Thich Minh Thien,
Abbot of Budding Dharma. Arlington, Texas
WHAT LIES BENEATH
We are in another month of life restrictions as a result of COVID-19. For me, this began March 13, 2020 and that makes 8 months of living very differently. I, like many have gotten acclimated to always wearing a mask when outside, social distancing, avoiding crowds and washing my hands with soap and water. The purpose of doing so is to protect oneself from contracting this virus. For many, an equal motivation is about the protection masks provide each other.
As we have seen in both written and visual news, these reasons are not always connected however, especially when it comes to wearing masks properly, or even wearing masks at all. Somehow, the misguided concept of personal freedoms has crept into the dialogue and people are claiming it is their right to refuse wearing of a mask. That clearly ignores the second motivation for wearing a mask; namely to protect each other. Some even go so far as to deny the very existence of this virulent virus.
I was recently made aware of a letter sent by a hospital nurse. Doctors and nurses commit themselves to provide the best care possible for patients, no matter their race, gender, age, sexual orientation, social status, political affiliation or spiritual practice. This nurse indicated in the letter, that they were suffering conflicting feelings. They wrote; “…while I provide the best care I can to all my patients, I carry this anger and resentment towards some of them who publicly deny that there is a pandemic going on, refuse to wear a mask and sometimes encourage others not to follow guidelines universally subscribed to by epidemiologists. I risk my life and my family’s health to care for patients with infectious diseases. I feel a resentment towards people who end up in intensive care because of crazy unfounded beliefs regarding COVID-19.” Working as a chaplain in a large hospital, I understand this struggle and I get some sense of this frustration from the healthcare professionals I am interacting with as well.
As I reflect on this, I see many instances of this incongruity in my own actions. When we do our Metta practice and send loving kindness to people in our lives who make it difficult to love them, I sometimes do feel conflicted. Outwardly, I would not do things that would cause them harm or cause them personal pain, but inwardly that is not always the sentiment. That is a result of the personal pain I have shared with them. When I have these feelings, I often think of the Mantra of Forgiveness. I think the very first paragraph of this mantra explains the reasons that we may outwardly demonstrate Metta and yet hold very different feelings in our thoughts. The Mantra begins:
“You have caused me pain; I have not forgiven you.
You have caused me pain; I have not forgiven you.
You acted out of your own pain; I responded with my pain
Suffering comes from desire and ignorance.
May all beings find peace.”
The entire Mantra gives a clear connection to a path of understanding and loving kindness that can be the salve when our most personal unspoken feelings that lie beneath our outward motivations and actions seem contradictory. Forgiveness and compassion both inwardly and outwardly will reduce our suffering. Or as my Teacher says, Love More.
There is a story, many times attributed to Native American culture that speaks to this. Once a wise grandfather was having dialogue with his young grandson about life. The grandfather explained that each individual is born with two wolves inside them that are in a constant battle. The black wolf represents our darker thoughts and actions while the white wolf reflects the kinder and more loving self. The grandson asked the grandfather which wolf wins the battle? The grandfather responded that "the winner is the one we feed".
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa