One of the most difficult practices of Buddhism, I have found, is to give up territory. The territory I’m talking about is the ground of “I’m right…” “I know what’s best …” “I have the solution…” “I’m smarter, more experienced…” This is the territory of me-me-me and mine-mine-mine.
Unfortunately, it can even take hold of one’s spiritual life…that tedious “holier than thou” stance.
When territorialism is exposed on the world stage ethics seem more clearly defined. There is right and wrong, and those who are in the wrong deserve punishment, or even death.
Not necessarily so, says the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and famous teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. In his book “Being Peace” he recounts the story of a young refugee girl who was part of a group of refugee “boat people” — and who was raped by a Thai sea pirate. After being raped, she jumped overboard and killed herself by drowning.
Thich Nhat Hanh refuses to condemn the pirate for the rape, or the girl, for committing suicide. Instead, he asks us to imagine that we are that pirate, and then goes on to ask us to imagine that we are that young girl.
Thich Nhat Hanh believes that we are all interconnected, and that to kill the pirate is to kill a part of our own humanity. Controversial talk such as this immediately sets the heart on fire…with anger…not compassion. My mind understands what Thich Nhat Hanh is getting at…my heart refuses to follow.
I believe in win-win as an ideal…but I am light years away from realizing it on a deep level as Thich Nhat Hanh does.
I am trying. As I followed the most recent sea pirate drama I at least could restrain my emotions long enough to ask, “What global imbalances and injustices allow for men to become pirates?” Surely these are acts of desperation, committed by desperate people.
But I also have to be honest with myself. If our Vermont hero had died in the recent piracy abduction…would I be this contemplative?
I have always found Thich Nhat Hanh to be both stunningly clear, yet a bit dangerous. To see him in person is to be exposed to “Roses and Steel” — and to know his background is to understand that he isn’t just talking ideals on some lofty level — he has been through hell on earth, and has dealt with grief, anger, a sense of injustice…abandonment and out-casting.
Yet to watch him in person, as he continues to “talk his walk” well into old age, is beyond being just inspirational. It’s mind blowing.
One can almost feel the flames of compassion leaping from his heart…a place where anger once burned.
I believe in win-win and have seen it work for me in my personal life in smaller but no less significant ways. When I allow for even just a small amount of breathing space…and give up some of my territory…so that the “other” has the freedom of mind and heart…amazing things have happened.
I may end up with a smaller piece of the pie…but what I get is always enough.
I’m not a person who easily forgives. Or forgets. But I find that holding on to anger doesn’t always make me feel better. It’s not a very practical solution.
I have come to understand that win-win doesn’t mean everyone gets what they want. It just means that the prize is peace-of-mind, and for that territory must be released.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.