Thursday, March 27, 2014

Practicing Reconcilation

"Springing Up"
-in my meditation garden-

Every day I hear stories about what is happening in Crimea and Ukraine. The rhetoric always focuses upon which side is right and which side is wrong in the conflict. I listen carefully to the stories and hear  words like revenge, retaliation and retribution.  The one word that I never hear in all the countless stories about the conflict in that region is, "reconciliation." 

Come to think of it, I rarely ever hear the word "reconciliation" used anywhere - not just on the news but in any corner of my everyday life.

I think the word "reconciliation" is rarely spoken and almost never practiced because it is such a hard thing to do and so counter-cultural to the norms of the everyday world. 

Most of the time when individuals, organizations, nations or peoples have disputes with one another, the first response is to "circle the wagons" and form camps surrounded by protective walls  - both sides believing they are right and the other is wrong. Most of the time the only way to settle the dispute is to do battle so that one side wins and the other loses. 

 In the end everybody loses in one way or other- victory at the expense of another is never really a victory at all. 

In my reading yesterday I was surprised to learn that the Buddha himself (along with some of his senior monks) devised a pretty sophisticated procedure for reconciling disputes among his monks - a practice that is still applied to this very day some 2500 years later. 

In the Buddha's plan, the practice of reconciliation may involve forgiving someone who has injured you. The practice of reconciliation may also mean that you ask for forgiveness.  But reconciliation is not the same thing as forgiveness. In the Buddha's plan, reconciliation is defined as "a return to amicability," re-establishing a broken trust. 

In Buddhist thinking there really are no "others." Each and every human being is a relationship. We are all "inter being." This fundamental principle is the foundation for any practice of reconciliation. If  people in a dispute know that regardless of how great the differences between them, everyone has mutual respect for one another, then reconciliation is possible. 

In the Buddha's reconciliation practice, the injured parties sit face to face with one another. Both sides realize that they think they are right, but with a "non stubborn" attitude they honestly share their ideas and confront their feelings. When appropriate they admit faults and offer forgiveness. They work at doing this for as long as it takes (sometimes it takes a long time and it is an arduous process).  In the end, any decision for resolving a dispute is made through a process of consensus (votes are never taken) so that ultimately everyone is satisfied with the decision - it is a return to amicability.

To this very day Buddhist monks like Thich Nhat Hanh continue to teach and apply this practice of reconciliation working with all sorts of groups and individuals in all kinds of opposing camps.  

The Buddha's practice of reconciliation is referred to as "straw converting mud."  Differences, injuries and disputes are not swept under the carpet (under the straw) and ignored. Instead straw is like a healing balm placed upon the wounds of injury so that everyone can walk on the straw and not get stuck in the muck and the mud.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about The Buddha's ancient process of reconciliation.  On the surface the practice of "straw covering mud" may seem somewhat "utopian"  -  a nice idea but not very practical in the real world of everyday life. However, the more I think about it, reconciliation is not only "practical" but essential in a society like our own where everyone seems to be in some camp or other, and the only way to prove who is right and who is wrong is on a battlefield.

In the Christian calendar we are well into the season of Lent. New life is blossoming everywhere in this Springtime season. Such a perfect time for practicing reconciliation. 

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