August 14, 2007

Practicing Peace - Two Wolves

There is an old Cherokee story. After September 11, 2001, it was retold in email and on the internet. Though it was told in reference to the events of those days, I believe it is much, much older.

“Grandfather,” a young man asked, “after such a tragedy, what do we do?”

“Inside me,” said the Grandfather, “I feel two wolves fighting. One wolf is angry, full of vengeance, and aggression. The other wolf is gentle, full of love, compassion, and forgiveness.”

“Which wolf will win, Grandfather?”

“The one which I feed, will be the one who wins.”

With this story, Richard Reoch began Practicing Peace in Times of War. What it means is that we have a choice. Even though we feel the embers of anger, hatred, and vengeance, we choose whether to add wood to the fire. It is hard, because anger and aggression are habitual responses. They are based on fear and the feeling of groundlessness, of unease, and not knowing what to do next. They are based in our desire to find something solid and tangible to hold on to in a world constantly in flux. We can choose to remain with the groundlessness, to dwell in that uneasy space people have been avoiding for thousands of years.

“Groundlessness never killed anyone,” Pema told us.

During Shambhala Training Level III: Warrior in the World, we learned that one aspect of The Great Eastern Sun is that of opportunity. We can choose how we interact with people. We can stop for a moment, just before we strike out or shut down in our habitual way, and actually make a decision to remain engaged and fully present. We might decide to let go of an old grudge or listen in a way that suddenly shows us something new about that person.

We are good at feeding the angry wolf, because it leaps right out at us every time, but the other wolf, who stands there quietly with the sad eyes, is actually stronger. It has endured starvation and deprivation and it is still there. That wolf is basic goodness.

Trusting basic goodness can become the point of your entire life.


TK said...

I'm not familiar with Shambhala training, but anger is a conditioned response, strongly tied to the notion of self, that happens when we are on automatic pilot. I find it the most difficult emotion to liberate myself from, but I'm making progress by being mindfully present. (Annoying people on the road is very good place practice it on, I found.) But I wouldn't speak of "choice" since that again brings the doctrine of nonself into question.

Monica said...

Ah, but TK, I believe in free will. I don't believe free will and nonself are incompatible at all.

More to the point, this is a summary of a talk given by other teachers. Pema and Richard very explicitly stated "In the midst of this, we have a choice."

"Global change depends on individual transformation," they stessed. "We can't always change the circumstances, but we can always change how we relate to them."

"The future is uncertain and unknowable," Richard cautioned us, "so don't lock onto an outcome. All we can control is the integrity of our actions in the present moment."

Shambhala Training, which is most certainly Buddhist in its origin and view, also explicitly states we have a consious choice. That is the view of The Great Eastern Sun.

Since I can find no Buddhist reference which explicitly states the non-will concept (and many which support it) and from the references you have previously offered I cannot use my reasoning to imply non-will from the doctrine of non-self, I'm going to have to go with what I've got. To quote a movie cliche: "The path to the future is always open."

I do, however, agree the ties between anger and self. In future posts from this series, I am going to summarize Pema's teachings on 'shenpa' (the hook that puts us into that automatic pilot) and dehumanizaton.