It's helpful to remember how much we share with every form of life here on earth: we all come into being, we all want to be happy; we all must die. We depend on other life for our very breath, for our food, for our happiness. Each of us is just one strand in the web of life, connected to every other. This is a truth that, sadly, we tend to forget.
So here I have one more selection from Jack's book to share. This selection appears in Chapter 15 titled "Many Brothers and Sisters." It starts with a story about how sometimes we can feel really alienated from our brothers and sisters and how just one person can help us remember we're all members of life's family, even bugs.
Several years after the Los Angeles riots/insurrection of 1993, I [Jack Kornfield] joined together with Malidoma Somé, Luis Rodriguez, and Michael Meade to begin a series of multicultural retreats to address the difficult dialogue on race. In one retreat a hundred men from the black and Latino communities of Watts and East Los Angeles joined with white participants for teachings, story-telling, truth speaking, and healing rituals. The retreats drew on communal practices from the ancient traditions of West Africa, Native America, and the Buddhist elders to attempt to create a common ground for understanding. It was a fiery and passionate week.
One of the most heated moments came when a white man told how frightened he had become for his family when the Los Angeles riots/insurrection came within two miles of his home. He was so frightened that he had gone out and bought a gun for protection, he said. Several African-American men instantly bolted from their seats to confront him. “Who are you going to kill with that gun?” one man said. Another shouted, “You talk about fear. If you want to be afraid, brother, you better look in the mirror. Look who invented the machine gun, the land mine. Look at the owners of gun factories. Look at who built nuclear weapons and then used them. Look at who shipped twenty million people to this country as slaves, who fought the biggest wars in the last thousand years, who colonized the world. You want to be afraid, look at white people. You better sell that gun, man.”
Several white men rose to support the man with the gun and began shouting back about defense for individuals. Other black men argued louder. The tension was building. We wondered if we could keep the room from exploding.
Finally Ralph Steele, a six-foot-two African American Buddhist teacher stood up. In his voice we could hear the soft echoes of the South Carolina Gullah language of his childhood.
“I live in rural New Mexico where everyone has guns for hunting and protection, but I don’t have one. When I was in Vietnam I saw enough shooting to last a lifetime. We would go out on patrol or into the villages and every day somebody would get shot, sometimes your best friend. We would get to a new area and people there would move and some of the guys would get spooked and start shooting. Later we found we shot women and children. There were some human beings in our company who liked shooting other human beings, even women and children. We didn’t know what to do with them. It was my life for two years.
You don’t want a gun. It doesn’t matter who you are, you don’t want a gun. You don’t want the dreams, the nightmares that come from using a gun. You don’t even want the memory of a gun in your hand. You’ve got to live a lifetime with that.”
Ralph finished speaking and stood quietly, looking around. All the other men sat down. He had spoken without anger or defensiveness, with a compassion bigger than all the anger and fear in the room. We were silent for a while.
By listening with the heart, by giving voice to the truth of compassion, one person an turn the energy of conflict back toward peace.