the same feelings born of judgments and fear. We are not separate. Love and compassion and understanding of and for them are possible. While their behavior is condemned and must not be tolerated, it is possible to love them, to genuinely and sincerely seek their well being.

These reflections bring to mind these words quoted from the Buddha often by a dear friend and wise teacher from India: “Practice the simple truth that that man (one) there is thou.”

Chris Klug

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