Dharma “talk”: the Voice of Another and Wise Attention. If not hatred, then what?

As he was wont to do, on one occasion the Buddha posed a rhetorical question to his disciples: “Friends, how many things contribute to seeing things rightly (sammādiṭṭhi)?” Answering his own question, the Buddha said that there are two key factors: the “voice of another” (paratoghosa) and “focused attention” (yonisomanasikara, sometimes translated as “wise attention”). He also said that these two factors are the two legs on which the life of spiritual practice and transformation stand.

–– C. Hallisey & J. Surrey, Insight Journal, 2021

Some of the earliest forms of “Dharma talk” were the conversations among the Buddha’s followers. The earliest monks and nuns, along with lay people, practiced meditation, and they listened to the Buddha’s teachings. Afterwards, they gathered to talk with one another about their understandings and insights, their confusions and doubts. They spoke, and they listened. Their growing wisdom relied on––and was accelerated by––the growing wisdom of the others in the community. Together, they supported one another in their internal and external transformations as people in this world. Together, they gradually became the very Dharma that the Buddha was pointing to in his teachings. They grew into the open-hearted blessings of harmony, clear knowing, and continuous mindfulness. They experienced a liberation from unkind, unskillful impulses, which can drive habits of reactivity in the undeveloped heart-mind. It was with a sense of recognition and a deep feeling of gratitude that I recently experienced this
kind of transformative “Dharma talk” occurring in a Thursday Morning Sangha gathering. After our guided, Dharma-informed meditation and a time of silent practice, we had broken into small groups with the suggestion that we share any insights we might have had during the year 2023. In my group, one person spoke enthusiastically of a discovery she had made about hatred while trying to get a handle on it arising in herself in a real-life situation recently. She was struggling with the idea of turning her anger and hatred into love, and more importantly, with her own inability to do so. She was inspired by the words, “Hatred never ends by hatred, but by love alone does hatred end.” But she couldn’t do it.

Then she realized that what she could do was to turn her mind towards calm, and when she did that, the anger ceased. In that very moment, this shift in her attention ended the anger and its associated hatred! It was a joyous, liberating moment for her. It was for us listeners too! Her telling of this personal story expanded our own possibilities for freedom from hatred. We each talked of our own experiences and named other mind states that we have used to discourage the presence of hatred in our hearts, and thereby, to cultivate its absence. These wholesome states include equanimity, compassion, wise understanding, calm, forgiveness, curiosity, and of course, mindfulness itself.

In our friend’s story, first she had to recognize that anger and hatred were present, and she had to have the desire and the willingness to not hate. Such wisdom and mindful awareness eat into the powerful momentum of reactivity. They slow it down. They give us a choice: the possibility of refraining, restraining, and redirecting our attention. “I have already stopped. Now it is your turn to stop,” said the Buddha to the furious murderer Angulimalla, who was attempting to kill him. All of us, who were in that small group discussion on that Thursday morning, have a deeper understanding about how to stop the fury of our own moments of hatred.

Hatred never ends through hatred.
By non-hate alone does it end.
This is an ancient truth.
–– Dhammapada 5,
translated by Gil Fronsdal

***
Here
Hostilities aren’t stilled
Through hostilities
Regardless.
Hostilities are stilled
Through non-hostility:
This, an unending truth.
––Dhammapada 5,
translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

***
For never here
do hatreds cease by hatred.
By freedom from hatred they cease:
This is a perennial truth.
––Dhammapada 5,
translated by Valerie J. Roebuck

***

Never by hatred is hatred conquered
But by readiness to love alone.
This is eternal law.
––Dhammapada 5,
translated by Ajahn Munindo

***

Just as in the earliest days of the Buddha Dharma, most all of our sangha groups––those that meet weekly, those that meet monthly, and those that meet less often––provide the opportunity to sit together in a period of meditation, and then to talk with one another in small groups about the insights and questions we glean from the interaction of the teachings and our subjective world experiences. Often, when the smaller conversations end and we gather the group as a whole, we see the smiles and feel the camaraderie among ourselves.

To be patient and kind, to associate with others on a spiritual path, to have relevant
discussion on due occasions – this is the greatest blessing.
–– Sn 2.4: Mangala Sutta, trans. Narada Thera

In a recent Dharma talk, Gil Fronsdal contended that the center of our world is not composed of atoms; it is composed of relationships. At the core of our being are our relationships with others of all types––people, plants, animal, sky, wind, ideas, breath, the various aspects of our self. We are always in relationship. This is the Dharma, he said, as described in the Buddha’s teaching of Dependent Arising. Thich Nhat Hanh put it this way: we inter-are. The Buddha simply said, “One who sees Dependent Origination sees the Dharma; and one who sees the Dharma sees Dependent Origination.

In the talk, Gil went on to say that at the heart of relationships are stories. Stories and the sharing of our stories are essential to our well-being and to that of the entire world. Together, we encourage ourselves towards “clear knowledge and continuous mindfulness.” Together, we realize “harmony, awareness, and liberation.” As Gil spoke of his trust in the Buddha stories as being good stories, I thought of the personal stories shared in the “Dharma talk” of the small group that I was in that Thursday morning after our meditation. The insights woven through these personal life stories were invaluable to me: to my understanding, and to my ever-unfolding life in this world. This was true for the others in my group too; and I could see and hear in the large group conversation that this was true for the others as well. We help one another live. What Ram Das is purported to have said rings so clear for me:

“We are all walking one another home.”

Previous Post
Sangha: Beautiful Friendship
Next Post
The Buddha is Not a Teacher in the Past: Where is he in your life?

Dharma Reflections Archive:

Archives