Excerpts

from Mountain Record 32.1, Fall 2013


 

 from Relearning Loveliness 
- by Sharon Salzberg

“To teach a thing its loveliness” is the nature of metta. Through lovingkindness, everyone and everything can flower again from within. When we recover knowledge of our own loveliness and that of others, self-blessing happens naturally and beautifully.

Metta, which can be translated from Pali as “love” or “lovingkindness,” is the first of the brahma-viharas, the “heavenly abodes.” The others—compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity—grow out of metta, which supports and extends these states.

In our culture, when we talk about love, we usually mean either passion or sentimentality. It is crucial to distinguish metta from both of these states. Passion is enmeshed with feelings of desire, of wanting or of owning and possessing. Passion gets entangled with needing things to be a certain way, with having our expectations met. The expectation of exchange that underlies most passion is both conditional and ultimately defeating: “I will love you as long as you behave in the following fifteen ways, or as long as you love me in return at least as much as I love you.” It is not a coincidence that the word passion derives from the Latin word for “suffering.” Wanting and expectation inevitably entail suffering.

By contrast, the spirit of metta is unconditional: open and unobstructed. Like water poured from one vessel to another, metta flows freely, taking the shape of each situation without changing its essence. 

From Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg. Copyright © 1995 by Sharon Salzberg. Reprinted by arrangement with The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Shambhala Publications, Inc.


 

 

 from A Mirror into Anger  - by Jarvis Jay Masters

I had just copied down all the information I needed from the JC Penney catalog when Bork, in a cell down the tier, asked me if he could use the catalog when I was done. “Sure, no problem,” I said. I had no reason to keep it any longer. All I had left to do was decide on a toy for my nephew Little Floyd’s ninth birthday. Now that I’d written down the possibilities, the faster I could get the catalog out of my cell, the less chance I’d have to revisit it and change my mind.

Later that evening I asked a guard prowling down the tier if she could open my food port and take the catalog to Bork. I thought of striking up a conversation with him, asking him to look at the toys I had in mind and give me his honest opinion: would it be better to get the Pokemon bank or the train that turned into a robot? But it was already late in the evening, and the quietness on the tier changed my mind.

Early the following morning, after my meditation practice, I was surprised to see the JC Penney catalog sitting on my opened food port along with my breakfast. Bork had given it to one of the officers, who gave it back to me. I decided to double-check all the information from the catalog that I’d copied the day before. 

From That Bird Has My Wings: The Autobiography of an Innocent Man on Death Row by Jarvis Jay Masters. Copyright © 2009 by Jarvis Jay Masters. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

 


 

 from The Path of Purification - by Bhadantacariya Buddhaghosa

Herein, he should first review this in himself thus: ‘Now what is the point of your getting angry with him? Will not this kamma of yours that has anger as its source lead to your own harm? For you are the owner of your deeds, heir of your deeds, having deeds as your parent, deeds as your kin, deeds as your refuge; you will become the heir of whatever deeds you do. And this is not the kind of deed to bring you to full enlightenment, to undeclared enlightenment or to the disciple’s grade, or to any such position as the status of Brahma or Sakka, or the throne of a Wheel-turning Monarch or a regional king, etc.; but rather this is the kind of deed to lead to your fall from the Dispensation, even to the status of the eaters of scraps, etc., and to the manifold suffering in the hells, and so on. By doing this you are like a man who wants to hit another and picks up a burning ember or excrement in his hand and so first bums himself or makes himself stink’.

Having reviewed ownership of deeds in himself in this way, he should review it in the other also: ‘And what is the point of his getting angry with you? Will it not lead to his own harm? For that venerable one is owner of his deeds, heir of his deeds ... he will become the heir of whatever deeds he does. 

From The Path of Purification: Visuddhimagga by Buddhaghosa. Translated by Nanamoli. Copyright © 1991 by the Buddhist Publication Society. Reprinted by permission of Buddhist Publication Society.

 


 

 from Transforming Suffering - by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. —Viktor Frankl

Three ways are open to a man who is in sorrow. He who stands on a normal rung weeps, he who stands higher is silent, but he who stands on the topmost rung converts his sorrow into song. —Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Kotzk

The late Sue Burns suffered from a rare condition called osteosclerosis, progressive deterioration of the spine. Its effect was devastating. She was completely unable to stand or sit, even in a wheelchair. As her condition worsened, she was condemned to spend her life horizontally, permanently confined to bed and in almost constant pain. More than most she had reason to believe that life had dealt her the unkindest of blows.

I met her on one of my visits to care homes, in this case a centre for those who suffered from the most severe forms of debilitation. From the first moment I saw her, I realized that Sue was extraordinary. She greeted me with a radiant smile, like sunshine on a grey day. It seemed to come from deep within, as if she were celebrating being alive.  

From To Heal A Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Copyright © 2005 by Jonathan Sacks. Reprinted by permission of Schocken Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

 


 

 Fragile and Hidden - by Henri Nouwen

Because life is very small, you can never see it happening. Have you ever seen a tree actually grow? Can you see a child grow? Growth is too gentle, too tender. Life is basically hidden. It is small and begs for constant care and protection. If you are committed to always saying yes to life, you are going to have to become a person who chooses it when it is hidden.

I have a case in point from my own life. I live in a community with handicapped adults. Just after I moved in they asked me if I would be willing to take care of Adam. Adam cannot speak. Adam cannot walk. Adam is what some people might call “a vegetable.” “Would you be willing to wash Adam?” they asked. “Would you be willing to dress him and give him breakfast?”

As I began to take care of Adam, I slowly discovered what life is about. Adam began to teach me about the smallness of living. As I bathed this twenty-five-year-old man, washed his face, combed his hair, fed him, and dressed him, I began to realize what an incredible gift life is. Adam spoke to me in a language I didn’t know he could speak. He told me how hidden, vulnerable, and deep life is. Being with him gave me a sense of being closely in touch with living. 

From The Road to Peace by Henri J. M. Nouwen, edited by John Dear. Copyright © 1998 by the Estate of Henri J. M. Nouwen. Reprinted by permission of Orbis Books.


 

 from To Veterans - by Thich Nhat Hanh

On the final day of a mindfulness retreat for 200 Americans in Massachusetts, Jon Kabat-Zinn read an insight poem that said, “The Vietnam War ends today.” That was in 1987, and since then, I have begun to lead retreats for war veterans. I want veterans to realize how important they are.

I, too, am a veteran. I lost many friends—many brothers and sisters—during the Vietnam War, and I experienced much suffering. Grenades were thrown into my room, but were deflected by a curtain. Social service workers under my direction were killed and maimed. We did our best to confront the violence with love, but we had to cry a lot.

I have been practicing to transform my suffering and share my insight with others. I do not feel any more blame. I feel peace and compassion, and that allows me to help other people.

Veterans are the light at the tip of the candle, illuminating the way for the whole nation. If veterans can achieve awareness, transformation, understanding, and peace, they can share with the rest of society the realities of war. And they can teach us how to make peace with ourselves and each other, so we never have to use violence to resolve conflicts again. To make the world a peaceful place, to ensure for our children and grandchildren a life worth living, we need a transformation. 

From A Lifetime of Peace:Essential Writings by and about Thich Nhat Hanh by Thich Nhat Hanh. Copyright © 2003 by Thich Nhat Hanh. Reprinted by permission of Perseus Books Group, Inc.


 

 from Long Walk to Freedom - by Nelson Mandela

May 10th dawned bright and clear. For the past few days I had been pleasantly besieged by dignitaries and world leaders who were coming to pay their respects before the inauguration. The inauguration would be the largest gathering ever of international leaders on South African soil.

The ceremonies took place in the lovely sandstone amphitheatre formed by the Union Buildings in Pretoria. For decades this had been the seat of white supremacy, and now it was the site of a rainbow gathering of different colours and nations for the installation of South Africa’s first democratic, non-racial government.

On that lovely autumn day I was accompanied by my daughter Zenani. On the podium, Mr. de Klerk was first sworn in as second deputy president. Then Thabo Mbeki was sworn in as first deputy president. When it was my turn, I pledged to obey and uphold the constitution and to devote myself to the well-being of the republic and its people. To the assembled guests and the watching world, I said:

Today, all of us do, by our presence here… confer glory and hope to newborn liberty. Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud.
From Long Walk To Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela. Copyright © 1994 by Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Reprinted by permission of Abacus, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company, Inc.


 

 from The Heart of Politics - by Parker J. Palmer

The human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions? And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act courageously, relentlessly, without giving up—ever—trusting our fellow citizens to join with us in our determined pursuit of a living democracy?


—Terry Tempest Williams

I came across these words about a “living democracy” as I was emerging from the dark passage of personal and political heartbreak I wrote about in the Prelude. Republicans happened to be in power at the time, but Democrats have broken my heart too, proving that it is a bad idea politically as well as personally to go looking for love in all the wrong places.

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, America went to war. Our leaders either misled us about the rationale or were themselves duped, and they surreptitiously suspended some of our constitutional rights. Several leaders, including the president, urged us to be patriotic by going shopping, promoting consumerism to restore our economy rather than citizenship to restore our democracy. Many Americans supported the war. Many others expressed strong public disagreement. And yet no matter what case the protesters made, very few people in power appeared to be listening with anything like respect.

From Healing The Heart of Democracy by Parker J. Palmer. Copyright © 2011 by Parker J. Palmer. Reprinted by permission of Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley Publications.

 


 

 from The Greening of the Self - by Joanna Macy

Something important is happening in our world that you will not read about in the newspapers. I consider it the most fascinating and hopeful development of our time, and it is one of the reasons I am so glad to be alive today. It has to do with our notion of the self.

The self is the metaphoric construct of identity and agency, the hypothetical piece of turf on which we construct our strategies for survival, the notion around which we focus our instincts for self-preservation, our needs for self-approval, and the boundaries of our self-interest. Something is shifting here. The conventional notion of the self with which we have been raised and to which we have been conditioned by mainstream culture is being undermined. What Alan Watts called “the skin-encapsulated ego” and Gregory Bateson referred to as “the epistemological error of Occidental civilization” is being peeled off. It is being replaced by wider constructs of identity and self-interest—by what philosopher Arne Naess termed the ecological self, co-extensive with other beings and the life of our planet. It is what I like to call “the greening of the self.”

In a lecture on a college campus some years back, I gave examples of activities being undertaken in defense of life on Earth—actions in which people risk their comfort and even their lives to protect other species. 

From Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth, edited by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee. Copyright © 2013 by The Golden Sufi Center. Published by permission of The Golden Sufi Center. www.spiritualecology.org


 

 from Love - by Chris Hedges

Editor's Note: As a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Chris Hedges has spent much of his adult life on the front lines, reporting on war. He has borne witness to atrocities and given a voice to victims of oppressive regimes around the globe. After many years of living in gruesome and brutal war zones, Hedges realized he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and decided to take a break. He reconnected with the ordinary life of work and family and allowed himself to be warmed again by human contact. The following excerpt is the closing chapter from his book, Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America.

My children will soon be young adults. They are breaking, as they must in our culture, the oppressive bond of the parent, to become distinct individuals. I walk by their rooms at night and sometimes feel a catch in my throat. I picture the day when the house will be empty. The small agonies and heartbreaks, the triumphs at school or on a soccer field, the long discussions, the intimate life of our family will change, kept alive by common memories, visits and sporadic conversations. But this too will become less vivid. I dread the time the children leave. This is what it means to be a parent. It hurts. All love hurts.

My life as a war correspondent is over. The names of the conflicts I covered are only vaguely familiar to my students. The civil wars in EI Salvador or Algeria or the Sudan belong to another time, another age of passion and blood. I carry within me these shards and fragments of memories, some of which I would like to forget. These pieces of a life are finally incomprehensible. We are not the sum of events, although those on the outside sometimes use events to define us. We are not our titles or positions or accomplishments. We are distinct from these. We puzzle over ourselves as time, with its ruthless and swift gait, sweeps our lives into the past. 

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent who worked for The New York Times, National Public Radio, and other media outlets for nearly two decades. He received the 2002 Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism.