Friday, November 14, 2014

The Heart of Understanding

I woke up this morning with a long to-do list feeling less than.

It's not an unusual emotion for me which is why it's both exhausting and debilitating to give in to the feelings that I'm not enough on a fairly regular basis.

Planning my day while carelessly sifting through my news feed, I came across a headline that a few days ago, an amazingly holy man, Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hahn was admitted into a hospital suffering from a brain hemorrhage.

If you're not familiar with Thich Nhat need to get yourself to a local bookstore or peruse Amazon for one of the 100+ books he's written and savor your acquaintance.

As a brief overview, he's a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk who has dedicated his 88-years to a life of non-violence, peace and understanding.  His writings are powerful, poignant, simple, and hard to embrace, especially for this Westerner.

I first found him in my philosophy courses in undergrad and then in my comparative religion classes and finally, by my bedside for life.

The first book I read was "The Heart of Understanding," and on a day like today, the following passage resonates wildly.

In the West you have been struggling for many years with the problem of evil. How is it possible that evil should be there? It seems to be difficult for the Western mind to understand. But in the light of non-duality, there is no problem: As soon as the idea of good is there, the idea of evil is there. Buddha needs Mara in order to reveal himself, and vice versa. When you perceive reality in this way, you will not discriminate against the garbage in favor of the rose. You will cherish both. You need both right and left in order to have a branch. Do not take sides. If you take sides, you are trying to eliminate half of reality, which is impossible.

I spend much energy and time judging the parts of me that are deemed bad or less than...trying to eradicate them in favor of what I think is favorable.  But the truth is, I can't.  I've tried really hard for a really long time and for me, it doesn't work.  In fact the harder I try not to judge or to feel less than, the more that I do.

Instead, I think Thich Nhat Hanh is encouraging us to live with both.  You can't know the deliriousness of joy until you've felt the gut wrenching cringe of sorrow.  You can't appreciate unconditional, nonjudgmental love until you've been slapped with selfish, all-consuming behavior.  You can never extract the bad, the hurt, the fear, the wrong, the evil...the best you can do is to recognize that it exists alongside the good.

The journey is to journey with both of them forever.

It's a daunting task.  But unfortunately, it's not negotiable, it's the beauty and the pain of life.

The faster that we stop fighting and the sooner that we embrace both sides, the quicker we are able to savor all that life has to offer.

I pray that I can have 88-years to live out these ideas.  What a beautiful life.

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