Fourteen Precepts in Fourteen Days: Day Two
Second: Do not think that the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice non-attachment from views in order to be open to recieve other’s viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to observe reality in yourself and the world at all times.
Being Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh
Since I’m not actually a Buddhist, although I’ve read pretty widely in the tradition, and have started sporadically sitting again as my Lenten practice, I asked my friend Wendy, who is a Zen practitioner to keep an eye out in case I go off in a doctrinal ditch, and she reminded me in an email this morning that “we never ‘take’ the precepts. They are always out there, available, like the Dharma. We choose to open ourselves to them and receive them if we’d like. We never take, get, grab, grasp, or use the precepts.” So, let’s all keep in mind that I’m just out here sharing my attempts to open myself to the dharma in a time of global violence and trouble.
Here’s what I was thinking about this second precept, which is, of course, an extension of the first one. I’m thinking the Oscars provide a little example of this precept — first of all, everyone looked really uncomfortable even being there. All dressed up in the middle of a war, a gag order on, in the middle of what is probably the most judgemental group of people in the universe, the LA movie community. But there they were, trying to figure out how to proceed. There were two moments where people tried to break through the weirdness and have their say, and although this is a precept about being nonjudgemental, it seems to me one moment was unsucessful, and one wasn’t. Skillful means here people. We’re talking skillful means.
Now as you know from my earlier post about Bowling for Columbine, I loved that movie. It was a thoughtful and nuanced examination of our culture of guns and violence, and it absolutely deserved to win the Oscar last night. But Michael Moore fell into the trap Thich Nhat Hanh warns about in this second precept. He marched up there “bound to present views” and although it was nice to see someone take a stand, his confrontational approach just kind of didn’t work in that context. People were freaked out. He was so attached to his basic premise (which I tend to agree with) that this is an illegitimate presidency, that he lost the audience and everyone started booing and freaking out and didn’t hear what he had to say next.
And then there was Adrian Brody. First of all, I think the “present views” were that he wasn’t going to win, because he appeared so shocked, and the other nominees appeared so shocked, and then genuinely delighted, and that genuine delight seemed to spread through the auditorium. Suddenly it seemed right to people that this young actor won. An actor who put his heart and soul into a role about oppression and war, in a movie directed by a man who regardless of his sexual history, has suffered unspeakable violence on a personal level and has managed, somehow to go on as an artist. He was charming, and modest, and flustered and about to get shooed off the stage by the orchestra when suddenly he collected himself. And made the orchestra stop (that alone was a shock). And gave a very sweet and tender plea for compassion, for peace, for prayers. He told how he’d learned from playing that part, had gained some insight into how war dehumanizes us all, and he simply asked us all to resist that.
It’s really tempting to dehumanize those who frighten us. I myself, am more than guilty of attachment to my views about the men running this current administration and their humanity. I was against this war, and still think that although Sadaam Hussein is an evil evil man, our violation of international law and aggression in starting this war were also deeply wrong. However, we’re in it now, and I’m trying to practice non-attachment to my views about the military and the legitimacy of using military force. What can we do now but pray for them all? Our soldiers, their soldiers, the civilians on the ground?