Sangha makes Senbei

Our Sangha has a blast getting together to make senbei crackers for our food bazaars! We spend a Saturday rolling, cutting, and frying dough; coating the crackers with sauce and baking them; and bagging it all up for sale. It's such a great time to chat with and get to know other members of the sangha better, have some free lunch, and at the end of the day you can even munch on the reject sebei.

Sangha makes Senbei

Annual Sangha Picnic

Every summer our Sangha gets together for a picnic. We enjoy beautiful weather, delicious food, and good company.

Annual Sangha Picnic

Sangha Movie Nights

Occassionally we host a Sangha Movie Night where we show a Buddhism-related film for the Sangha. Past screenings have included Departures and Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring at The Magic Lantern, and Secondhand Lions at The Shop. Keep an eye on our news page for information about the next Sangha Movie Night!

Sangha Movie Nights

Dharma Talks

Knowns and Unknowns

Presented by: 
Ken Mondal

Please click on the link for Ken's Dharma Talk

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Emptiness

Presented by: 
Kenneth Mondal

Emptiness

Several weeks ago Sensei Paul gave a wonderful Dharma Talk on the lack of inherent existence of all phenomena including ourselves. The term that we use for this in Buddhism is Emptiness. Understanding this concept is crucial to understanding the Four Noble Truths about Suffering. But it’s not good enough to just understand Emptiness from an intellectual level. It is only when we start incorporating the concept into our daily lives that real progress occurs in eliminating our three poisons of ignorance, anger and attachment. Our ignorance about the true nature of reality keeps us stuck in a world of conventional reality forever cycling in Samsara or Cyclic Existence. We suffer a life of endless afflictions and blind passions causing harm to ourselves and others and creating the negative karma for further suffering in future lives. Beneath the layer of conventional reality that we are all familiar with is a river of ultimate reality. The truth of how things actually exist. Once we can truly see this reality we can escape all our suffering and develop the compassion and determination to help others attain wisdom as well. This understanding of the nature of reality and the desire to bring others along on this path is what Enlightenment is all about.

In the Jodo Shinshu tradition of Buddhism it is accepted that as lay practitioners unable to spend years in study and meditation it can be next to impossible to attain full realization of the ultimate nature of reality. For that reason we take refuge in the infinite wisdom and compassion of Amida Buddha so that we can be reborn in the Pure Land where all causes and conditions will be conducive to attaining Enlightenment. My understanding of the Pure Land is that it’s not necessarily a place that we will go but rather a mental state where the clouds of ignorance have been lifted.

Emptiness is a very hard concept to wrap one’s mind around. I will humbly try to put my own personal spin on the subject. Wish me luck.

WHO AM I REALLY?

This is me. This is me. (Show the image of the human body). Can you all see me? Look closely.

Here I am. (A tiny dot on the human body.) I am not the entire body but rather just one tiny cell.

The whole body actually represents our entire world. There are 37 trillion cells in the human body. So I am only one cell among 37 trillion other cells. So it is quite unlikely that I am the center of the universe. Don’t we all think this at one time or another? But do I even exist? Of course I exist. Just not in the way I think I exist. (Here’s your conventional reality vs ultimate reality being present simultaneously. We usually are only aware of the first). Now is my single cell important for the health of the body? You bet it is. Just remember what happens when one cell goes astray and becomes a cancer cell. It can ultimately destroy the body. Perhaps Adolf Hitler could be thought of as a single cell that went badly nearly destroying the body of humanity. There have been many cells throughout history which became cancerous. But fortunately they are overshadowed by all the good cells that have kept the body safe and alive.

So, we have established that no matter how I like to delude myself I am not the center of the universe and that I do exist but just not in the way I think I exist. Am I permanent and unchanging? No. Am I inherently existent? In other words, did I create myself? No. Am I independent of all the other cells in the body? Absolutely not. In fact, take my cell out of the body and see how long I would stay alive. Now what about that Kenny cell? It is slightly different from the other 37 trillion cells. But the difference is minute. Actually 99.999% of the Kenny cell is exactly the same as the rest. And when you start dissecting my cell down into its basic parts you don’t find anything that is inherently Kenny. It’s just minor variations in the arrangement of those parts that distinguish me from the other cells. In other words, we are all basically the same. And if you take those atomic building blocks and arrange the carbon atoms a little differently I could just as easily be a tree cell instead of a human cell. What’s more my cell is changing moment to moment as are all the cells. I appeared in the human body because the causes and conditions were compatible. When those causes and conditions expire so will I.

Now most of us grew up in a society that believes in a soul. Something that we are born with, doesn’t change and passes with us at death. We tend to agree that our physical bodies deteriorate and die. But what about our spirit? What about our basic essence or soul? We definitely think and have feelings and emotions. We are sentient beings. But our thoughts and emotions are as impermanent and changing as our bodies. If you accept a Buddhist world view we are a stream of consciousness changing moment by moment. Nothing inherently existent. And what passes on after death is that continuous stream carrying with it the seeds of our positive and negative actions. In other words, our karma.

I was given the name Kenny when I was born. But what did that mean? That label only took on a meaning as I grew up and started having life experiences and accomplishments. And that label has changed continuously as has my body and my mind. It’s kind of like a river. If you go down to the Spokane river and look at it and then turn away for five minutes and look at it again.

Is it the same river? The water passing through it has changed and even the bank and course has changed albeit imperceptibly.

So what is my purpose in life? It is to be a happy cell. And how can I be a happy cell if the rest of the body is suffering. It’s not possible. If the Kenny cell is not thinking, speaking and acting in a wholesome and virtuous way it can easily become that cancerous cell that will multiply and destroy the body. I am totally dependent on the other 37 trillion cells for my happiness and very existence.

Emptiness is a confusing concept. It doesn’t mean absence of existence. It means that we don’t exist as an independent entity with our own nature that is unrelated to other factors. We are not self-produced, independent, unchanging and permanent. We exist due to causes and conditions. We are made of parts that are not inherently us. And our sense of identity or “I” is really like an illusion; something that is conceptually fabricated by the mind based on our body and mind and life experience that are in constant flux. Our ignorant view of ourselves goes hand in hand with an ignorant view of our environment and everyone in it. We think everything exists in the same independent way and has its own essence. In addition, we inflate our own importance, thinking our happiness is more urgent than everyone else’s and our suffering hurts more than others. We judge everything with regard to how it affects us positively, negatively or neutrally. Judging in this fashion creates attachments and desires for the things we like, aversion or hatred for the things we don’t like and apathy toward everything else. And generally the things we like are things that satisfy our insatiable ego-driven desire for possessions, sense pleasure, praise and a good reputation.

Unfortunately, the self-centered mind is never quite satisfied. These desires and aversions create a multitude of defilements including anger, greed, jealousy, pride and prejudice. We all want to be happy and avoid suffering yet our self-centered attitude causes us to think, speak and act in ways that are totally counter to our happiness and the happiness of others and actually keeps us in the perpetual cycle of suffering, known as Samsara. Our physical, verbal and mental actions are called Karma. Our actions produce effects that we experience. If we want to be happy, we need to create the causes for that happiness. The Dharma teaches us the path to happiness and freedom from suffering through ethical and virtuous conduct.

So how do we escape Samsara and find true peace and happiness? It is through studying, contemplating and meditating on the Dharma and putting its teachings into practice in our daily lives. It also comes with taking refuge in the compassion and wisdom of Amida Buddha. By realizing that our happiness is dependent on the happiness of the rest of the world we can start to focus less on ourselves and more on others. It may seem paradoxical, but focusing on the happiness of others we’ll feel happier ourselves. And if you feel that you are just a tiny dot on the body of humanity, too small to make a difference, let me quote from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”

Kenneth Mondal

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Social Media

Presented by: 
Ken Mondal

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Flight from Honolulu to Seattle

Presented by: 
Ken Mondal

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Self Centeredness & Marraige

Presented by: 
Ken Mondal

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What Exactly is Happiness?

Presented by: 
Ken Mondal

Buddhism talks a lot about Happiness and Suffering. The Buddha’s first teaching was on the subject of Suffering. When he became enlightened he discovered the truth of our existence which became The Four Noble Truths. He began teaching that life has suffering, there are specific causes, these causes can be abated and there is a clear pathway. The Pali/Sanskrit word Dukkha has been loosely translated as Suffering. I like to think of it more as our life is unsatisfactory. As if our life is like a wheel that is out of balance. For me being a Type A goal oriented person my Dukkha can be best described as stress, anxiety, the occasional panic attack and recurrent periods of frustration and irritability when I am not getting or achieving what I want when I want it.

I have an easy time understanding Suffering. I was not so clear about Happiness, however. Is Happiness just the absence of Suffering? And is the quest for Happiness a shallow, self centered desire. After much reading on the subject I have concluded that Happiness is much more than just the lack of Suffering. And the desire for Happiness is integral to life itself and necessary to attaining enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings which is the basic desire of all Buddhist practitioners in the Mahayana Tradition.

So, where do we look for Happiness? Can it be found in the typical places that we are usually taught by our society? Does having more money and stuff bring true and lasting Happiness? How about lots of praise and a good reputation? And then what about pleasing sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches? Are we ever satisfied with these things? Do we ever get enough? Several years ago my wife and I were vacationing in Key Largo, Florida. Many yachts came past our room each one larger and more lavish that the one before it. One of the largest yachts had a name which said it all. “Never Enough.”

Here is a great quote about Money which I read someplace:

Money will buy a bed but not sleep
Books but not brains
Food but not appetite
Finery but not beauty
A house but not a home
Medicine but not health
Luxuries but not culture
Amusement but not Happiness

I think there must be multiple layers of emotion which one can define as Happiness. The initial entry level would be a sense of contentment and satisfaction with one’s life. Along with this would be a feeling of peace, tranquility or serenity. I have had multiple periods of elation or euphoria when life was going according to plan. But this wouldn’t last very long and would usually be followed by periods of depression and dissatisfaction. I don’t think I am bipolar but just human with all the afflictions and self centeredness that most people have. So true Happiness is a sense of well being. It doesn’t have the incessant highs and lows and is long lasting.

The next layer of Happiness is a feeling of having meaning or purpose in one’s life. Am I being helpful instead of harmful? Am I making the world a better place? The Dalai Lama said if you want to be selfish at least be wisely selfish. In other words, doing good and practicing generosity without the expectation of receiving anything in return is a clear path to Happiness. How often have we done a random act of kindness anonymously and felt good about it the rest of the day?

Then there is the level of Happiness one derives from living mindfully in the present. If we can somehow put aside our pain and resentment of past traumas and instead find it within ourselves to feel forgiveness and gratitude and stop our anxieties and worries about the future we can start to live in the moment. The present moment is all we really can count on. If we cannot be happy in the present how will we ever be happy in the future since the future never really comes. I have always been a future focused person basically ignoring the present. Each goal or achievement was supposed to bring me true and lasting happiness. All it ever did was give me an insatiable appetite for more success and achievement. That doesn’t mean we should just stop trying to attain things and better ourselves at work or elsewhere. It just means we shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking that these worldly accomplishments are going to bring us lasting happiness.

So, to quote a little Latin, Carpe diem.

An even higher level of Happiness comes from knowledge and wisdom gained from studying the Dharma. When we truly understand and can start to incorporate the teachings of impermanence, dependent origination, karma and emptiness into our daily thoughts and actions we are on the path to Happiness and Enlightenment. Understanding the Dharma is one thing but implementing it is quite a different thing. I find that when my buttons are pushed I still fall back into my old knee jerk ways of reacting to my stressors.

Practicing the Dharma is like re-wiring our brains learning new ways to think and act that are not harmful to ourselves or others. This process takes time and ultimately leads to Happiness. If we want to have a happy future we need to create the causes and conditions now that will ultimately lead to those beneficial results. Just imagine how happy we would be if we never got angry anymore or had envy, greed or the 108 other afflictions that cause us to suffer!

And finally, the highest level of Happiness is not gained by wanting Happiness for ourselves but rather being concerned about the Happiness of others. Yes, this does appear paradoxical. But when we are most concerned about our Happiness we tend to think and act in ways that actually guarantee our Suffering since most of our afflictions stem from the self centered attitude that plagues all of us.

Here is a quote from the Seventh Century Indian Saint Shantideva:

“Whatever joy there is in this world all comes from wanting others to be happy.
Whatever suffering there is in this world all comes from wanting ourselves to be happy.
What need is there to say a whole lot more?

Buddhas work for the benefit of others.
Ordinary people work for the benefit of themselves and just look at the difference between them!”

So, if one were to put all of these layers of Happiness together: contentment and sense of well being, a feeling of meaningfulness or purpose in one’s life, living mindfully in the present without regret for the past or anxiety about the future, knowledge and wisdom gained by understanding the true nature of things such as impermanence, dependent origination, emptiness and cause and effect which will ultimately allow us to be free of our many afflictions and blind passions and finally our deepest desire to become happy not for our own personal benefit but for the benefit of all sentient beings one would have what could only be called Nirvana or Enlightenment.

 

Thank you.
Ken Mondal

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What Brought Me to Buddhism?

Presented by: 
Ken Mondal

I would like to read to you several excerpts from the Dalai Lama’s book entitled “Ethics for the New Millennium.”

“It is a sad fact of human history that religion has been a major source of conflict. Even today, individuals are killed, communities destroyed, and societies destabilized as a result of religious bigotry and hatred. It is no wonder that many question the place of religion in human society.”

“religious belief is not a pre-condition either of ethical conduct or of happiness itself.”

“religion has enormous potential to benefit humanity. Properly employed, it is an extremely effective instrument for establishing human happiness. In particular, it can play a leading role in encouraging people to develop a sense of responsibility toward others and of the need to be ethically disciplined.”

“Perhaps the most significant obstruction to inter-religious harmony is lack of appreciation of the value of others’ faith traditions…. In today’s increasingly complex and interdependent world, we are compelled to acknowledge the existence of other cultures, different ethnic groups, and, of course, other religious faiths.”

“irrespective of doctrinal and other differences, all the major world religions are concerned with helping individuals to become good human beings. All emphasize love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, humility and so on”

“carrying a mala does not make a person a genuine religious practitioner. The efforts we make sincerely to transform ourselves spiritually are what make us genuine religious practitioners.”

“We come to see the overriding importance of genuine practice when we recognize that, along with ignorance, individuals’ unhealthy relationships with their beliefs is the other major factor in religious disharmony. Far from applying the teachings of their religion in our personal lives, we have a tendency to use them to reinforce our self-centered attitudes. We relate to our religion as something we own or as a label that separates us from others.”

“another problem, one which is implicit in all religions. I refer to the claims each has of being the one “true” religion.”

“we must accept the concept of many truths, many religions.”

“In the case of a person who decides after a process of long and mature reflection to adopt a different religion, it is very important that they remember the positive contribution to humanity of each religious tradition. The danger is that the individual may, in seeking to justify their decision to others, criticize their previous faith.”

“ultimately the whole purpose of religion is to facilitate love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility, forgiveness, and so on. If we neglect these, changing our religion will be of no help.”

“If we can establish genuine harmony derived from mutual respect and understanding, religion has enormous potential to speak with authority on such vital moral questions as peace and disarmament, social and political justice, the natural environment, and many other matters affecting all humanity.”

 

I had a somewhat circuitous path to Buddhism. It started as a child raised in the Jewish faith. I attended four years of Hebrew school and was Bar Mitzvahed at the age of 13. Supposedly that signified that I was now a man. I certainly was no where close to reaching manhood. I also left the synagogue never to return. I was academically bent and didn’t find much use for religion in my life at that point.

My first marriage at the age of 26 was to a Catholic girl. We attended church infrequently and the services seemed steeped in rituals that I didn’t care much about. Not too dissimilar to all the rituals in the Jewish service. Also, I found the sermons to have a hollow ring. Or maybe I was just too focused on my career and self centered interests for them to register.

My second marriage at the age of 45 was to a woman who was raised in a Presbyterian church and was attending services at a Methodist church in the Valley. I started going to these services and found the Sunday message to be very relevant. We were married in that church and continued attending services there until we moved to Hawaii in 2001 where we found a comparable Methodist church. When we returned to Spokane in 2005 we started attending a nondenominational Evangelical Christian church here in town. Once again, I found the sermons very pertinent to my life and finally decided to become baptized. I understood that baptism meant I was giving my life to Jesus and accepting him as my Lord and Savior. I was also accepting the entire story of God and creation and the Trinity on blind faith that it was as the Bible described. I always had doubts about these things but figured that my act of being baptized would somehow eliminate those nagging doubts. I especially had difficulty understanding why a perfect and loving God would allow so much suffering in the world? And why if we were created in God’s image were we created with so much ignorance and so many afflictions and blind passions?

We attended this church on a regular basis over a two year period and I even fashioned myself as eventually becoming one of the church elders. My wife and I did have one not so trivial problem at this church. We loved the ministers and their message of peace and love. But the congregation seemed to have quite a different take on what Jesus tried to teach. At the weekly coffee chats immediately after the service we would be subjected to a barrage of right wing fundamentalist ideology. It became obvious that our socio-political world view was at variance with most of the members of the church. Being non-confrontational people it became quite difficult to just listen and not respond. So we gradually broke away.

At a holiday gathering in December of 2011 causes and conditions conspired for me to meet Jeff Workman. Just a month before I had mentioned to my wife that even though I had attained much success in all of my life’s pursuits I didn’t feel that I was a happy person. I couldn’t, however, put my finger on it. Why wasn’t academic and professional success, lots of praise, a good reputation, and a very comfortable lifestyle enough to make me feel content and satisfied? My brief conversation with Jeff immediately turned on some lights. He told me about Impermanence and the Four Noble Truths about Suffering and something clicked. He also suggested that I attend Sensei Paul’s upcoming weeknight introductory lectures on Buddhism. I found the Dharma teachings to be like a breath of fresh air. Nothing had to be accepted on blind faith. All of the teachings could be tested against my own experience in life and accepted if the teachings made sense. And they did make sense. I especially found the concepts of Emptiness, Impermanence. Dependent Origination, Causes and Conditions and Karma to be incredibly logical. I was surprised that it took me 61 years to discover them. But then again had I heard these truths in my youth I might have not been ready to listen and understand. I needed more life experience under my belt for them to register. In other words, the causes and conditions were just right at that holiday party for the Dharma to hit its mark.

The Buddha stated that there are 84,000 paths to enlightenment. I have traveled through a number of faiths. And as His Holiness the Dalai Lama stated all religions have something to offer our world. I do like the fact that no holy wars have ever been fought over Buddhist ideology. And that Buddhism seems to align with my deep beliefs in non-violence, social justice, human rights, religious tolerance and environmental protection. I like the fact that nothing has to be accepted on blind faith and if we want to stop suffering we need to take responsibility for our own actions. Buddhism doesn’t go out and aggressively try to convert people. It encourages us to question everything and is very much in harmony with modern science.

Most of us in this Hondo were not born into Buddhism. We came to it after mostly a Judeo-Christian upbringing. If Buddhism is the path that we have decided to follow we must always practice with great humility, compassion and respect for all of the world’s religions.

Thank you,
Ken Mondal

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Bring Me to My Senses

Artist: 
Ilene Tanaka
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Be There for the Right Reasons

Presented by:
Ken Mondal

How many people are familiar with the ABC television show “The Bachelor/ Bachelorette?” They start with 25 women vying for the interests of one man. Then over a ten week period after multiple group and individual dates the women are gradually whittled down to the “winner” who hopefully gets a marriage proposal. Of course, the opposite is true for the “Bachelorette” in which there are 25 men competing for the one woman. I have a confession to make. My wife and I have been hooked on this show since the first episode twelve years ago. My wife loves to see people get together and ultimately tie the knot. The main attraction for me is the filming locations are in some of the most beautiful and exotic places on the planet.

Sometime early on in the show a saying started to be used. “He or she isn’t here for the right reasons.” This seemed to be true. Some of the participants appeared to be on the show just for exposure or to advance their career. Also, some of the bachelors and bachelorettes treated the process as a game trying to win at all costs as if it was a contest. This caused a great deal of drama and emotion toying with people’s hearts. The viewing audience, of course, ate this up. Fortunately, a couple of episodes have ultimately led to marriages.

Being there for the right reasons is a very strong Buddhist theme. How often have we done an act of “kindness” or “generosity” out of a sense of guilt or obligation? Or to make ourselves feel superior to someone else? Or to pat ourselves on the back about what a good person we are? Or to garner praise and a good reputation? I know I have committed all of these transgressions.

Several years ago I made a sizeable donation to a charity. I knew the donation would benefit many people. But I made sure that I received plenty of recognition for my act of generosity. This was before I heard the Dharma and started to learn about “Emptiness.”

In those days I was primarily focused on my self centered desire to glorify and aggrandize my self image and ego. Of course, now I see that as foolish and ignorant.

Most of us are familiar with the Six Far Reaching Practices or the Six Paramitas. The first of these is Generosity. True Generosity is giving of our time, energy and material possessions without the hope or expectation to receive anything, including appreciation, in return. When possible this is best done anonymously. What many people call “A Random Act of Kindness.” This is what “Bodhicitta” is all about. Our desire to attain full enlightenment in which all defilements are totally eradicated and all good qualities of compassion and wisdom are fully developed in order to be of greatest benefit to all sentient beings.

Let me give you a silly example in my own life. I am sure many of you will totally relate.

I work in an office where there are more women than men. Like most of us guys I would go in the bathroom and leave the toilet seat up. It gets much worse. I would also make sure I left the barest few pieces of toilet paper on the roll just so I didn’t have to go to the trouble of putting a new roll on the holder. Of course, the next person would be obligated to change the roll. I just didn’t want to be bothered. My time was too important and I was the doctor which gave me privileged potty status.

Well, the Dharma has totally changed my toilet behavior. I now make sure the toilet seat is put back down and I even put a new roll on the holder before using up the last piece.

I am doing this totally as a random act of kindness for the next person who uses the bathroom whoever that may be. I don’t know if anyone at my office has noticed and I don’t care. It is just the right thing to do and makes me feel good but not in a bragging or boastful way.

I am learning a very important lesson from Buddhism. My actions are very important. But what is equally important are the motives behind those actions. Are they virtuous or non-virtuous? Generous or self centered?  Being a goal oriented person I have always focused my energies on the results. When I did something I would be very attached to the outcome of my actions. I would have high expectations. Since we are not in control of other people’s thoughts and actions we can sometimes do a virtuous deed and have a certain expectation and be totally disappointed with the results. Remember we can only be responsible for ourselves. We cannot control or change others. Also, due to the complexity of cause and effect we often don’t see the full result or extent of our actions.

You can plant a seed of kindness that may not sprout for many years.

So, what are my motives for giving these Dharma Talks? If it is to garner praise, a good reputation, recognition or respect then I am not standing up here for the right reasons

and I am totally missing the message of Buddhism. My sole purpose should be to use whatever abilities I have been given for the benefit of my fellow Sangha members. Maybe I should be giving these talks anonymously with a paper bag over my head. The ego is a very sneaky thing. It is always trying to be satisfied even while doing a virtuous activity.  

Most of the time we try to be of benefit to others. However, we are often clouded by ignorance and blind passions which cause us to act in ways that are harmful. If we can stop for a moment and reflect on our motives maybe we can create more kindness and compassion in the world and less harm. In other words, let’s BE THERE FOR THE RIGHT REASONS.

 

Thank you.

Ken Mondal

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Ken Mondal
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The Kindness of Others: Friends, Enemies and Strangers

Presented by: 
Ken Mondal

There is a concept in Buddhism that is pivotal to understanding the Dharma. It is called “dependent arising or dependent origination.” The term “dependent arising” is used in different ways in Buddha’s teachings. It can describe how we take rebirth in cyclic existence. Dependent arising also indicates that things depend on causes and conditions, all the essential parts that make up phenomena (including us), and the concepts and labels that we apply to those phenomena. Everything arises in dependence on other factors. All sentient beings, human or otherwise, are part of this complex web.

In other words, no living being is an island. Unfortunately, our Western Culture seems to emphasize our individuality making us all think that we are concrete, unchanging and independent. This causes us to view the world as separate from ourselves and then we start to look at everyone and everything from the standpoint of how it either benefits or harms us. This delusion creates what are called “attachments” and “aversions” which we know better as lust, greed, hatred, anger, violence and prejudice.

In our ignorance we start to classify people into three categories: friends, enemies and strangers. We give the label “friends” to those people we are attached to. Why are we attached to them? They satisfy our material and emotional needs and wants. Anyone who appears to harm us in some way or who interferes with what we want when we want it we call “enemy.” Towards these people we feel anger, hatred, jealousy, belligerence, and so forth. And “strangers” are everyone else in the world that we couldn’t give a wit about. We don’t know them and since they don’t affect us one way or the other, we are indifferent or apathetic about them.

We fail to realize another very important Buddhist teaching, that of impermanence and change. These categories of friend, enemy and stranger are not stagnant. How often have we had a friend or family member slip into the enemy category? Or an enemy suddenly becomes a friend? Or a stranger becomes a friend or enemy? Or a friend or enemy winds up as a stranger? In short, our feelings of attachment, anger, and apathy towards friends, enemies, and strangers respectively are not reliable, first because they arise due to how these people relate to ME (forget about how they relate to everyone else!) and second because they go from one category to another in our minds according to different circumstances.

Buddhism teaches yet another critical concept and that is “equanimity.” When we develop equanimity we can overcome our attachment, anger and apathy and have equal hearted concern for all beings. We can learn to value and respect everyone no matter whether we consider them a friend, enemy or stranger because they have all shown us some form of kindness if we think about it deeply. In fact, discriminating and dividing people into friends, enemies and strangers becomes less important to us.

Of course, it is easy to see the kindness of friends so I needn’t say much about that. But what about strangers? If it wasn’t for the kindness of strangers who made our clothes and this building and the roads we drove on to get here, not to mention the cars we rode in, I would be standing up here talking to you naked without this podium. And you would be sitting on the ground naked listening to me. You may say these people were just doing their jobs to make a living. But we have benefited from their efforts, and that is a kindness. Everything we use and that keeps us alive is due to many people’s kindness both here in this country or perhaps in some far off impoverished country.

But what about our enemies? How could they possibly be showing us kindness? Well, if we are serious Buddhist practitioners we are trying to develop our qualities of love, compassion, generosity, patience, tolerance and fortitude. Do our friends or strangers help us attain those qualities? Not so much. But our enemies certainly test our resolve and help us to develop those virtuous behaviors. So, yes, that is a kindness. Therefore, we should treasure our enemies. How radical an idea is that? When we see that someone who we consider an enemy has also been kind to us, they don’t seem to be such a big, bad enemy anymore. All sentient beings are just trying to find happiness and avoid suffering. Ignorance about reality is what causes us to act in ways that are harmful to each other.

Recently I was meditating on the kindness of others. Besides my parents, a woman came to mind who was probably the kindest and most influential person in my life. Ida Gartrell Peterson was an elementary school teacher who I was fortunate enough to have for both 3rd and 6th grade. I was an obnoxious little boy with significant behavioral problems. Mrs. Peterson had excellent teaching skills but she was also the epitome of kindness, compassion and patience. She saw my real potential and was able to turn me away from my evil side. What was even more remarkable was the fact that she was the first African American to teach in my all white elementary school. Back in the late 50’s and early 60’s this was very controversial and disturbing to many parents. They wanted to get rid of her. I remember distinctly my parents fighting to keep her at the school. Even at that young age I knew this was the right thing to do and I was so proud of my father and mother for standing up for what was right.

Ida Gartrell Peterson passed away in 1999. I am presently trying to find her family and have written to the elementary school I attended in Philadelphia to see if they can help me find them. Mrs. Peterson went on to receive a PhD in education from the University of Pennsylvania in 1985 and spent the rest of her career teaching at a black college in Atlanta. I have also contacted this college. I regret that I didn’t try to find this woman thirty years ago and thank her for all her kindness and compassion. But at least I can try to thank her family now.

As I was Googling I found a website of a professor at Syracuse University. He spoke of a teacher at his elementary school in Philadelphia who had a deep impact on his life. It was Ida Gartrell Peterson. A number of years ago there was a reunion of some of her former students. This was after she passed away. It is very evident that she must have influenced the lives of many young people during her career. Kindness and compassion should have nothing to do with race, ethnicity or religion. They are human qualities that are only hidden by our ignorance.

If it wasn’t for my parents Mrs. Peterson could have been my enemy. I could have easily succumbed to the prejudice of the time. But due to the open mindedness of my father and mother she became a friend. Unfortunately, after I left elementary school I allowed her to become a stranger. I will always have a tremendous regret for allowing that to happen. So if there is someone who you have been meaning to thank or apologize to do it now while you still have the opportunity.

My parents in supporting Mrs. Peterson allowed me to benefit from her compassionate  and excellent teaching. Through their actions and my teacher’s guidance the causes and conditions were created that shaped my development as a human being. This is certainly “dependent origination” in action.

 

Thank you.

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