by Phyllis Hicks
In the Buddha’s time there was a killer named Angulimala. He was known to collect the finger joints of his victims and with each new addition, he added a joint to a necklace he wore about his neck. People were afraid of Angulimala and warned the Buddha that he was being pursued. The story goes that Angulimala found the Buddha on the path but could not catch up to him. He called out to the Buddha to stop, and the Buddha said,” I have stopped, now you stop.” Angulimala went on to become a fully enlightened person. How did this happen? This is the question for all of us today. How do we engage ourselves and each other in ways that lead to stopping harm, to liberation from greed, hatred, and delusion for all?
My heart has been breaking and keeps breaking whenever my mind turns towards the Ukrainian and Russian people, and towards all people who are suffering from violence and find themselves displaced because of war and strife. Opening to the scope of suffering all over the world, in places like Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, Myanmar, Brazil, Ethiopia, Colombia, Palestine, and Haiti, to name a few, is not easy. We pause and keep breathing. This is the first step: allowing the heart to soften and break open. We feel whatever we feel whether numbness, fear, anxiety, despair, courage, bravery, or resolve. We embrace our suffering and the suffering of others in order to fully comprehend it. We stand in solidarity. We become radically present.
Comprehending suffering, we may notice the tension and confusion, the not knowing, the vibrating of the heart and we turn towards the goodness already within us that naturally cares and feels deep compassion. Right there, we can nourish the body-mind with care and mindfulness. We can stand with ourselves and with all beings. Listening deeply, we attune to impermanence and cessation, allowing wisdom and compassion to carry us across the flood. We rest in this emptiness and allow the next best steps to arise.
Untangling the tangle, we see the interdependent web of life and the chain of karma. We are not separate from those who do harm. We engage by way of ethical actions, resolve, concentration, and wisdom. Our whole life is a practice of liberation, of discerning what benefits all beings without exception.
We humbly accept that ignorance is part of the human condition and work patiently and bravely to meet it in ourselves and others with loving kindness, compassion, nonviolence and wise action. Offering our subjective truth, we confront inner and outer narratives that instill fear, perpetuate inaction, and sustain ongoing systemic harm.
What does this mean for victims of war and violence? We cherish their lives and all of life on earth. With purpose, we engage the shared human condition, the horrors of war and climate change, relationship by relationship. By keeping relational doors open and dialogue alive, we embody a path of peace. By remembering the good in the Ukrainian and Russian people, in the human heart, we actively invite mutual discovery of the way out of this suffering. Each of us stop, keep calmly knowing change, care, listen, and speak our subjective truth. We move from helplessness to helpfulness.
This is the path of liberation. There is no separation. When one is harmed, all are harmed. Cultivating understandings that are big enough to embrace the entire world in all its diversity, we discover we are the ones we have been waiting for, we are it. We contribute to global networks of reflection, ethical action, and responsibility. The Dharma wheel turns.
In the Insight Dialogue Community, we know a path of practice that rests upon the three bases of meditation, wisdom, and relationship. We know from experience the amplifying effect of bringing these three interwoven practice elements to the forefront of the moment of contemplation. The vibrating mind and heart sees for itself what is beneficial now and going forward. Engaged practice protects from spiritual bypassing by calling us back to the reality of life just as it is. In the good company of spiritual friends, we dismantle the illusions and habits that immobilize us. Together in sanghas we befriend, we listen, we feel, we bear witness, we live the teachings. In the company of friends, we humbly rest in not knowing and keep turning towards the light and the darkness, leaving nothing out.
Beings are countless; I vow to free them all.
Delusions are inexhaustible; I vow to put an end to them.
Dharma gates are infinite; I vow to enter them.
The awakened way is unsurpassed; I vow to embody it.
—The Bodhisattva Vow from the Zen Tradition
Phyllis serves as chairperson of the Teachers Council of the Insight Dialogue Community. A devoted community member and Dhamma student, she offers Insight Dialogue retreats internationally, mentors teachers, and is coauthor and guide for the Interpersonal Mindfulness Program.