Tesshin opened his talk this week by musing on the 2019 Nobel prize in medicine. The award went to two doctors studying how the body can sense and adapt to different levels of oxygen in the blood. At the core, this work reinforces the essential importance of breathing. As we know, and Tesshin reminded us, breath is at the core of everything we do which is why it is the first teaching in our practice.
Tesshin next continued with a discussion on plans for the Yorktown Interfaith Clergy to host the Thanksgiving message “Hate Has No Place Here.” One would think that a message like this would be uncontroversial and expected from a group of clergy. However, it appears that in today’s climate, even this message has many contentious interpretations. One potential objection to this message is a “coded statement” for being against a “conservative” immigration policy. It would appear that the term “hate” is a code word for “Immigration.” Tesshin stopped here and reminded the group about how our mind creates a private narrative which prevents us from seeing the real world for what it is. This prevents people of good will from having serious conversations because they are not communicating with each other, but rather with their own personal narratives.
So what does it really mean for hate to have no place here? Tesshin started by pointing to a fact constantly reinforced in Zen – we are all the same thing – and because of this we MUST have compassion for everyone – even those we do not agree with. As an example, Tesshin cited a case this week where Ellen Degeneres, a ‘progressive’ entertainment personality attended a sporting event with George Bush, a ‘conservative’ former president. Ms. Degeneres was heavily criticized for this. Her response was so simple and elegant that it is repeated below as she said it …
“… Here’s the thing,” she continued. “I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different, and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s OK that we’re all different. … But just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them.
“When I say, ‘Be kind to one another,’ I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do,” she said. “I mean be kind to everyone.”
Tesshin stated that Ellen was asking us to be kind to everyone – not just who we like or agree with. Is this simple and easy to do? – no! Is there a limit? Should we be kind to a mass murderer? Well, Buddhism would say that we should always have compassion – even if we need to dispense punishments – it is all about motivation. One can discipline without hate – one can resist and passionately disagree without hate. THIS is what is meant by hate has no place here!
Tesshin next talked about a part of the Jewish scripture discoursed during the Yom Kippur holiday. This day is part of the Jewish “high holidays” and is centered on atoning for one’s sins. The story discussed is the parable of Cain and Able. In the story Cain kills his brother out of envy and God punishes him by banishing him. Tesshin pointed out that this marks the first murder of a man and is the origin of hate in mankind. Cain asks, “am I my brother’s keeper?” The parable is asking – must I have compassion for my fellow man? Must I have compassion for the one who I totally disagree with? Should Ms. Degeneres be seen with former president Bush? Do we keep friends who we disagree with politically, are of a different race, or hold different religious beliefs? This story reminding us NOT to act like Cain!
Tesshin wrapped up the talk by stating that this is where practice happens according to Buddhism. It is easy to shun hate in the abstract, (e.g. save all sentient beings) but very hard in our day to day dealings with others. “Hate has no place here!” is not an injunction to be numb to injustices. It is also not a plan to “meekly agree with everyone” to avoid conflict. It is an understanding that we are all of the same ‘thing’ and all want the same thing – namely the alleviation of suffering. We must always remember this. It is this commonality which drives universal compassion and which forms the core teaching of our practice.
Lastly, Tesshin wanted to encourage everyone to attend the Garden of Hope fall celebrations on Saturday, October 26th at 5pm. Details are on our events page