Harmony is often preceded by the word “peace.” This implies that peace and harmony are distinct, but interdependent. Furthermore, both have internal (i.e. personal) and external (i.e. inter-personal) dimensions.
External peace is inextribably linked to inner peace. It could be argued that if there is no inner peace on the part of those on opposing sides of an issue or conflict, the peace achieved is merely the absence of conflict or war. In some circumstances, where differences are seemingly intractable, perhaps this is as good as it gets. An example in the real time of today is when Israelis and Palestinians are not lobbing bombs at each other. In an interview I have had with a well-known promoter of meditation and mindfulness who teaches programs both for Israelis and Palestinians in their respective territories, peace is not even considered viable or realistic. In this situation, security is the closest opposing sides come to peace. Harmony? Seemingly inconceivable.
Harmony is a deeper, more heart-felt matter that requires a sincere commitment to engender. Harmony is where various dimensions of thought, being, or expression blend to create a well-integrated, living peacefulness which – in turn – is reflected in our inner attitudes towards ourselves and others, as well as expression or responses externally.
Imagine, if you will, a number of circles, in which each of us is in our respective center. In Freemasonry, this symbolizes how we strive to keep our passions within due bounds. These passions can be our desires, but also includes our more negative emotional states and reactions.
None of these efforts, however, happen within a vacuum. Imagine that while within your own circle, doing your inner work, you are moving around, doing things with or involve others. The circles, thus, bump into each other and at times, overlap. As social beings, these interactions are important to our overall sense of belonging and community. Yet ever so often the noble ideals and intentions and how we should express them as envisioned in our own minds within our own circle, yet untested, bump into and interact with others who may have the same ideals, intentions, even moral perspectives, but different ideas on whatever it was you came together to do.
Welcome to the age-old philosophical conundrums of ultimate or absolute reality versus conditioned or relative reality, where the devil is ALWAYS in the details. Thus, while we may agree in principle, we may bitterly disagree in practice. Our seemingly lightly touching circles then resemble a competitive clash of bumper cars!
To get passed this logjam, if we really want to engage in peace AND harmony, there are three principle steps which we should learn.
First, we need to take to heart and live according to an on-the-level perspective. In a framework where equality and equity are foundational, we then need to develop the skill of active listening; pay attention to the content and context in which another offers comment, etc.. Then, there is the practice and skill of civility.
In any harmonious interaction, civility is a key attribute – so much so that America’s most famous Mason, President George Washington, made a lifelong study and practice of civil discourse and applying civility to every decision, wherever he conceived it to be possible. Similarly, philosopher Albert Pike, in studying Eastern as well as Western philosophy commented in his Morals and Dogma that the historical Buddha was one of our world’s first Masonic judges, despite him never being a Mason – that we know of! For the Buddha was more of a philosopher and psychologist who devoted many of his teachings to social, communal, and civil matters, offering all a path of civility as the best course for all to practice.
From my own studies of the Buddha’s teachings, I have extrapolated a model of civility that is very much in keeping with our Founding Father.
What I present here is what I term Five Steps of Wise Action. I have mentioned these before, but want to offer them here as a remedy to bring about peace and harmony within our community ventures or efforts.
- Step back. If opportunity permits, one of the smartest steps forward is to step back. Get some perspective on the situation.
- Assess. Use your critical thinking skills to see with clarity and surmise what needs to be done.
- Reflect. What’s your part in this situation? How does your way of thinking impact your response? What skills do you have to offer?
- Engage. After all these steps which could be defined as internal – you within your own circle – it is time to reach out to others or join them in the venture or task to be done. Having circumscribed your desires and kept them within due bounds with the mindfulness of Steps One through Three, you engage others on-the-level and are more primed to be an active listener.
- Enact. With Steps One through Four, accomplished and in the state of harmony these encourage, you are now more prepared to get on with the task, job, or action for which the force of a collective is needed for success.
Each of us possesses Buddha nature. One of the hallmarks of this nature is an altruistic spirit. At the same time, over a lifetime or – if you will – lifetimes, we have negative thought patterns rooted in our confusion, our addiction to our own point of view, and the defensiveness that often blocks any progress.
Thus, the peace and harmony we seek requires a commitment in thought, being, and expression which – I assert – is best served by first taking to heart the five-step process I have outlined above.
Furthermore, if we do engage each other in such a manner – on-the-level, listening actively, applying the Five Steps of Wise Action, the civility these steps naturally engender will make our work go more smoothly and be more effective. In other words, we shall have created a spirit of harmony – which is contagious, in the best possible way.
Incivility to Oneself
(As Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn use to say: “Bad Idea!”
In 1991, HH Dalai Lama asked a group of Buddhist students what in Buddhism helped the low self-esteem He had heard expressed by so many Westerners.
For in the orient, Buddhism tended to address overly inflated egoic expression.
An example of a culture promoting a healthy strong ego presence is when I once asked Dr. Lobsang Rapgay about mantras and children. He said that
“Eat my shit,” a back-off buster message… was what young children were taught as Buddhists understand that we are born with Buddha nature, a child is not lesser than – just inexperienced. I do not know if this approach was for girls as well, but I applied his logic for our two daughters and son. I did not teach them to tell people to “piss off.” But – that our authority as parents was not about us as parents being better or smarter – just more experienced.
But, why is it so different here? Why do we see a culture, especially a youth culture with so much angst, so much fear, self-loathing, so much uncertainty?
Here some of my thoughts on Causal Factors…
1. In the march of history, where the Bible and other wise books tell us that the sins of the fathers are inherited by their sons, i.e. future generations, we see, over the course of human activity, actions and results of power, avarice, greed, privilege – and all the disparities these create that lead to sickness, poverty, and warfare.
We think that those who perpetrate such and live in palaces and private islands have it made. But we ignore the karmic consequences that play out in terrible relationships, drug abuse, mental illness, and the feelings mentioned above.
During the Occupy Movement and Robert Thurman mentioned how he was raised and lived around the one percent. He said we really would not want their lives.
We feel these things. We know when our moral compass is askew. We may indulge in denial or seek absolution through religion or charitable acts. But these are really bandaids for a bleeding soul.
2. Our religiosity or ethos around original sin, our fall from grace vs. the Buddhist notion of us being nascent Buddhas endowed with basic goodness/loving nature, needing to work on transforming the 3 Poisons of Ignorance, Attachment, and Aggression.
The “sinner” approach creates rigid/linear boundaries where we even get cut off from ourselves whereas a Oneness perspective which sees personal growth and inclusivity as the only sustainable way of moving forward… This does not mean, however, the regret and remorse are not useful attitudes to exhibit when unskillful and harmful acts have been done.
The digital world and incessant stimulation of information, undigested thought and emotion – occupying our world 24/7, without stop. The result is that it is really difficult to know what is important, what we can ignore, even let go of.
Let’s look at our external world…
In a time which the Buddha Sakyamuni spoke of, we see and are in the midst of
- global pandemic
- acceleration of high intensity ecological calamities of biblical proportion in terms of tornadoes and hurricanes – the winds – floods, draughts, and rising seas, unprecedented fires and the resulting
- mass migrations – ecological and environmental refugees
- rise in xenophobic reactions to protect or hold onto the world the way it has actually never been and thus rise in
- violence and the proliferation of political refugees
And so, in the immensity of what we as spiritual beings having a human experience must accept, confront, transcend, and prevail – it is seemingly far easier to just get down on ourselves, beat ourselves up,
Which leads to, inevitably
Self loathing and
Spiritual listlessness, apathy, even laziness
In this psychically numb torpor, we can do things our healthy normal sense would not allow…
In Tantra – self denigration is a path to spiritual suicide
So, how do we challenge the habitual tendency to go down this path of incivility?
The Buddha taught the 4 thoughts that Revolutionize the Mind…
Precious human birth
Karma – what we do makes a difference
Not squandering our God given potentials which we have, since beginningless time…
As dear Dharma friend, Stephen Levine use to say…
Show yourself some mercy
In that softer, more open heart space,
Learn to see your shortcomings as opportunities for growth
When you think of extending kindness to others, from a Oneness perspective, you are one of them! And, there IS really no THEY!
Civility and the Cancel Culture
Wikipedia defines Cancel Culture as “a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – whether it be online, on social media, or in person. Those who are subject to this ostracism are said to be “cancelled”. Merriam-Webster notes that to “cancel”, as used in this context, means “to stop giving support to that person” while Dictionary.com, in its pop-culture dictionary, defines cancel culture as “withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.” The expression “cancel culture” has mostly negative connotations and is commonly used in debates on free speech and censorship.”
First, let’s get back to some basics – the Three Poisons of Ignorance, Attachment, and Aggression, in which I have said that we can translate them as… We don’t understand things completely. We get attached to our version of things. And, we get defensive, maybe even aggressive when people don’t agree with us. This is the habitual Samsaric mind, which we each possess and exist within cultures where reified ideas pro and con regarding virtually every human transaction create individual and group preferences and dislikes, friends, enemies, in-crowds, heretics, and maligned.
I spoke in my last podcast about undigested thoughts in the virtual world. The speed of virtual communications and the way in which we revere our thoughts and feel entitled to express them in speech and writing is less an expression in our culture of having freedom of speech and more an expression of the loss critical thinking, listening, and the civility to communicate in an on-the-level altruistic intent and create as little harm as possible and benefit all.
In one of my Facebook posts on Cancel Culture I wrote… “you may think you have the right to say what you want and – within 1st Amendment protection – where you want, I have the right to be selective in what I want to hear or read, i.e. listener and reader rights. Example: I do not own Facebook, but I “rent” a space on that platform I call mine. If you come into my space to berate or belittle me or others, spread falsities and absurd unfounded conspiracies, I reserve the right to say to you for myself and those who would normally read my page, go away. I shall take down said offensive material and, if necessary, unfriend you. I am not infringing on your right to say or write what you want. But, not here. This is not about echo chambers. Based on my values, I hold that demonstrating civility is the best approach in resolving what even appears to be irreconcilable. You have the right to roam the rest of the virtual universe to plant your seeds in some other garden.” With respect to the notions of shaming and ostracism that is utilized, in the positive sense, I can see these within the context of what I would call civility rooted in wrathful compassion. See The Path of Civility…, page 28.
But, let’s open the lens on this concept of cancel culture, for although you may not like a newspaper or radio or TV station because they do not express your views, there are now media outlets for every persuasion. These indeed create echo chambers from which we need to emerge to make substantive change, but we also need to be fearless in confronting cancel culture systems like 1. Gerrymandering 2. Red lining 3. Culling voter lists 4. Providing fewer or inadequate polling places in elections 5. Making election days national holidays or times that don’t disadvantage those who fear taking off or may get hours docked to go and vote. In this regards, our last election was the fairest. 6. Practices in business, industry, and government which advantage some over others
These are the CANCEL issues we need to address to create the representative democracy we profess to have or aspire to achieve.
Towards these ends and in the best sense, we can see the notion of cancel culture within the context of discernment and being able to rally together with people of like mind without being overly distracted by those whose views only take on more real estate in our heads than is of value. Masons speak of circumscribing desires, where we learn to rein ourselves. In a laissez fare world, discipline is considered repressive. But the Tibetan word for discipline, Tsultrim, is also translated as joy. It is important to remember in this context the
Civility does not arise on its own. It takes discipline. And from this, greater joy and ease follow.
Civility and Time
Time for Civility
Think about your communication, your personal and business transactions in the Digital Age.
How conditioned have we become to instant gratification, immediate responses, and that nerve-racking wait as the three dots repeat and repeat until the answer comes. And, what if the dots stop and there is no response? What does it mean? Is the question or comment not worthy of response? Are we not worthy of response? If the answers to these questions is “yes” then certainly the response should be immediate – certainly not tomorrow.
Obviously, timely replies for those circumstances that need timely replies, deserve timely replies. But short of these usually rare or special circumstances, how many of our communication really warrant instant replies? And how is our communication and our skills in communicating effected, even truncated by time pressure?
In this context, civility is a casualty when time as a factor in healthy, open communication is not considered.
In fact, reflection and consideration of what someone is saying or writing are skills of what is called deep listening. These 2 skills are best served by the inner cultivation of what are called in the Buddha’s Dharma, the Six Perfections.
Generous spirit – one that exhibits openness and a willingness to share freely. This does not mean that one disregards history or goes into a situation with rose-colored glasses. Rather, one enters into an interaction with a sense of – what Freemasons would call, “being on the level.”
Kindness – you act without guile or a twist to make things go to your advantage to the disadvantage of the other simply because you want to win or be on top. You are straightforward in a way that allows for a transaction to feel two-way or serve the greatness number in the most beneficial way possible.
Patience – an understanding of the time it takes for our mind and habits to transform. How often do we see our own history repeating itself, where what we thought were habits or actions we had changed, once again emerge in a new or different circumstance? In patiently tending to our own awakening, we demonstrate a mercy towards ourselves, which will well serve us when we are trying to encourage a change of mind or action in others.
Discipline – when we know what to do and how to do it well in any given circumstance, there is less stress and more ease in what happens. Thus discipline in speech, knowing what to say, how to deliver it so that your message comes across most effectively, is a skill worth cultivating.
Stillness or Meditative Awareness invites an open and clear mind. To not have your internal dialogue chatting away while you are trying to pay attention and listen reduces the likelihood of you interrupting or adding commentary that is more about you than about the transaction you are trying to be engaged in. This requires training.
Wisdom – all the qualities mention above, practiced well over time, will yield this perfection. Such wisdom commands respect implicitly and almost naturally.
When all of these perfections are worked upon, civility becomes natural and implicit. And, to work upon these to perfect your being takes TIME.
In which case, show yourself some mercy. Be still and kind and patient with yourself. For, the most important civil dialogue you need to master is the one within your own mind.