A beautiful letter written by Tathālokā Bhikkhunī
Dear friends in Dhamma, friends in Nature, fellow earthlings, beloved companions in birth, ageing, sickness and death,
I normally write a letter to you each year on Easter and/or on Earth Day. This year, when i came online on Easter Sunday here in the forest, i was greeted by messages of the terrorists bombings and deaths in Sri Lanka. With questions of “Are __ OK?”. Faces and images of terror, shock, grieving, disassociation, incomprehensibility, shock, mourning, courage and care. Stories of those we know closely, or those who lost someone or more than one very dear one that they loved, or those who are unaccounted for. Images of dear places we have been recently: Colombo, Negombo, Mt Lavinia/Dehiwala, with love and metta in our hearts for the people, the land, all the living beings.
I feel glad, in many of the messages to see the words, images and heart of Sri Lanka Buddhists who i/we know: words of consolation, of peace, of harmony, of unity — of solidarity. Proactively supporting non-hatred, non-retaliation. A deep wish for no more violence. Expressing solidarity with those of other Christian, Muslim and Hindu faiths while decrying such acts of terrorism. Seeking understanding, a deeper understanding, and care for causes. I deeply appreciate this. I am glad to see that so many are able to truly grieve, as i also am together.
This grieving has been a great training for me in these past years of monastic life, in this path of practice. It is a great boon of the Mindfulness teachings and practices, and those of Metta, of the Brahmaviharas, and of Insight. I feel the healthiness of being able to feel what is felt, in body, in feelings and in mind, with awareness, with compassion, with kindness, and with progressively growing insights. Recognizing any impulses that are there, whether when seeing people crying and holding one another — to cry and hold one another together in love. Or for doubt over the questions of “why???” to be held together, and turned to real and deep inquiry into “what are the real underlying causes of such behaviors, such actions?” “Why do people, human beings, behave in such ways?” And, “what is there in this Dhamma that can help us to understand and care well, wisely and kindly, for these underlying causes?”
Yesterday, i was explaining something to someone near me who was sitting with me. They politely told me that they couldn’t see or understand my point of view. I replied to them, “If you had experienced what i’ve experienced, you would understand!” There is a deep truth and insight there that is very important to know, to understand in ourselves, and with regards to all others–every other living being. Even for non-living beings: if we had experienced what they have experienced, we would be like them.
I am grateful for the Dhamma that i’ve encountered, which among life experiences, has made such an enormous difference as to my views. More difficult and self-destructive or lashing-out tendencies which used to arise are, if not gone entirely, so lessened in power and harmfulness, so much more able to come under the scope of insight, understanding, and workability. Alternate and far more healthy ways to hold and care for what arises until it settles, or to bring to it the light of awareness, in kindness and/or equanimity, until the underlying ignorance dissolves and transforms into seeing and knowing are available in my kuti (little hut), and wherever there is body and mind. Means to replace an “ineffective coping mechanism” with something which has much better chances of working well are available and in cultivation in my forest garden, and wherever there is awareness. It is such a great training!
I come back again and again to the old verses from the Dhammapada, attributed to the Buddha in the Pāli-text canon. The Buddha mentions a deep ancient law, a timeless Dhamma here:
Hatred never ends through hatred.
By non-hate alone does it end.
This is an ancient truth.
Na hi verena verāni,
Averena ca sammanti,
esa dhammo sanantano.
– the Buddha, Dhammapada v 5
So we return to allowing what is harmful, unwholesome, unskilful, unhealthy — to be released, set to rest, untangled, unbound, released, freed. And to know and experience, in doing so, the nature of the mind and heart that is healthy and free.
There is a strong imperative, when we truly see our mortality, to do so. If we don’t know when we will be the ones: what matters most to us now? We is important to resolve? To let go of? What care is important to take? What to forgive? What love to show? And what to give? Then, whether our life is a long or short one, or we die today, we will do so happy and well, and at peace. And whether we have another life, or we don’t, we can be comfortable and at ease with having done the work of hearts, done what needed to be done–kataṃ karaṇīyaṃ–as is said in so many of the suttas, by those who were greatly appreciative of the Buddha’s teaching and experiencing the benefits of it for themselves.
I feel this principle is also deeply important for us with regards to the current state of our climate and environment, likewise — so as not to go to extremes of denial and disassociation or of falling down the pit in despair and mortification.
Here too, there is so much of vital importance in the Buddha’s Middle Way teaching to help us see, feel, know and recognize whatever can be known of what we are experiencing, and to care for that well, in such beautiful and healthy ways. Among all those responding in different ways, may we be the ones who know how to care well for ourselves, and able to share with others how to do so, kindly, with understanding, as peacemakers.
May we be among the ones who are willing to looking deeply into causation, into the conditional causes, in our own minds and hearts, in our cultures, in our behaviors, fearlessly and honestly, and willing and able to practice renunciation with regards to behaviors, both personal and systemic, that are causes of harm. And to generation and development of the behaviors which are not.
May we, because we have discovered something in ourselves about how to live in balance and harmony, consciously bring that knowing, or that practice of Right and Wise Mindfulness and Right and Wise Effort into all our choices in our ways of life and relationship with one another. So that the growing number of Buddhists, practicing the Noble Path folds of Right and Wise Action and Right and Wise Livelihood, may hold up a lamp and beacon to others who also wish to know, who so need wise examples. Not preaching, but showing both how we can care for our own hearts, bodies and minds, and well as our Right and Wise Relationship with One Another, and with our Earth, our Home.
These are brilliant, inspired and inspiring ideas. They come with an imperative to rise up, to look within, and to do and offer our very best. And they come together with very practical tools for doing the work, in ourselves, that is called for. Including the times of stopping, and very deeply looking within. And, they are good no matter what. Come what may; these tools and what we gain with them will be helpful for us, and helpful to share with others.
Doing so, truly, we should not suffer crises of meaning. Or if we do, we will have the tools to get to the bottom of that crises, that is, to turn towards, touch into, and fully live our deepest sense of meaning and purpose, not separated from this, our hearts. We should then not suffer crises of despair, the utter despair of the heart when we feel so separate, outcaste and denied of real meaning. Or when we feel such despair, we may know how to touch into and hold and be with this, our hearts. We may not be separate from the great heart of love and compassion which can hold absolutely everything just, truly, as it really is. No matter what. We have this. We can do this. And through doing so, our hearts grow deep, well, wise, beautiful, beyond all bounds, and we experience the great freedom. As well as that special great wisdom through which and in which all things are reconciled.
There are those who do not truly understand,
that we all must perish;
For those who truly understand thus,
all quarrels come to peace.
Pare ca na vijānanti,
mayaṃ ettha yamāmase;
Ye ca tatha vijānanti
tato sammanti medhagā.
– the Buddha, Dhammapada v 5
Dear friends, I’ve written long to you today thanks to the energy offered by those who offered lunch and afternoon medicine drink this evening. Thanks also to those who’ve offered the keypad and screen, as well as the solar panels, batteries and satellite service :). And thanks to those who have offered the most wonderful healing energy and space of this great and beautiful forest that we call Aranya Bodhi. We need the refuge of such time space to cleanse and heal our bodies, and heal our hearts. Together with the greatest of medicinal balms that is the Dhamma.
With much love and blessings to you, and to us all,