Buddhism in Action is a monthly live interactive webcast that aims to reach out and address some of the most perplexing issues we face today, such as religious fundamentalism, gun violence, mass consumerism, the refugee crisis, overexposure to media, the corrosion of community and more. Hosted by Vajrapani Institute's resident teacher, Venerable Tenzin Chogkyi, this is a forum where we can examine these questions from the perspective of our shared humanity, whilst drawing on the combined wisdom of Buddhism and social psychology. Through the process of exploring together in this live, interactive format, we aim to move beyond confusion, stress and overwhelm to a place where spaciousness and, when necessary, decisive action, feel possible.
Rabbi Harold Kushner says that if after two days we have not forgiven someone who has wronged us, then it becomes our problem. Letting go of our anger and resentment is healing, and if we can’t let go, our anger can destroy our own happiness.
Sometimes we need to get, and give, personal forgiveness, and sometimes the forgiveness we need is for larger social issues. After the fall of apartheid in South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a restorative justice process that has been replicated in many countries to deal with legacies of injustice. Archbishop Tutu’s forgiveness process is outlined in the book he wrote with his daughter Mpho Tutu The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World.
Why is it sometimes so difficult to forgive? There are many misconceptions about the practice of forgiving: that by forgiving you are condoning or accepting a grievous act; that by forgiving it implies you are weak and will not stand up against those who commit such acts; if you forgive, justice will be abandoned. But forgiveness is not about helplessly giving up, surrendering, avoiding justice or being weak. Forgiveness is about letting go of the anger and resentment you hold in your heart, that causes you so much pain, and can lead to conflict with others. This process helps you to develop compassion for yourself and others.
Expressions such as “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” and “unalienable Rights” (in the US Declaration of Independence) or “domestic Tranquility” and “general Welfare” (in the Preamble to the US Constitution) give us much to think about. It seems that the founders of this country were trying to establish an enlightened government.
In this talk, we will look at some related ideas in Buddhist Philosophy. Ultimate Liberty for us is liberation from samsara, the cycle of suffering. The pursuit of happiness relates to having a meaningful life. The general welfare is the concern of a bodhisattva, someone who is aiming to become a buddha in order to benefit all sentient beings.
Is there anything we can do to retrain our intuitive judgement when we feel that it is biased and distorted? Can we develop a more open, balanced perception without sacrificing our highly adaptive ability to make quick judgements? We need to realize that even our intuitive judgement is based on prior evidence and experience, and can be retrained. We need to be conscious of the images and information we are exposing ourselves to and seek out information that gives us a more balanced, accurate perspective.
Religious fundamentalism has recently been igniting deeds of horrific violence across the globe. A suicide bombing in Ankara on March 13 killed forty people; two suicide bombings in public places in Brussels several weeks ago killed more than thirty; on Easter Sunday in Lahore, Pakistan, a suicide bombing in a park claimed the lives of more than seventy people, most of them women and children. In the US, in many southern states, new legislation aimed at eliminating the civil rights of LGBT communities have appeared in recent weeks.
These developments are bewildering to many of us, leaving us feeling helpless, even paralyzed. What do we do with the intense feelings that can arise in us when we learn of such atrocities? In a bid for understanding, one useful approach is to investigate what factors might be driving the rise of fundamentalism. This is where Buddhism in Action speaker, Venerable Tenzin Chogkyi has found the work of social psychologist Jonathan Haidt particularly useful. For years, Haidt has been researching the psychology of morality and the “moral emotions.” His theories about the innate moral foundations all humans share shed new light on the dynamics that could be fueling the rise of fundamentalism.