Dharma in Times of Hardship – A Conversation with Stephen Bachelor

Dharma in Times of Hardship – A Conversation with Stephen Bachelor, 28 October 2023

Moderators: Carmel Shalev, Eran Harpaz

C:  Good morning, everybody. Welcome. Shabbat Shalom. Thank you all for coming, for being here and especially to you, Stephen. You are a dear Dharma friend. You are a dear dharma teacher and inspiration. For those of us who do not know you that well, Stephen has written many books, one of which, Buddhism Without Beliefs, was translated into Hebrew by Eran and myself. And he is a founding teacher of Bodhi College and also one of the founders of the Secular Buddhist Network.

Last week, Stephen, you reached out and wrote to ask, if there is anything at all you can do to help. I shared with you some of what we've been going through over the last three weeks. It's been a tsunami of emotions, wave after wave, the unimaginable horror, the shock, the confusion, the tragedy, the loss, the sorrow, heartbreak and radical uncertainty, fear for our very existence, shaken to our core. And, at the same time, amazing shows of courage, creativity and solidarity. And now you are here with us and I just want to express my deep thanks and appreciation for your care, your support and your generosity. Thank you.

S: Thank you very much, Carmel. I thought we would start with a few minutes of quiet reflection. I realize that all of you or, at least, most of you are familiar with meditation practice, so I don't need to say a great deal. But let's just pause in whatever thoughts we're running through our minds, whatever emotions.

I'd like to open this meeting with a few minutes of quiet reflection. No doubt you have different practices. Whatever practice you're familiar with, just come to rest, to take a little bit of distance from the thoughts and the emotions that may be running through you. And just find within yourself, maybe deeper in your body, in your solar plexus or in your dantian[1], a groundedness - not a groundedness in which you cancel out the thoughts and the feelings, but a groundedness that allows you to be with them in a more stable, in a more existentially real way.

[quiet pause]

For many of us, we'll probably begin by coming back to our breathing and feeling our breathing as it moves through us like a tide, a tide of life coming and going, breath after breath. And just coming to rest, coming to settle in that tidal rhythm of life, of essentially being alive, being conscious, and being still, being balanced, being collected.

[quiet pause]

If you find your mind is wandering away, then gently come back to your own breathing. And remember that you're not alone in this meditation. There are many of us together trying to be still. Allow yourself to feel the community that is sustaining this mindful attention right now.

[quiet pause]

S: Thank you. I think Eran is now going to say a few words.

E: Thank you, thank you, Stephen.

I want to join Carmel who initiated this meeting (thank you very much, Carmel, for that), with deep gratitude to you, Stephen. It's under terrible circumstances we meet again, I haven’t seen you for many years, but still I'm happy. You are a major teacher for me and a friend. And I have deep gratitude for your willingness to be with us in these times. Because I know you a bit, I want to say a few words that will be kind of background.

I don't know how many of us here know, but you were one of the first teachers that came to Israel to conduct a retreat for what later on came to be Tovana. As far as I know (it was before I myself became involved), it was in 1991 that you visited here. You gave a retreat in Clil and at the time there was a war in the North; once in a while a “boom” was heard as you were sitting in the small meditation hall here.

I want to tell you that Clil – the small village in northern Israel where Stephen Fulder and myself live and until recently also Carmel, that you are quite familiar with – does not look the same these days. I`m not talking just about the fact that it became a bit bigger since the last time you visited. I`m talking about what happened recently. Most of the people left the village which is about seven miles from the Israeli-Lebanese border. There are now huge boulders blocking half of the road at the entrance to the village, which has no gate and is not surrounded by fences. There are guards now at the entrance.

I myself - never before having held a gun or been a guard of anything – realized that I have responsibilities as part of a community which feels deeply unsafe. During the very first days of the war, after we heard about the horrors that took place in the south of Israel, my family and I fled to a kibbutz much further away from the Northern border. One of the main reasons for our coming back to Clil, a few nights later, was to join the rotation of guards at the village entrance, which enabled my children to feel safe at home. As soon as we returned I volunteered to join those guarding the village.  

You know, Stephen, years ago you were one of the first teachers who guided me to reflect deeply and gain a more intimate understanding of the inevitable fact of my own death. With time, this became one of my main daily reflections, yet what happened on October 7 in the south of Israel was something on a completely different level. As Stephen Jenkinson[2] put it clearly a few days ago in a zoom meeting organized by Shutafim Lamasa, there is a clear distinction between "the fear of dying and the fear of being murdered or being slaughtered."

Just yesterday, Carmel and I were talking on the phone, thinking together about the meeting today, when she suddenly sounded weird. Then she said: “I need to stop the call for a while; there is a siren.” This is the present situation for many of the people who are here listening to us right now.

And the last thing I want to mention is that things have changed since the last time you were here in Ein-Dor, where I myself am right now. A couple of years ago, Tovana rented the facility for a long period - not for occasional retreats but with the idea of having a meditation center with almost back-to-back retreats and a dharma environment 365 days a year, or that is what we thought it would be like. Three weeks ago, we finished a retreat and we didn't continue...

There are now about 50 people staying here who were evacuated from their homes in the North. About 150,000 people in Israel left their homes by command of the army. Many others left their homes because they chose to. Allowing people to stay here in Ein Dor is a small gesture that the dharma community can offer to the larger community, to society. Besides, the coordinators of the meditation center, who live here all year long like in other centers like Gaia house, IMS or Spirit Rock, invited people from the sangha to join together and find refuge here for the weekend (you might see them right now in one of the zoom windows…).

Thank you again for being with us. And allowing us to take a kind of refuge together with you for this time, which will last about one hour. Thank you.

S: Eran, thank you very much indeed. And thank you for reminding me of my first experience in Israel many years ago at Clil, where we did witness a short conflict across the border with Lebanon. But I have to acknowledge that I feel very powerless as a speaker here. I cannot possibly imagine what you are going through in the wake of the atrocities that were inflicted upon your people, your communities, maybe some of you with friends, maybe family who suffered these brutal attacks.

I've lived a life of great privilege and safety in Western Europe. And I've never been exposed to the kinds of threats that you have been subjected to in the last three weeks. So, forgive me if I say anything that is insensitive to your plight. I will do my best to bear in mind, as best I can, how you must be feeling in these times. But I'd like to start by acknowledging how tragedy and suffering of this order is very often what serves as the most powerful test for our practice of the Dharma. It's very easy to be a good Buddhist or a good Christian or a good Jew or a good Muslim when your practice is not put to the test. If you live in a situation of privilege and comfort, it's relatively easy to sustain a practice to study spiritual and religious philosophies without ever really being existentially challenged.

For many years, I was a Tibetan Buddhist monk, and I remember clearly conversations I had with my Tibetan teachers and friends about what happened in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet in 1959, where the Chinese military opened fire on Tibetans who were demonstrating against the imposition of Chinese rule. And I remember one Geshe I was living with at the time who said, how, from one day to the next, fellow monks, fellow practitioners that he thought of as very, very committed and strong people in their practice, reacted in completely different ways. Some immediately faced the challenge by fleeing across the mountains to the safety of India. Others felt that their world had been destroyed or was going to be destroyed, and they took their own lives.

But 24 hours earlier, he would have been unable to predict who, amongst his friends, would have reacted in one way and who, amongst his friends, would have reacted in the other way. When your practice is put to this kind of test, in a way, it reveals the extent to which the dharma has taken root in your mind, in your heart, in your body and to what extent it has been just a consolatory set of beliefs and values and ideals that has not really taken hold in the depths of your being.

When I think of your situation now, I think of examples of Buddhist teachers that I've known, not so much in terms of what they said but in terms of how they have lived. I've been around the Dalai Lama now for more than 50 years and he has stood out for me as someone who has been subjected to enormous calamity and crisis and violence. And he stands for me, and perhaps for many of you as well, not just as a Buddhist teacher but as someone whose life is somehow expressing what he stands for in a very real, in a very humble, in a very honest, and in a very wise and kind way.

Another example is Thich Nhat Hanh, who died recently, with whom I had been in contact for many, many years and he, too, his practice was forged in a way by the conflict in Vietnam, between the Communist North and the capitalist or democratic South. And he sought to find a middle way, to not get caught up in the rivalries and disputes between the two sides but to find a voice that spoke from the middle. He often expressed this as trying to be a voice for those without a voice, trying to be a voice for the ordinary Vietnamese people who were subject to bombardments and to raids, and whose voice was not really heard. He too, for me, is someone who stands as an exemplary figure, not so much through what he said but more through who he was.

Both of these men were not idealists, they were not thinking in simple binary terms but understood the complexity of the moral situation in which they found themselves and resisted the temptation to take sides. So, the Dalai Lama always expressed great concern for the Chinese despite the fact that they were destroying his culture, his people, his country. It's these figures, I feel, who can be a light in this darkness that we are currently all going through.

I'd like to read to you a text that comes not from the Buddhist tradition but from the playwright of ancient Greece called Aeschylus. It's in his play Agamemnon, which is part of the Oresteian trilogy and it was first performed in about 460 before the common era. He starts by speaking of Zeus, which we can take generally to mean God. Zeus puts us on the road to mindfulness. Zeus decrees that we learn by suffering. "In the heart there is no sleep, there drips instead pain that remembers wounds, and to unwilling minds wisdom arises."

For me, these lines echo the logic of the practice of the dharma. Whether we take Zeus as meaning God or nature or simply the conditionality of life itself, how that impacts our minds and senses moment to moment, sweeping us along on the current of life. Yet the same current of life unfolds in a way that enables us to be mindful of it, to have the capacity to notice, to reflect on, and to embrace suffering. However difficult, perhaps however impossible, that might feel to many of us now, this path, this practice enables us to comprehend the human situation for all of its beauty, for all of its horror, in such a way that wisdom may finally dawn.

Robert F. Kennedy, the younger brother of the assassinated president, quoted this very verse to an audience of mainly African Americans on the day that Martin Luther King was murdered in April 1968. Kennedy was a Catholic, Martin Luther King was a Baptist minister, and instead of calling upon the biblical tradition, he called upon a quotation from a pagan, Aeschylus, a Greek playwright, a contemporary of the Buddha. And he concluded his brief sermon on that occasion with another citation, from the American classicist, Edith Hamilton: "Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world." To tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Two months later, Robert Kennedy was assassinated.

And both the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh have also failed in many ways to realize their goals. The Dalai Lama said recently that despite all of his efforts, he has achieved nothing for the people of Tibet. Thich Nhat Hanh suffered years and years of exile and finally was able to die in his country, but without having achieved the vision that he saw for Vietnam. Still, as a result, they grew in the moral stature of the persons they came to be.

The Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Thich Nhat Hanh was nominated for it by Martin Luther King. And it is this kind of moral and ethical integrity that I feel stands as a sterling and uplifting example for all of us who face similar threats and sufferings personally and collectively. Their standing is not calculated according to whether they succeeded or failed in their respective endeavors. Their standing is because of the stance that they lived in their lives.

If we go back to the Buddha, we find in one of the most moving and perhaps best-known passages how, as he too is close to his own death, he presents his dharma as an island, as a refuge. And not just the dharma, but also the self. The self and the dharma become an island and a refuge.

By that I understand that each of us has the capacity to integrate the dharma into our lives in such a way that we, each of us, find within a space of peace, a space of clarity, a space of understanding. Not as a way in which we can then disengage from life, disengage from suffering, but in such a way that the dharma is integrated into our specific individuality, becomes a ground and a source from which to respond to suffering wisely and compassionately.

In doing so, we seek to create and sustain a non-reactive space: the space that we touch in meditation and, crucially, a space that allows us the clarity and the freedom to respond to our situation in life in a way that is not determined by our greed, by our hatred, by our fear, by our opinionated-ness. We can embrace and comprehend what's going on. We can let go of what entangles us in fear and greed. We can find moments in life in which we stop and are still and are open in such a way that we have a capacity to respond appropriately.

Finally, I'd like to cite a text that comes from the Tibetan tradition. It's one of the mind-training verses and something I repeat to myself again and again and again. And it runs, “Please bless me to transform negative circumstances into the path." To take whatever is difficult and painful and seems to completely overwhelm and obstruct us at times, and to recognize within that there is the possibility through practice, through determination to turn that circumstance into the path of awakening itself.

That's where I would like to conclude. I hope what I've been saying has been of value, that it has afforded you perhaps a slightly different perspective from which to reflect on your situation. And in the time that remains for us, the next half an hour or so, I'd be very happy to respond as best I can to whatever questions that you may have. The moderators will read your questions as they appear in the chat. And then I will do my best to respond in an appropriate way.

I see my presence amongst you as much as my being a listener. I want to learn from you. I don't have the answers. But I might be able to help you frame the questions in a way that might be helpful.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.

E: Thank you, Stephen. I just saw a question. … Where is the line between embedding the dharma in your life and using it as a spiritual bypass?

S: This, I think, very much refers back to the example I gave of the Tibetan monks. Some of them had embedded the dharma and they lived from it, even in the crisis. Others perhaps had used it as a spiritual bypass, the word I used was “consolation.” I think we often use religion and often quite legitimately, as a way to console us, as a way to give us a sense of hope, a sense of possibility.

However important that might be, if it doesn't take root within us, it will be relatively ineffective perhaps, particularly at times like the one we're going through now. And it could well be, as I suggested, that this is the test of the practice, that it's perhaps only in times like this that we can know for ourselves whether our practice is embedded within us or whether it has simply been a way to cope, a way to, as it were, feel better about ourselves and our lives but without it really taking hold.

Aeschylus, the Greek playwright that I mentioned, also says something similar. He says that when people watch his tragic plays, they groan along with the misery but the pain of the suffering fails to bite into their hearts. This is a similar idea. It's here, I think, that we can see how such a circumstance as this, however awful it is, gives us the opportunity to engage with the experience we're going through in such a way that it really bites, in such a way that it really engages with our practice.

I think that's all I can say to that. It's for each of us to perhaps re-evaluate our practice of the dharma, not in terms of what we've heard about it or what great teachers have told us, but in terms of what difference does it really make now. In a way, all that matters at some level is finding an opportunity to touch into deeper dimensions of our life that we perhaps have not yet accessed before.

C: I would like to bring some of the questions from the chat, especially the ones in Hebrew. One is about the sadness, the sadness... Another is about feeling embarrassed to share peace texts. I too am sensitive about that; I have a shirt with a peace sign on the back that I'm not wearing now. And then a question, heart-touching: What can one rely on in a time when we are displaced from our physical home, displaced from our family, displaced from our community? How to cope with being displaced?

S: Well, again, having lived such a privileged life, I've never been displaced and I find it quite difficult to imagine what that would feel like. You know, I've lived every day of my life, knowing that I will have enough on the table to eat, that I will not be threatened by physical violence, or am very unlikely to be so. I've lived all of my life, knowing that if anything bad happens to me, my embassy will fly me back to England or wherever it is.

I've always had in the background of my awareness, the sense that I'm safe. And I know that many of you are going through experiences now in which you don't feel safe, and not just personally but also as a member of a whole society that doesn't feel safe. Your community doesn't feel safe. You are exiled. And, of course, this is something that the Jewish people have a long history with, the experience of exile, be it in Babylon, be it in Egypt.

Your texts so powerfully express the tragedy of being exiled, of being displaced. And I wonder whether the answer to these questions doesn't lie deep in your own tradition here, whether or not you are practicing Judaism, in the stories that have kept your community and your people for so many centuries with such integrity. I feel somehow, in a way, unable to say more than your own tradition, that has had such an impact on the whole of Western civilization, already carries with it. My examples are more recent, with the Dalai Lama and with Thich Nhat Hanh.

And the sadness that you speak of, perhaps it's even deeper than the sort of general sadness that I would understand. I feel the first thing is really to be able to simply acknowledge that sadness, to be able to say yes to that sadness, to be able to sit with that sadness, to not feel that this sadness is unpleasant and I don't like it and I'd like to find a way to get rid of it. That I feel is in a way ignoring the message of that sadness, to be able to really plumb the depths of how you feel in this situation.

And notice how the mind will react against that. We would much rather find some kind of ready-made solution in Buddhism, for example. but I feel that at times like this, the ready-made solutions of Buddhists and all religions and philosophies somehow might seem to fail us, that we need something more than those teachings can offer at such times.

So again, embrace and open yourself to these feelings and don't feel guilty about them. Like the feelings that Carmel mentioned about not wanting to display a wish for peace, for example. Where is that feeling? In what is it rooted? To what extent is your love of peace being perhaps also a form of spiritual bypass, a form of consolation, a form of feeling that you're on the side of the good guys, the nice people. Go deeper than that, ask yourself where does peace reside, not just in the world, but deep down in yourselves. Is it possible to really experience peace in a world of such incredible conflict? And not just specifically in Israel right now, since we all live in a conflicted community of human beings and animals and plants and planets and everything.

Go to the depths, go deep down, be open minded, don't have expectations of what you might find. I think that's all I can say.

E: I want to read two questions that I think are connected to each other, and then add something of my own. One question is about the difference between violence and self- protection. The second question is the following: "To the best of my knowledge, the Dalai Lama is not a pacifist. Can one acknowledge the plight of the other side and still acknowledge that, however tragic, one has to support fighting for what one holds as just?"

And I want to share a moral dilemma that I found in myself. For many years, practicing and reflecting on sila (the practice of ethics, morality and virtue), the value of not taking life seemed so clear and vivid in me. And now, after what happened in the south of Israel, I find myself in a kind of survival mode, and thoughts with fear in them arose in me: What would I do if someone came toward me and my home with a rifle and I'm with my kids? And I realized that if I could, I would take his life. It was a very, very scary understanding for me. It was kind of easy for me to say that I'm not going to be a soldier or a guard until I put myself in that situation. But when it’s happening in front of you, it brings up many questions.

S: As you speak, a couple of things come to mind. I lived in Switzerland for many years - the country renowned for being neutral, for being peaceful. But I soon discovered that every man, every male citizen of Switzerland has in his house, a rifle, ammunition and a military uniform. And with no exceptions. I had, I have a close friend who was the most gentle person I can imagine. And he too had a rifle and ammunition and a helmet in his cupboard in his bedroom.

And I asked him once, Martin was his name, “How do you live with that? How do you live with the fact that you're practicing Buddhism? You were going to be a Christian minister before that. How, how can you deal with this? How can you possibly imagine ever using these weapons."

And he said, “If enemy soldiers came to my village and threatened my wife and my kids, I would shoot them.” He said, “It will probably drive me insane. But I would do it.”

I'm in South Korea right now. I lived in a Korean monastery for many years back in the 1980s, and one of the things that, again, shocked me was that even sometimes halfway through a meditation retreat, the monks would leave the meditation hall; they would put on military fatigues and they would go out on military training for the day, regularly.

The monks in Korea are exceptional amongst the Buddhist monks worldwide in that they see they have a duty to defend their country against aggression. It was Korean monastic militias who in the late 16th century turned the tide against a Japanese invasion. And since then, the monks have taken not a pacifist stance but a sense of duty to their nation to defend it when the time comes. There are some monks who refuse to do this. And the only way they can get out of the army is by taking an axe and chopping off their fingers so they can't fire a gun.

This troubled me enormously. But the more I've come to think about it, the more I realized that there is an integrity and, in a sense, a realism involved in this particular stance.

I also remember after the 9/11 attacks in New York. I wrote a piece for Tricycle magazine at that time, and in that essay, for the first time, I began to recognize that violence is not just an optional extra when it comes to the preservation of a nation or a nation state. But that the nation state is premised upon the government's willingness to use violence to protect the freedoms that the state grants its citizens. That again, we can live as nice peaceful Buddhists but we're only able to live as nice peaceful Buddhists because we are finally protected by a state that is willing to use violence to protect our freedoms. We need, I think, to recognize that violence is built into the structure of the state itself. It's built into the very systemic conditions that provide us with the freedoms and the liberties that we enjoy.

And I wonder whether we need to make a distinction between violence and cruelty. I feel that violence is inevitable. It's unavoidable. But cruelty is not. Cruelty strikes me as what is really the one thing that cannot be justified, that cannot be forgiven, that has no justification at all. What happened in the south of Israel was an example of extreme cruelty. It's not a problem of violence. It's the willingness of certain people and groups to inflict cruelty on those who are not in any sense able to defend themselves, who have done no wrong. It's unprovoked. It's cruel.

The Indian word ahimsa is usually translated as non-violence. In fact, it strikes me that it would be better to translate it as non-cruelty, not being cruel to others. That's the moral that I can hold to, that I can live and seek to live by, whereas non-violence, I find is ambiguous.

C: Thank you for all you've said until now. Maybe I can read some more of the questions that came up in Hebrew.  One of the questions is that many people feel a need for revenge, to destroy the Hamas, even at the expense of the Palestinian civilians that the Hamas is holding or using as a human shield. And how do we deal with so much hatred, and how do we deal with the anger and the rage?

Maybe I can add a question of my own. For me the essence of the dharma is the opening of the heart and its qualities of metta (kindness): friendliness, compassion, appreciation, with equanimity, the stability, the ability to remain centered somehow. Maybe you could also address those and how they might be of help in this situation.

S: I think much of what I'm going to say is something that you already know. In terms of my practice, and again I can only speak from my relatively privileged experience, the first step has to be, I feel, to be able to acknowledge these feelings and to be able to acknowledge these emotions. Not just noting them as one might in vipassana sometimes: there's anger, there's rage. No, it requires more than just noting these things. It requires that we open ourselves to the reality of such emotions that are surging within us. We know too that when we're in the grip of a powerful emotion, it's not something we can easily control. We can perhaps allow a space in which that emotion is allowed to come forth.

What we don't want to do as Buddhists or I think even as human beings is to pretend that they're not really happening. That's really just another strategy of repression, of denial. Because I meditate on metta every day, and then start feeling rage and revenge, I'm likely to think, well, this is not really me, this is something that's inappropriate, this is something that has to be “abandoned” - a word that is often used in Buddhist discourse. I think abandoning is a little bit too strong a word, on the one hand, and inappropriate, on the other.

I don’t know whether these things can just be abandoned. I'm not sure they can just be let go of either. They somehow need to be allowed the space to be; causes and conditions of life have led to these powerful feelings and emotions, and they need to be honored. They're not by definition evil and wrong. They are simply how your organism is understandably responding to the conditions in which you find yourselves now.

But that does not mean that you have to act upon them, that you need to believe the narrative that goes along with such emotions. In other words, it's really a question more of letting them be. Letting them play themselves out. Letting them find that release, as it were, within one. But, at the same time, to recognize in the non-reactive space that's acknowledging the emotion, that there is also the possibility of freedom. The freedom not to rush out with a knife and stab someone. We need to somehow differentiate that from what is an understandable but essentially reactive response over which we are in a way unable to exercise any moral judgment.

Emotions of rage and so forth may, at times, be appropriate responses to the situation. To me, the middle way is really a practice of making the judgment what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. That is the moral, ethical starting point. It's not repressing these feelings, nor is it allowing them total free play in which I just get pushed along, often in concert with others who feel the same way. At least that is how I can imagine the situation that many of you must be feeling at the moment. How you deal with that, I'm afraid, is really your practice.

I can only present a framework. But it's not easy. It's not easy at all. It must be devastatingly difficult, given the values that would lead you to join a group like Tovana.

C: There is the pain. It is horribly painful. Just painful.

E: There are a few questions from people who shared that they take themselves to places with a lot of suffering, to hospitals, to people who have evacuated their homes, to people under severe trauma from the South. And they say that when they are active and there, they mostly find their center, but then they go back home and they just collapse. They feel a tide of compassion and pain that they cannot hold. And the question is if you can say anything about that.

S: I can say something limited, perhaps.

I feel that in extreme situations we are very likely going to have extreme reactions. If there's enormous suffering of people in hospitals, or among the displaced, it's quite natural that we seek to do whatever we can to alleviate that suffering and pain, to keep company with those who are suffering more than we are. But that can also lead us to burnout. However selfish it might seem at one level, we have to take care of ourselves. Otherwise, we can quickly become useless. We can't really deal with others effectively anymore. And we just dig ourselves deeper and deeper into a hole of our own making.

Again, this cannot be easy and I feel, in a sense, embarrassed to say this almost. But I think this middle way is acknowledging the need both to care for others and to care for oneself. I go back to my Tibetan tradition. In Tibetan philosophy, Buddhahood is defined as a state of being in which one fulfills the purpose of others and one fulfills the purpose of oneself. It's not either or.

We find this also in the Pali text: to not deny oneself to such a point that one ceases to acknowledge one's own limitations, to acknowledge one's own needs, to have the capacity to know when you have, in a sense, pushed yourself too far, to have the capacity to step back, to have the capacity to rest. On a smaller scale, anyone who works in health care as a therapist will know what I'm talking about. Obviously, this is now magnified into a social national crisis where these tiny examples may not be particularly borne in mind anymore but I think the same principle must hold true.  We need to care for ourselves if we are to care for others in these situations.

C: I notice a very basic question here. Sometimes there are conditions that we cannot sit and meditate. How do we practice when we cannot sustain sitting on the cushion?

S: Well, I think this is again a good example of our practice being put to the test. And this might raise the question: Is our practice just essentially about sitting on a cushion and being quiet and still? This, I think, is one of the things that's attracted people all over the West to Buddhism because it gives us something to do rather than something just to believe. And that something to do is very often then reduced to performing a certain spiritual exercise every day, let’s call it meditation. But perhaps what we're being called upon in our situation now is to extend and to enlarge what we mean by this word “practice.”

Practice. One word for practice in the early Buddhist tradition is that of bhavana which is often translated as meditation, but really what it means is cultivation, bringing something into being. And the whole of the eightfold path, including the way we perceive the world, the way we think, the way we speak, the way we act - these are all practices. I think it's too narrow to think of practice just as performing a specific meditative exercise every now and again. Perhaps that exposes a certain weakness in this model of the vipassana world.

Too much emphasis is placed on meditation as what is either equivalent to practice or somehow lies at the core of the practice. I am a writer. I also dabble in art and I see both of these activities as just as much part of my practice as I do my daily meditation. I think if you're working in the helping professions, if you're a therapist or a doctor, your practice is not what you do at home. Your practice is how you manifest your care in your relationships in your work with your loved ones.

I think we need to reconsider what we mean by practice, and that does not necessarily only refer to the exercises that we're taught. This is an opportunity perhaps to magnify the very concept of practice itself.

It's quarter past four here in South Korea at the end of the day or getting towards the end of the day. I'd just like to thank all of you for having spent this hour or more together.

I hope that what we've discussed, maybe some of the things I said, have been helpful in some way or another. I realize, of course, for you, you know, this is not just one day out of many that have gone before and probably many that will continue into the weeks and months ahead that is a complete unknown. And I feel this for myself in following your story through the news media. But for those of you on the ground, there must be this enormous sense of what the future is going to bring.

And that must be extraordinarily challenging, I suspect. I can only wish you the very best in however you are able to cope with these situations, drawing upon Buddhism but also drawing upon your own traditions, drawing upon other schools of thought, Greek playwrights, or whatever it is that is able to speak to you at this time of great turmoil and suffering and distress.

So please keep well. And thanks to everyone at Tovana who has made this meeting possible. And anything that I could do to be of any help, however little that might be, please do not hesitate to consider calling upon me again.

C: Thank you, Stephen.

E: Thank you. Thank you so much for that. It's so touching and it's so meaningful - your presence with us in these times, your meaningful and wise words and reflections, and your humbleness.

I wanted to remind us that we use the word “safe zone” these days with a double meaning. Safe zones are the shelters where we go when there is a siren. And we call these meetings together safe zones, to remind us that the dharma is a refuge.

I want to thank all the dear people who work and volunteer for Tovana and enable us to keep offering these activities, and whoever wants to support this activity is invited to do so. If there is a possibility to give Dana, please check for the link on our website.

S: Thank you. Whatever Dana comes, it goes to Tovana.

E: Thank you so much. Thank you.

S: Okay. I'm going to leave you now.

E: Thank you everyone. Bye.

עריכת טקסט:

ג'ין ורמל
כרמל שלו



חנן וולפסון
ברכה ברד
דבי צלניק
אמיר שקד
ג'ין ורמל
אן פיזנט
שגב הורביץ

[1]  In traditional Chinese medicine: energy center in the belly

[2] Stephen Jenkinson is a Canadian writer, teacher and grief literacy advocate. Among his books: Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul