I feel there has been an air of sadness in the Sangha about wider world events – Trump, Brexit, the refugee crisis, a looming indyref2 and the potential divisions and ill feeling that these represent. It feels like we should be doing something, resisting conflict – but also that we are powerless.
I was therefore comforted to find a passage from Thay that I vaguely remembered reading years ago. It is from The Raft is Not the Shore: Towards a world where spirituality and politics meet (1975). This was a dialogue between Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan in 1974 about the peace movements in the USA and Vietnam (just before the official end of the Vietnam War and at the height of the cold war.)
Talking about resistance Thay says:
I think it is a very meaningful term. And resistance, at root, I think, must mean more than resistance against war. It is a resistance against all kinds of things that are like war. Because living in modern society, one feels that he cannot easily retain integrity, wholeness. One is robbed permanently of humanness, the capacity of being oneself. When I drive through Paris, the noises and the traffic jams make me nervous. Once I have gone through Paris I become less than myself. And there are so many things like that in modern life that make you lose yourself. So perhaps, first of all, resistance means opposition to being invaded, occupied, assaulted, and destroyed by the system. The purpose of resistance, here, is to seek the healing of yourself in order to be able to see clearly. This may sound as though it falls short of a positive act of resistance. Nevertheless, it is very basic.
I think that communities of resistance should be places where people can return to themselves more easily, where the conditions are such that they can heal themselves and recover their wholeness. (page 129)
Later on he gives a vision of a community that shows how we can help each other:
In such communities you meet people who symbolize a kind of freshness; their look, their smile, their understanding, should be a help. That is why a requirement of a community of resistance is the presence of at least one person who can offer that kind of atmosphere. Because of him or her you want to go back. I suggest that a community like that should, if possible, arise in a place that has pleasant surroundings. And there should be someone there in residence, so that when people think of him or her they feel some encouragement, some hope. The place should be identified with such a person. So even if that person is not there, when people come near the place, they would like to drop in. Because they know that person has been sitting under that tree. When I come and sit under that tree I feel the presence of a friend.
I’m not saying that a movement should be built on one person. But I think that if you want two persons you have one person first. A small brother always has need of a big brother during a certain period of time. I say this out of my own experience. (page 131)
OK – so we don’t have a practice centre with a charismatic monastic community in Edinburgh but we live in a lovely city with beautiful places to meet and we have each other. I look at my friends in the Sangha and see many big brothers and sisters who support my practice. People even walk in off the street to support my practice! We have our community of resistance and we build it simply by being there for each other, breathing and drinking tea.
There is another lovely passage by Thay in Joyfully Together: The art of building harmonious community (2003) where he describes the importance of coming to meals on time and joining the queue.
Thanks to your standing there, your friends will feel more solid in the practice when they step into the dining hall. Standing in line, dwelling in mindfulness, aware of your Sangha around you, you are already practicing to live together peacefully and joyfully.
So when I feel disturbed by the news and want to do something I know where to start; smiling as I queue at the bank or Post Office or just coming along and sitting quietly with friends each week.