It was 4pm and I sat on the sofa in the now-quiet house, and flicked my iPhone awake. And there was the Facebook newsfeed. Protests of white supremacists marching in Virginia. Anger. Violence. Horror. The shock that hits you deep in your stomach. The same shock that came when I read about planes falling out of the air and bombs going off by marathon runners. The shock of witnessing humans hurt one another.
I scrolled further, switching over to news outlets and learning the facts. But then something else appeared in my Facebook feed. Something so drastically different that it astounded me.
Living examples of peace
I watched this nine-minute video from Arizona Public Media. In the video, two Buddhist nuns from the Kadampa Meditation Center in Tuscon are interviewed. They talk about the need for us, as humans, to train our minds. They point out that this isn’t something only Buddhists can do. These are tools that anyone with a human mind can access and benefit from. To learn how to recognize and let go of anger, to learn how to build love, empathy, and respect. To learn how to build peace, the actual cause of happiness.
I have heard all this before of course, many times. It’s in the books I read, all the teachings I get from my teachers in my Buddhist study program. But what struck me was how these two women looked as they discussed these things. It's been a few months since I've been able to travel to teachings myself, to see examples in the flesh, so it was truly powerful to see them in action.
If you watch the video yourself, you’ll see what I mean. When they talk, kindness emanates out of them. You can see it in the way their eyes twinkle. You can hear it in the power of their speech—their minds are so trained that when they talk, the words themselves carry peace and reconciliation. Their jokes are funny, soft, non-harmful. They inspire with every out-breath they take.
How powerful is it to see examples of humans like this? It is perhaps the most powerful teaching we can receive. In the moment of seeing them, we see our own potential. And it occurred to me that a response to the awful events this weekend—beyond the sensible steps we can take to ensure we have a civil society and that all beings are protected by the right of equality—is to train the technology of our mind. We need to become peaceful, loving, harmonious and wise. Such a transformation has powerful ripple effects.
The following day, the teaching continued in an even more powerful way. Our local Buddhist center had organized a public talk with the Buddhist monk Gen Kelsang Dorje, who is the resident teacher of the Kadampa Meditation Center in Chicago. We met him and our teacher from Boston in downtown Portland. We took them to Empire, a funky Cantonese spot for an early dinner.
As we sat at the booth and plates of organic kale and noodles, vegetarian dumplings, and eggplant materialized in front of us, Gen Dorje didn’t just dig into the plates. He made sure we all had food piled on our plates first—his first impulse was to serve us. As we told him stories and tales, all he wanted to do was sit and listen intently to us. As the waitress with her groovy tattoos came and talked to us, he moved his attention utterly to her. His kindness became like a perfume that filled the room. It made those who walked into his presence smile, laugh, relax. That's what a peaceful mind does, it relaxes and purifies the environment.
That night, Gen Dorje sat on the stage of an old community center, and spoke of the need to become warriors of peace. He told us that meditation is simply the act of mixing our mind with what is good and wholesome, developing states of mind that are good for us. He read from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s life-changing book How To Transform Your Life (you can download it for free here if you like) and the line “everyone needs to be good natured, with a good heart.”
He encouraged us: you can do this. It’s just a decision. Followed by the act of trying.
My conclusion is that we need these living examples of peace to be walking through our world. We need them sitting at our dining tables, walking through our supermarkets, and teaching our communities by their sheer living example. Surely this is what Martin Luther King Jr. himself was: a living example of peace whose boundless love had the power to change the world. We need to seek these people out, whatever religion or non-religion we follow, we need to make sure we find a few living examples of peace in our life, so we can start to spend more time in their presence. And my second conclusion is that we need to become these examples ourselves. To activate a kind of change that is the nature of peace itself.
Photo copyright: Top image by RKTKN/ Stocksnap; image below by Lucas Allmann/ Stocksnap via CCO