Faith and Values: Lessons from Buddha on How to See Good in Others, Including My Father
Every now and then churches ask me to be a guest speaker, so last month I had the pleasure of zooming in on the Unitarian Universalist congregation in northern Idaho. They asked me to speak about navigation in our increasingly polarized society. I couldn’t help but tell a story about my father.
When I was 27, working as a reporter in the Obama-Romney election, I remember receiving a text from him. He said if a black wins, he moves (he used a much worse word though).
I was angry and frustrated, and worse – disappointed.
I didn’t know my father very well and had recently reconnected with him – again.
I was not quite 2 years old when my dad first left. Yet I idolized him. In my mind, he was a loyal cowboy who did very important cowboy things, and I fantasized to meet him.
I was about 6 when he first called me and said he wanted to see me. Reluctantly, my mother drove me to the nearby gas station where he was waiting.
I wrapped my arms around his legs. And for about two weeks he was my hero.
He took me to Chuck E. Cheese, my cousin’s birthday party, taught me how to ride a bike.
But then he left.
Thirteen years passed before I saw him again. It was at an airport in Louisiana.
By now my beefy cowboy father had changed. Now he was dirty and skinny and he seemed to be begging for forgiveness with his deep blue eyes.
So I fell back into hope and fantasy.
Our relationship was subsequently cut off. By the time his text on Obama arrived, I had been reporting on religion for several years. The rhythm made me go through a closed mind and rejection. I have now valued diversity, equality and social justice.
I wanted everyone to do it too, including my dad. But his text reminded me that his personal values did not match mine. How could I really connect with this person?
How many of us have felt this about our neighbors in recent years? Our friends? Our family?
I was tempted to let go of any relationship attempts, but something sacred reminded me that he had the potential to be more than what I was seeing on the surface. We both did.
Every morning I read Buddhist meditations and recently read this one, written by Ven. Thubten Chodron from Sravasti Abbey:
“We need to differentiate between a person’s harmful actions and the person who committed them. The action can be heinous, but that doesn’t mean the person who did it is bad. Why? Because the person has the Buddha nature, the possibility of becoming fully awakened. The basic nature of their mind is pure and unspoiled and can never be defiled. To say that a person is bad or hopeless is like saying that the Buddha lied when he taught that all sentient beings have the possibility of becoming fully awakened.
It reminds me of my father, but also of our divided communities right now. Especially since the 2016 election, most of us have probably met at least someone in our life who let us down with their political stance.
Hatred and polarization seem to be all around us. Because of vaccinations, global warming, political candidates, religion – I feel separated from a lot of my Facebook friends, my family, my real neighbors.
So what do we do?
Like Ven. Chodron wrote, “We have to differentiate between a person’s harmful actions and the person who committed them. The action can be heinous, but that doesn’t mean the person who did it is bad.
My father had racist views. He abandoned his family. He was addicted to gambling. This is not good. But, dare I say, it wasn’t bad?
There was good in him, just as there is good around us that we don’t agree with.
I have to remember that I too have done hurtful things – things that made other people crazy, maybe even made them hate me.
Maybe they despise me right now for writing a column about being queer, or because I’m a journalist, or because I posted a selfie on social media with my vaccination card.
We’re not the only ones being disillusioned right now, but we’re all in the same boat.
How to trust yourself again? How to love yourself so that harmony triumphs instead of worry?
We have to respect each other.
By finding respect for my father – despite his demerits and our differences – I could see what was behind those blue eyes: his Buddha nature. Like all of us here, he too was capable of a luminous mind; it was in him somewhere.
Understanding that he was not a lost cause is how I have come to find compassion and empathy for him, and this is how I will come to appreciate those with whom I do not. do not agree.
The words of a hymn that we sang when I spoke at the Unitarian church are: “… God is calling mankind to awaken, to join in a common work, so that all can have one. abundant life, unity with their neighbor. God is calling mankind to join together as partners in creating a future free from need or fear. “
What would it be like if we joined as partners with those with whom we are so upset and disappointed at this time, for the good of mankind?
It would be a step towards peace and restoration.
Recently, one of my columnists at SpokaneFāVS, Steve Smith, wrote: “As imperfect as we may be, we all instinctively know that we can be redeemed by the actions we choose to take here and now. It is up to us to live life well, to think of our fellow human beings and to do for them what we would like them to do for us.
I want people to see the righteousness in me, because maybe that’s what will help it grow. So I have to do the same for them.
My father died about 12 years after I met him at this airport. Our relationship was far from perfect. But I’m grateful for the glimpses of goodness that I was able to see in him, for it taught me forgiveness and selfless love, and now I’m ready to see how we can all find common ground and together make this community better.
Longtime religion journalist Tracy Simmons is an assistant academic professor at Washington State University and editor of SpokaneFāVS, a website devoted to covering faith, ethics, and values in religion. Spokane region.