Inclusiveness and Acceptance

By Svein Myreng

I had mixed feelings when Thay introduced a new translation of the third paramita as “inclusiveness.” This paramita had previously been translated as “patience” or “forebearance.” I could relate to patience. I could meet a difficult experience in my life, such as illness or painful feelings, and then I could stay with the feelings without trying to push them away. My patient waiting was rewarded when the feelings – sooner or later – would change into something else. With this practice I often was rewarded by learning something about myself. I knew the value of patience as I had frequent practice through illness.

Thay’s way of seeing the third paramita is more radical. I think he’s saying: “Live your life fully even when it’s not pleasant.” I remember a practitioner at Plum Village saying to Thay, “You say present moment, wonderful moment, but sometimes the present moment isn’t wonderful at all. It’s very painful.” Thay replied something like this: “It’s not necessarily pleasant, but it is still wonderful.” This is a deeply non-dualistic attitude. Thay often reminds us that the pleasant experiences depend on the unpleasant ones. If we don’t know hunger, we can’t really enjoy eating. If we don’t know illness, we can’t appreciate our health. By including the difficulties, we open our hearts. There is no separation between what is and what we would wish to be. In contrast, patience implies that I accept the difficulties but hope things will change. This creates separation between our present experience and our desired experience. We are still not at peace.

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After having major heart surgery in 1997, I had a period with intense pain and frequent moments of depression and fear. I cried frequently when I was depressed. When fear was in my mind, I was really afraid. I was almost like a child, physically helpless and direct and in the moment with my emotions. Only to the smallest degree was I burdened with thoughts of how I, as an experienced practitioner ought to react. Looking back, I realize this is the practice of inclusiveness. I experienced life vividly, and in the moments when I was not depressed or afraid, I experienced fully the joy of being alive. I savored each small accomplishment. It was a rich time.

The contrast is clear between this situation and experiences where I search for ways to blame myself or others. Ironically, I find myself falling into blame more frequently with smaller difficulties. When I judge a situation as unpleasant or difficult, I start looking for ways to change it, or make sure it will never happen again. Judging a situation in this way, and then finding someone to lay the blame on, I harden myself and remove myself from a direct experience of life.

Married life has provided me with insights about this pattern in myself. I have seen how  mixed ideas of how something “should be done” easily leads to blaming. When two people come together with different ways of looking at what it means to live as a family, how to do household work, and raise children, there are ample opportunities for blaming. It can be very hard even to see that my way of doing something isn’t the only one, let alone actually letting go of my preference. When something goes wrong – the toddler throws a temper tantrum, dinner is delayed or burned – it’s so easy to think that it must be because my partner handled the situation in a different, less skillful way than I would have done.

People who are married within our tradition receive “The Five Awarenesses” to read together at every full moon. The Fifth Awareness is a strong reminder that blaming and arguing are destructive: “We are aware that blaming and arguing can never help us and only create a wider gap between us.” The point about the wider gap is important. Judging and blaming creates separation, preventing us from seeing both the situation and the other person(s) involved with clear, compassionate eyes. Reading the Awarenesses makes me more aware of the patterns which lead to this way of being. I can observe myself more clearly, apologize when I see that I am unfair, and rejoice in the times when I act responsibly without blaming.

Inclusiveness is easy when life is pleasant. It is including the things we don ~ like that is the challenge. When we don’t accept a trying situation, again we create separation and conflict. Acceptance doesn’t mean being passive or condoning injustice. Acceptance is to calm down inside, and see the situation clearly. Sometimes, this leads to change quite naturally. At other times, we see that we have to just be with the situation as it is. We may find we can have space in our hearts for difficult situations or people, or we may find this just too difficult. Our limits vary according to our well-being at a given moment. Sometimes, we have to accept the fact that we aren’t accepting of the present moment.

We often judge a difficult situation by making a fixed image of it and comparing this image to an ideal. This is too simple. Even a difficult situation contains elements that are joyful, but the fixed image makes it impossible for us to see them. Thay’s poem about the tree that’s dying in his garden is about this. Even if one tree is dying, there are other trees that are alive and beautiful. By looking only at the dying tree, we make the situation much worse than it needs to be. By changing our perspective a little, it is easier to have an open, inclusive attitude. We can develop our ability to change perspectives through practice.

We also blame ourselves. When something goes wrong, it must be because someone made a mistake – perhaps it was me? Often, we are quick to blame ourselves before others blame us. Blaming can be a very intricate business. Behind the tendency to blame, there are fixed opinions of what is the “Right Way” and behind the fixed opinions, we often can find fear. The little child within us who was afraid of being blamed, the self-image that we keep on gluing together, these are the fearful ones. Can we meet them – in ourselves and in others – with acceptance and tenderness?

When we don’t accept ourselves, we create a separation between the way we are right now and the way we think we ought to be. I’ve been surprised to see how harshly I can judge myself. However, when I am able to embrace my humanness fully, I experience real peace, because the conflict between reality and ideal disappears. I can also be the garden with many beautiful trees even if one of them is dying.

Many spiritual teachings, including teachings of Buddhism, are focused on helping people change themselves, which support our tendencies to not accept ourselves as we are. Thay’s teaching is revolutionary as it deals with living in a good way right now and not trying to change into someone else. Instead of striving to reach a future promise of self-improvement or even enlightenment, Thay’s teaching deals with no striving at all. The beautiful paradox is that precisely when we don’t strive, a real change can come about quite naturally.

Svein Myreng, True Door, is a Dharma Teacher who lives in Oslo, Norway, with his wife, Eevi Beck, and their two-year-old son, Kyrre.

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Welcoming New Flowers to Our Sangha

by Ben Matlock, True Equanimity of the Sangha

Editor’s Note: The Boston Old Path Sangha created a ceremony to welcome children to this life and to the Sangha. You might consider offering this ceremony to the children in your Sangha, especially to newborns. You can change and add to this format with your own creativity. For instance, it is lovely to chant the child’s name to her or him as part of a welcoming ceremony.

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A three-tiered altar was created; on the top level was a statue of Avalokiteshvara, candles and flowers. On the second level was an empty vase; on the lowest level a bowl of consecrated water with a willow branch. Everyone sat in a circle, with the parents and the children being celebrated nearest the altar. In front of each family was a bud vase with a special flower and a branch, and gifts offered by the Sangha. Across from the altar was a basket filled with one kind of flower.

Before the ceremony began, it was explained that the children were to be the focal point of the event, and were invited to remain through the entire ceremony, even if the traditional periods of silence were interrupted.

Opening the Ceremony Three Bells
Sitting Meditation, five minutes
Incense Offering
(Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book, page 315)
Introductory Words
“Children are the flowers of the Sangha. Today the community has gathered to recognize two new flowers. We begin by expressing gratitude to our ancestors so that we can recognize that these dear children are the continuation of our spiritual and blood relations. Please open your hearts to these children and to the teaching they can provide us. They will also need our guidance and support along the paths they follow as they live their lives.”

Naming the Children

“Dear parents, please state clearly the name of the child you present this day.” (Each name followed by a bell). Each child is sprinkled with water.

“May your name lead you and us to realize the beauty of your suchness and may it be a continual bell calling you to an understanding of your true nature.

“The water on this branch is the clear fresh balm of compassion. May these children be treated with compassion in their lives and thus learn to have compassion for themselves and others.

“Parents, please tell how the child you present today has come to be known by his or her name.” (Parents tell us why they chose the names they did.)

(two bells)

The Five Awarenesses

“Dear parents, you have become the special guardians of these precious children. If you choose, you can be supported greatly by the Three Gems. The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha will provide you spiritual support. The Five Awarenesses provide the context of your understanding of your special role. Know that this community will continue to support you in this practice. Consider reciting these awarenesses on the full moon each month. Hearing the sound of the bell, please say the five awarenesses in the presence of this community that wishes to support you.”

We are aware that all generations of our ancestors and all future generations are present in us. (bell)

We are aware of the expectations that our ancestors, our children, and their children have of us. (bell)

We are aware that our joy, peace, freedom, and harmony are the joy peace, freedom, and harmony of our ancestors, our children, and their children. (bell)

We are aware that understanding is the very foundation of love.

(bell)

We are aware that blaming and arguing can never help us and only create a wider gap between us; that only understanding, trust, and love can help us change and grow. (two bells)

Welcoming the Children into the Sangha

(Said by all) “Dear Children, we welcome you into our family and promise to allow you to flourish in our midst. We honor you for the gift you are. May you always experience the true refuge of compassion when you are with us. To help manifest the energy of compassion, we now invoke the name of Avalokiteshvara twenty-one times. While we chant, please enjoy assembling a community of flowers in the empty vase as a symbol of our own community’s flowering. One at a time, take a flower from the basket and place it in the vase.”

Each Sangha member bowed first to the altar and then to each of the children. At the end, the parents added the children’s flowers to the vase.

(Sing Recitation of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara’s Name from PV Chanting and Recitation Book, page 343, second variation.)

Hugging Meditation

“Participants are invited to turn to each other and practice hugging meditation as a form of Beginning Anew to close the ceremony and demonstrate that we are welcoming these new flowers with open hearts and harmony between each other.”

The ceremony unfolded in a lovely mix of formality and informality. At one point one of the children helped invite the bell. He did this several times, each time listening to the results of his actions. The other baby found the written program quite tasty and chomped down with great enthusiasm. Laughter came with great ease when something tickled our funny bones. A festive potluck lunch marked the end of the day’s events.

mb36-Welcoming2Note:  The water was consecrated by a few of us before the ceremony using the form in the Blessing Ceremony found in the PV Chanting and Recitation Book, page152.

The Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book is available through Parallax Press, iamhome.org.

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Full Moon Ceremony with Plum Village

By Joann Malone and Patrick Smith 

mb61-FullMoon1Ten years ago this summer, my husband and I learned a mindfulness practice at Plum Village that has since nourished our home and our marriage. The leader of our Avatamsaka family group, Shantum Seth, suggested that all the couples in our group renew their wedding vows each month on the full moon. After several beautiful talks on love by Thay, a signing of the Peace Treaty, and a Beginning Anew Ceremony in our large family group, we couples gathered in the evening around the lotus pond. As the full moon rose over the trees, children exclaimed and songs burst forth from hundreds of people from dozens of countries. Supported by the entire PV community and summer retreat participants, we pledged to love one another with loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. The children released paper boats they had made onto the pond and brought us special full moon treats to feed one another.

We have continued to practice with Plum Village each month in our home, simply by gathering our candle, bell, and chant book, and standing near the kitchen window where we have the best view of the moon. We light the candle, invite the bell, and recite the Five Awarenesses:

  1. We are aware that all generations of our ancestors and all future generations are present in us.
  2. We are aware of the expectations that our ancestors, our children, and their children have of us.
  3. We are aware that our joy, peace, freedom, and harmony are the joy, peace, freedom, and harmony of our ancestors, our children, and their children.
  4. We are aware that understanding is the very foundation of love.
  5. We are aware that blaming and arguing never help us and only create a wider gap between us, that only understanding, trust, and love can help us change and grow.

These deep truths have seeped into our consciousness with our monthly renewal, allowing us to wake up more quickly when challenged by blaming or becoming angry at one another. Our deepening awareness helps us stop, breathe, and look at one another with more love and understanding. We remember that joy, peace, freedom, and harmony are possible in any moment. We are always loved and supported by our ancestors, our children, their children, and the worldwide Sangha. Our love for one another helps transform our ancestors, our children, their children, and the world.

Our monthly vow renewal was particularly powerful for us when we were in Miami to memorialize my niece, who had passed away at age thirty-eight from a brain aneurism. This sudden death, caused by lack of medical insurance for high blood pressure medication, brought great sadness to our family.  Additionally, as the family gathered, secrets were revealed that possibly could have led to violence. The night before the memorial service, the full moon appeared over the ocean and reminded me that it was time to recite the Five Awarenesses. We invited my brothers, sister-in- law, and other niece to join us. The words “understanding is the very foundation of love,” recited by family members feeling deep conflict with one another, brought enough peace into our midst to hold off actions that might have further divided us and increased our suffering.

The Full Moon Ceremony, along with daily meditation together, the Peace Treaty, the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, our teachers, and our  Sangha (the Washington Mindfulness Community), brings stability and peace to our family. We are so grateful to Thay and Plum Village for supporting us on this path of love. Happy 30th Anniversary.

mb61-FullMoon2Joann Malone and Patrick Smith, True Collective Practice and True Collectie Beauty, live in Takoma Park, Maryland.

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