He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Heart of Justice

I recently read an article entitled "Sweeping My Heart" written by a woman from California who had overcome a great deal in her life, gone farther than most people ever do in higher education, and went on to become a Zen teacher in the Buddhist tradition among other things.

There are a number of things we share in common aside from our humanity.  We both started our religious journey in the Church of Christ denomination and have spent much of our lives reading the Bible.  We were both drawn to study Buddhism, and specifically the Zen expression of it.

While I came to a turning point and decided not to pursue conversion to Buddhism (you can read my unusual reason for that here), I have continued to learn and write about Buddhism generally and Zen specifically, as you can read in this 3-part series on a Zen master's text:

Another thing we share in common is that we struggle to avoid letting intellect take the place of love.  As I read the dialogue which Zenju Earthlyn Manuel presented for our consideration in the article, I felt the weight of my guilt.

I too have felt as if I were better than my ancestors and learned with difficulty that I was wrong.  I too had to learn that my good deeds are not enough, that my work and education, while also good, were not enough.  I too have put the work of finding the right political solutions to our society's myriad serious problems before the work of removing the obstacles to healing my heart.

I too was put in places where I would be bothered enough to change.  I hope that I continue to be put in new places where I too will be prompted to grow in love.

"Today when I clean the temple, I know it is my ancestors calling. I know that the memory within me of their existence as slaves is being understood and transformed. I know that temple cleaning is the motion arising from sitting meditation, not history repeating itself.
If I am fortunate enough to be offered a chance to sweep, it is a profound time with my own heart—to use the broom as a ritual connecting this life and the lives of those in my past. I am not replicating what my ancestors did as slaves. On the contrary, they have brought me to this moment. How else would I appear in such a temple?
In sweeping, I had to climb down from who I thought I had become. The practice was to move beyond easily-accessed, well-served black pride into seeing the ways I suffer. I began to see the ascendance from enslaved Africans as a sanctioned and gifted walk toward the very liberation the Buddha spoke of, and what the ancestors saw for me and everyone else. While economic reparation for enslavement is true and relative justice, the ultimate reparation is true freedom from the poison of our oppression. We need both."

I hope to also be put into these places of suffering because it will help me to cultivate a heart of justice.  The heart of the person who seeks justice most fully is committed to justice in the social and political contexts.

The heart of the justice-seeking person is also committed unwaveringly to healing the wounds that perpetuate injustice, those deep and unfair wounds out of which we speak harshly, commit acts of violence, and disregard the value of other people because we are so wrapped up in our own rage that we are indifferent to the wounds of other equally important hearts.

Justice flows from the heart which is pierced with the sword of suffering, the heart that knows what it is to be wounded profoundly, and has learned from the wounding to bind up the wounds of others rather than taking revenge on those who are doing the wounding.

Instead of wrapping itself tightly in the bloody blanket of rage, delighting in the heat of an ever-burning wrath, the heart of justice finds freedom from the chains of anger and helps others to break those chains as well.

And what a gift it is, this unchained heart!  When our hearts are freed of those chains, the work we do for justice in the social and political contexts is more effective.  The successful political revolution to end oppression must be preceded by the revolution to overthrow the tyrant of our hearts, to drain the poison from our wounded hearts so that we can be healed.

Let us all commit to cultivating a heart of justice, to liberation from the poisons of rage and resentment left in the wounds of our hearts, to breaking the chains of anger so that those who have wounded us do not succeed in killing what is good in us.

By Turgis - Turgis, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45719762