(Not) Two Ways of Oneness

Oneness and Buddhism are sometimes mixed together. As with most claims, it is unclear what this means. And this lack of clarity results in delusion and mistaken views.

Oneness is usually made out to be homogenizing. An experience of oneness, on this view, would be a dropping away of difference and an arising of sameness. Rhetorically, this view of oneness is used to erase difference, as in your different experience of this predominantly white sangha is superficial because really we are all one. Metaphysically, this view raises questions about monism: are we all just one thing or are we all made up of the same kind of thing?

More to the point, this is a particular view of oneness and it isn’t the only view and, from the standpoint of Buddhism as a practice of liberation, it is unhelpful.

Another view of oneness that I believe is helpful on the path toward liberation is oneness as utter particularity, as the absolute uniqueness and non-sameness of each and every particular thing.

Experientially, oneness as utter particularity would be an experience that fully embodies, embraces, and realizes the unique, heterogenous, and not-similar-to-anything-else moment of experiential arising. Rhetorically, this view of oneness would embrace difference, as in your different experience of this sangha is something we must pay attention to because our experience of it as homogenous is rooted in ignorance. Metaphysically, this view points in the direction of deep particularity and causality, in other words, in the direction of karma and responsibility.

Furthermore, oneness as utter particularity embraces and radicalizes oneness as homogeneity, whereas oneness as homogeneity erases particularity. Each of us, each moment of arising of experiential awareness, is utterly particular. In that sense, there is a sameness in each moment of arising, in each thing. It is the sameness that can only be found in complete difference.

Realizing this sameness in complete and utter difference is the path of liberation.

Metta for Troubled Times

In a recent online article for Lion’s Roar, Mushim Patricia Ikeda offered her way of practicing Metta (“How to Practice Metta for a Troubled Time,” June 3, 2020). Across many different presentations, the core practice remains the same: the familiar set of phrases one repeats, extending Metta (loving-kindness, goodwill) to oneself, others, friends, neutral people, enemies, plants and animals, and eventually to all things boundlessly. What changes is the presentation and context within which this practice is offered, which changes the intention and mindset of the practitioner. Here is where Mushim’s offering is so needed now.

Please read her post. Here are some key quotes to see how the practice is framed:

“Metta meditation is not a magical spell you can cast on the population of the U.S. in order to produce a state of utopian bliss. It is not a cure-all for oppression and the unequal distribution of power and privilege.”

And then later…

“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., talked about the need for “aggressive nonviolence.” There are times and situations in which we have to show up and throw down, and this may be such a time. Whether I do that from a mind of toxic hatred, or from a mind that recognizes that every human being has at some point been my mother, my parent, or guardian, depends on how well I practice metta.”

Sometimes people wonder how can I be a Buddhist and protest? Is being an activist and practicing Metta incompatible? Mushim cuts straight to it: Metta practice is not some magical formula to fix things; you still have to act and get out there on the streets and shout Black Lives Matter and, if you are a white person like me, listen and follow Black leadership as you do so; but HOW you do so will impact a great many things – how you engage your fellow activists, how you confront agitators, and how you explain your actions to those who question you will create effects (wholesome, unwholesome) in the minds and bodies of those around you; and so the intention you bring to your actions matters.

Metta is a tool for shaping that mindset, not to keep one from acting, but to shape that action.

Bows to you, Mushim, for writing this piece and shaping Metta practice in this way. May whoever comes across this blog and her article read her article with openness and interest. May we all practice Metta so we can be of service to those around us with right intention and right heart and right action. May we all shout Black Lives Matter and may we follow those shouts with actions – marching, supporting with our dollars and our voices, advocating for change at the local, state, and national levels, and more, always more…

This Isn’t Like Retreat Unless You’re On Retreat

Recently I’ve read posts, tweets, and even short articles likening the current situation of mostly widespread isolation to retreat.

This couldn’t be further from the truth, unless you happen to be on retreat right now. For the rest of us not on retreat, the likening is confused.

I get it, in a sense. It sounds nice. It sounds hopeful. But it creates the delusion that this is like a retreat. And that’s harmful.

For the teacher I just read about who is covering her colleague’s classes because that colleague is now on a ventilator, is her situation like a retreat?

For the Sangha member who conveyed how difficult it is to work, cook, watch and teach two kids, while she and her partner face losing their jobs, is their situation like a retreat?

For the overwhelmingly black and Hispanic voters waiting hours to vote at 5 of what used to be 180 polling sites in Milwaukee, is their situation like a retreat?

No, not at all, not even one bit.

Each situation is what it is. I won’t attempt to describe those situations beyond the surface details I know. But those surface details tell me they aren’t retreats. They are something else entirely.

As a Buddhist, I have faith that each situation has within it the potential for liberation, like a retreat has the potential within it for liberation. But that doesn’t make those situations retreats. And unless the people in those situations are Buddhists or care about Buddhist pathways for liberation, it’s more harmful than helpful to bring this up.

What is helpful for us all is to understand our situations and the situations of those around us for what they are, in all their differences and particulars, and to respond accordingly. If you happen to be on retreat, then respond to the retreat. If you are that teacher covering classes for your ventilated colleague or one of many black or Hispanic people waiting in dehumanizing lines to vote in the midst of a pandemic, then respond accordingly as you see fit.

From what I have been reading, hearing, and seeing, this is not like a retreat (unless you’re on retreat). And there is power in seeing things for what they are. Only then is transformation possible.