Articles by Fa Liang

This week, right in my own "backyard," a terrible thing happened. A man, fueled by hate, walked into a Unitarian Universalist (UU) church during a children's play and began shooting. Two people are dead and four more are physically injured. Many more are left to bear emotional scars. The alleged shooter (as of this writing, there has been no trial and no conviction) has admitted that he attacked the UU church because they embraced the gay community and because of their "liberal" stance. He said that he'd recently lost his job and attributed his loss to liberal politics. Police investigations revealed that the man had a history of domestic violence and mental illness.

When I heard the news, I felt many things: shocked, saddened, frightened. After that came the question, "how do we make sense of a senseless act such as this?" I was reminded of other tragedies… from the events of September 11th to the bombing of the high school in Clinton, Tennessee (6 miles from Oak Ridge) during the turbulent civil rights movement of the 1960's. It is sometimes mind-boggling how the seed of hatred can sprout within people and move them to inflict pain to so many others.

Peace with a club in hand is war.
- Portuguese proverb

In this most recent act of mindless violent "retaliation" against innocents, I have made some observations. There have been some people outside of the UU congregation who have expressed a desire to retaliate. Some have said that they hope the attacker gets the death penalty. Others have said that God will punish him. However, within the UU group itself, the response has been nothing but compassionate. One member of the congregation said, "we may never know why this has happened to us, but with more people losing jobs and more mentally ill people being left untreated, we should do a better job of taking care of them so as to prevent more tragedies like these." I found it remarkable that a man in the midst of a tragedy was able to look at the bigger picture and recognize mankind's failure to extend compassion to every single person, rather than assign blame to a third person or petition for retaliation from the justice system or an almighty supernatural power.

UUA President Rev. William Sinkford, when asked by a reporter whether or not he believed the shooter would go to hell, replied that he was already "living in his own private hell." That, my sisters and brothers, is the "sense" of this senselessness. The attacker does not know himself - his Buddha nature. It is the same for all of us who continue to cling to our suffering, only horribly amplified in his case. We continue to live in our own personal hell until we realize our true nature and are able to break free.

In an essay I wrote called "Forgiveness," I talked about learning to forgive ourselves and move toward that freedom which awaits all who seek it. I said that "true liberation of the heart comes from stopping the war within ourselves." When we can end that war, then it will be a natural consequence that we will end conflict with others.

If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.
- Moshe Dayan

I found it especially remarkable that the UU congregation reacted as they did during the shooting. Several members wrestled the shooter to the floor and disarmed him… but they did not attack him in retaliation. There was no mob-like retaliation. They did not beat him up.

This is a real-life example of how we must react in our own lives. Of course we should protect ourselves - but should we retaliate? What purpose would that serve, other than to temporarily satisfy our own thirst for revenge? It would only cause suffering to both the attacker and the attacked.

An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind."
- Mahatma Gandhi

Now is the true test of our humanity - after the initial act is over and the attacker has been apprehended. It is the true measure of our compassion to see whether or not we make the effort to rehabilitate or if we only try to punish. The same is true in our personal lives. When someone has wronged us, do we try to "get even," or do we try to find out the underlying problem and address it? Our spouses cheat on us, our children lie to us, our coworkers steal from us, our neighbors disturb our peace and quiet. Do we seek "payback?"

Large scale tragedies such as this recent one are opportunities for us to be personally mindful as well as to practice compassion as a society. At times like this, the challenge is to shun the sword of vengeance and don the robe of love and charity. It isn't that we take the attack lying down and allow ourselves to be wronged - but that we rise above the initial action, think of the impact of our reaction on our fellow man, and extend the hand of compassion to help address the underlying cause of conflict.

It is easier to lead men to combat, stirring up their passion, than to restrain them and direct them toward the patient labors of peace.
- Andre Gide

I close with a Zen parable: One evening, a monk was sitting in meditation when a thief entered his house with a sword, demanding "your money or your life!"

Without fear, the monk replied, "Don't disturb me! Help yourself to the money, it's in that box." The monk then continued with his meditation.

The thief was taken aback by the monk's reaction, but he continued with his stealing.

While he was removing the money from the box, the monk said, "Please don't take all of the money out of the poor box. Leave some of it for them to buy food." Again the thief was startled, but he left some money as the monk asked.

Just as the thief was about to leave, the monk shouted, "Stop! That was Buddha's money! Aren't you going to thank him for it?" Surprised yet again, the thief made a quick bow before the statute of Buddha and mumbled thanks before he ran away.

A few days later, the thief was caught and confessed to his crime. When the monk was questioned as a witness, he said, "No, this man did not steal anything. He was given the money. This man even said 'thank you.' How could he steal what had been given him freely?"

At this, the thief was moved to repent of his crime and became a student of the monk.

To recognize the inherent worth and dignity of every person
- First Principle of the Unitarian Universalist Association

May all those who have been affected in this tragic event know peace and compassion. May all know freedom from suffering.

Talk given Wednesday, July 30, to the Cherry Tree Sangha

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We can, each of us, experience Wu! -- that emptiness, that relief -- every time we give up our attachment. When we have a job to do, we simply do it - without grumbling, without daydreaming about all the other things we could be doing instead, without any sort of attachment whatsoever. When we meet a person, we simply meet a person - without any sort of judgment or "first impression." When we experience an emotion, we experience it and then let it pass. We don't hold on to it and we don't "add fuel to the fire."

 A monk asked Master Zhaozhou "Does a dog have Buddha-nature or not?"
Zhaozhou replied, "Wu!"

This brief dialogue between master and monk, so odd to anyone uninitiated into Zen's strange ways, became one of Zen's most famous Gong-an's (Koans). It would inspire Dharma talks, essays, and books for centuries to come. What is this "Wu!"? And what does it have to do with Zen?

Wu, depending on how it's pronounced, "wu" can mean "nothing," "to hate," the number "fifteen" or a variety of other unrelated things. But the Wu! that master Zhaozhou verbalized was none of these - it was simply an expression of his insight into the question as it related to the monk who asked it.

Most of us Zen people encounter the Wu! story early in our Zen studies as we're trying to figure out what Zen is all about - we find it's intimately connected to the concepts of "no-self," "no ego," and "nothingness." But is Wu! nothing?

I think of Wu! as just the opposite -- as everything: as the freedom and awakening that comes when we let go of the black-and-white, dualistic, perceived nature of things that enable us to enter into the true spirit of Zen. Wu! happens when we let go of everything that we believe is real and go straight to the core of existence - when we relinquish the notion that we can have control over anything.

I also think of it as "the ocean of emptiness." It's not someplace far away; it isn't high up in the air; it isn't on some distant shore: it's right here, right now, and we can each experience it. We just have to pass through the gate.

Before we pass through though, the land of Wu! invariably seems like something beyond our reach - inexplicable yet fascinating. But once we do pass through and once we experience that "ocean of emptiness," it's such a relief to us. We look back on where we were and reflect, "Oh, if I'd only known all that time that I struggled with it that I just had to let go to experience it!"

Japanese Zen master Keido Fukushima said, "The experience of mu may at first glance seem purely negative or passive, but it is not so at all. Being mu, or empty of self, allows one to actively take in whatever comes. Our world today and all in it are separated into dualistic distinctions of good and evil, birth and death, gain and loss, self and other, and so on. By being mu, not only does one's self-centeredness disappear, the conflicts that arise with others dissolve as well. Here is a simple example: When we look at a mountain, we tend to observe it as an object. But if we are mu, we no longer see the mountain as an object; we identify with it; we are the mountain itself. This transcendence of duality may sound like some psychic ability or spiritual power someone possesses. But that is not true. Rather, it is simply and naturally a case of being free, creative and fresh. We become human beings full of boundless love and compassion." [emphasis mine]

So, how do we get there? Where can we find a ticket to enter through this gate?

There are different tools we can use: sitting meditation, zazen, is a good one - whatever amount of time we can devote. It helps us gain the calm and focused mind necessary to look inside ourselves deeply and begin to clear out the internal "garbage" that weighs us down and keeps us from becoming truly free. Amazingly, through practicing for even brief periods of silence and "just sitting," a lot of deep-seated pain seems to surface and we find that through our practice we are able to deal with, and let go of, the pain, taking another step closer to the Wu! Gate.

Wu! isn't something that we look forward to with a sigh and say, "someday maybe I'll experience it." In Chan, we actively strive toward it. We constantly challenge ourselves to let go of our ego-vision and to exist in harmony with everything in the world. We have to acknowledge to ourselves that our individual perceptions are inherently wrong. Nothing actually is as we perceive it to be - simply because we, as humans, tend to have a hard time looking at things without attaching to them our own personal opinions and experiences. We don't see just a tree - we see a beautiful tree or an ugly tree or a tree that's blocking our view of the mountains or a tree that needs to be trimmed. We don't see just a person - we see a screaming kid or an old person who's moving too slow or a co-worker who's threatening our job or an attractive person we'd like to date. We don't see just a pile of dishes to wash - we see an unpleasant task, or we see all the enjoyable things we could be doing instead of washing, or we feel anger or resentment toward the person who we think should have washed the dishes instead.

We can, each of us, experience Wu! -- that emptiness, that relief -- every time we give up our attachment. When we have a job to do, we simply do it - without grumbling, without daydreaming about all the other things we could be doing instead, without any sort of attachment whatsoever. When we meet a person, we simply meet a person - without any sort of judgment or "first impression." When we experience an emotion, we experience it and then let it pass. We don't hold on to it and we don't "add fuel to the fire."

It takes time and patience and perseverance, but it does happen. Each step in the journey is important.

So, what was the point of the question about a dog having Buddha-nature and Zhaozhou retort? In the Zen way, we each have to answer this for ourselves, but T. Griffith Foulk's commentary may bring us as close as words can get: Zhaozhou, he says, "wished to stress the point that although living beings have Buddha-nature, unless they realize that fact by 'seeing the nature,' they remain caught up in delusion and continue to suffer. . . "

Through the Wu! gate, may all our eyes be opened!


Historical note: Zhaozhou lived in China from 778 to 897 and was known for his strange, seemingly paradoxical, actions. But through those actions it is said he connected many people with themselves - with their Buddha Nature. Zhaozhou has been touted as the greatest Chan master of Tang dynasty and many of his anecdotes were recorded as Gong-an's (koans) in the Blue Cliff Record and The Gateless Gate.

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Once upon a time, there was a little wave. The wave loved being a wave going up and down and playing all day and night. The wave was surrounded by lots of other waves and it had fun watching them, too.

Then one day, the little wave noticed that something seemed to be happening to the waves in front of it. It noticed that it, along with all the other waves, was coming up to something big… the end of the ocean.

The little wave saw a wave in front of it going up, higher and higher. That wave was filled with light and it was as high as it could possibly go (which was the best part of being a wave)… and then it came crashing down and smashed into bits.

The little wave saw another wave in front of it do the same thing… go way up high and then come crashing down.

The little wave saw this and became very afraid.

But, what the little wave didn’t realize yet was that it was water.

The wave was completely made of water! And as water, the wave was never born and it never died. As water, it didn’t smash to bits it simply changed its form, trickled onto the beach, and then rolled right back into the ocean.

Soon, the little wave began going up and up, higher and higher. As it finally rose to the tip-top, about to come crashing down, it saw that the other waves were simply changing form! They changed from waves into spray and drops of water and rolled back into the great ocean, but the whole time, they were still made of water. The little wave realized that it was really water ... and it wasn’t afraid anymore.

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Forgiveness is a three-dimensional road with its foundation built solidly in the bedrock of our spiritual nature. I wrote previously about forgiving ourselves - recognizing and accepting our own mistakes instead of hiding in their shadows, defending our mistakes as if they weren't mistakes at all. Honesty, integrity, humility and courage are all essential ingredients in the mix that forms the sturdy road on which we travel our lives. But a road is not complete with just a foundation and some compressed detritus - it needs width. We need to build it wide enough for others to travel upon it with us; it's selfish to travel the road we build alone. In fact, one of our Mahayana Buddhist tenants, expressed in the Great Bodhisattva Vow, is to work toward saving all sentient beings. It's not enough merely to save ourselves. We must go a step further. In terms of Forgiveness, this means reaching out to others we may have harmed and making amends. It means accepting their forgiveness, or their lack of forgiveness, with compassion. It means giving them back their humanity.

Religions the world over have ways of helping people work with forgiveness. Prayer for forgiveness from God (in Buddhist terms, our "True Self") is a method all religions share in common to help us lighten our load and heal. But they have methods for helping others heal from our mistakes as well. Catholics have the sacrament of reconciliation, often called penance or confession, where the penitent person confesses his sins to a priest, who then grants absolution and forgiveness; Protestant Christians are encouraged to "confess with the mouth" [Romans 10:8-10] often to a preacher or in front of a congregation; and even 12-step groups such as Alcoholic's Anonymous incorporate forgiveness into their plan for self-healing. Their Ninth Step is to make direct amends to all the people we have harmed (assuming it does no harm to them or anyone else).

Forgiveness always requires that we take responsibility for our actions and do what we can to set things right. It requires that we reach a final resolution in our hearts -- that point at which we can truly let by-gones be by-gones.

Yet, the words "I'm sorry" seem to be some of the most difficult words to say for many of us. This is why forgiving ourselves must precede all else. When we forgive ourselves, we admit our failures and our humanity. We recognize ourselves as we truly are - the good, bad, and ugly - and see that this is our own nature, and the nature of all people. Only once we have come this far with forgiveness, are we ready for the final step: living it -- saying "I'm Sorry." Unless we feel it in our hearts, our words are fraudulent.

Dr. Seuss (whose works are usually considered for children but, by his own account, were for adults) describes the power of these words in Bartholomew and the Oobleck:

The inhabitants of the kingdom of Didd called it "The-Year-the-King-Got-Angry-with-the-Sky." It was the year the King learned a great lesson and transformed his kingdom. As the story goes, in the King's grandiosity, he had decided that he was tired of the same four things coming down from the sky: snow, fog, sunshine, and rain. He wanted something NEW to come down from the sky. And, since he was king, he would have his way, for he always got what he wanted, when he wanted it. He called upon his spooky magicians, and with magic words they made it happen. It rained oobleck! Green, gooey, molassesy stuff that stuck to everyone and wouldn't let go. The entire kingdom was paralyzed. Birds stuck to their nests, the royal musicians stuck to their instruments, and even the bell used to warn the citizens was silenced by the green, yucky stuff. The king sat on his throne, his royal crown stuck to his royal head.

Finally, Bartholomew Cubbins could hold his tongue no longer. "It's going to keep on falling," he shouted, "until your whole great marble palace tumbles down!" Then he reprimanded the king: "Don't waste your time saying foolish magic words. YOU ought to be saying some plain, simple words!"

"SIMPLE words? What do you mean, boy?"

"I mean," said Bartholomew, "this is all your fault! Now, the least you can do is say the simple words, 'I'm sorry.'"

No one had ever talked to the king like this before.

"What!" he bellowed. "ME . . . ME say 'I'm sorry!' Kings never say 'I'm sorry!'"

"But you're sitting in oobleck up to your chin. And so is everyone else in your land. And if you won't even say you're sorry, you're no sort of king at all!"

But then Bartholomew heard a great, deep sob. The old King was crying! "You're right! It is all my fault! And I am sorry! I'm awfully, awfully sorry!"

And the moment the King spoke those words, something happened.

Maybe there was magic in those simple words, "I'm sorry."

Maybe there was magic in those simple words, "It's all my fault."

They say that as soon as the old King spoke them, the sun began to shine and all the oobleck that was stuck on all the people and on all the animals of the Kingdom of Didd just simply, quietly, melted away.

Apologizing, accepting responsibility and making amends, not only helps relieve our own burdens, it also helps relieve the suffering of others - something which we, as Buddhists, have vowed to help with. By working to set things right, we may actually help ease someone else's pain.

Forgiveness must first be felt in the heart. It must be genuine. If it's not, we are merely adding to our list of wrongs. The King was not concerned about how his apologies would be accepted - he merely felt the dreaded load of doing wrong and the urgent need to make amends. It was his sincerity that brought back the sun. It was his offering that changed everyone's lives.

Whether or not others are ready to hear our forgiveness is not always within our ability to know, but if our forgiveness is honest, and we are not giving it in order to receive something in return, it can do no harm. True compassion has no boundaries and can not be tainted. If our apologies are rejected, it is sad, but it may be the beginning for the person who rejected them to work on forgiveness themselves. We must always recognize the potential for silver linings where they may exist.

As we progress in Chan, we become more acutely aware of harms we've caused, to ourselves and to others. The step of making amends becomes a heart-felt need for us. Proceed without hesitation. Remember all the many wars and conflicts the world has seen over simple misunderstandings and failures to admit fault. Let go of ego and pride. All people are our brothers and sisters - we're all family. It is not possible to rise above the suffering of the world as long as the world suffers, for everything affects everything else. Karma. We can do our part though to make the world a better place. All we need to do is share the healing process with others.

We all have the ability to climb out of the darkness of our sins (our karmic existence in samsara). The foundation is already there. Once we've paved the road by turning inward to see ourselves as the frail, fallible humans we are, we can widen that road merely by offering to share it with others. We owe it to our own nature to be generous. To empty ourselves of ourselves.

Like the moon, Come out from behind the clouds! Shine! -- the Buddha [Dhammapada]

It's so hard for the Buddha to save us!
We take a wrong turn a thousand times.
Those who truly crave liberation
Must quickly take advantage of their time.
The Buddha's words will shine like the white moon,
Illuminating the path that's otherwise unlit.
The Temple Bell will awaken the sincere but sleeping...
Dong... Dong... again, again, it calls.
Think about the chances! Born as human beings!
Intelligent and strong! But our minds are seared with troubles
And we're desperate for refuge from ourselves.
I've learned the teachings of the Dharma
And store that knowledge in my heart.
Guarding it keeps me safely here at home.

-- Empty Cloud

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We are all human. If we are honest with ourselves we'll recognize that we all say and do things that cause pain to others as well as to ourselves. It's the feelings within that reflexively lead us to act and speak in hurtful ways. The fear, negativity, and blame we project onto others are really expressions of our own feelings about ourselves. It's the separation from our own hearts that causes us to separate from others. Before we are able to genuinely forgive others, we have to forgive ourselves. But how? How do we bring forth compassion, forgiveness, and loving kindness within ourselves when we feel so absent of them to begin with.

When the day is long and the night, the night is yours alone,
When you're sure you've had enough of this life, well hang on
Don't let yourself go, 'cause everybody cries and everybody hurts sometimes."
-- Lyrics from Everybody Hurts by R.E.M

Forgiveness. The term most often brings to mind those people who have harmed us, or others, and our moral duty to free them from our resentment. But this is not forgiveness in the pure sense of the term. Forgiveness begins with ourselves.

We are all human. If we are honest with ourselves we'll recognize that we all say and do things that cause pain to others as well as to ourselves. It's the feelings within that reflexively lead us to act and speak in hurtful ways. The fear, negativity, and blame we project onto others are really expressions of our own feelings about ourselves. It's the separation from our own hearts that causes us to separate from others.

Before we are able to genuinely forgive others, we have to forgive ourselves. But how? How do we bring forth compassion, forgiveness, and loving kindness within ourselves when we feel so absent of them to begin with?

It happens when we fully accept ourselves as human beings: when we accept the "good, the bad and the ugly…" everything that's within us. Sure, it is easy to accept the things we like - if we're talented, smart, funny, attractive, or wealthy. Everybody likes a winner - most of all, our ego. But in order to experience true acceptance and compassion we must accept everything about ourselves, not just the things we like. We must accept our fear, anger, lust, envy, jealousy, sadness, and grief. And we must accept our failures. Like two sides of a coin, we're not whole without conscious awareness of both.

But fear so often gets in the way - it prevents us from looking at the "uglies" within. Yet there's solace knowing that, in being human, we all share these same challenges. With courage and resolve we must open ourselves to them and experience them fully. We must embrace them as part of our nature, be vulnerable to them, and not deny or repress them. Through this embrace, we can begin to approach forgiveness.

Hard challenging work it is. It's so much easier to portray an artificial calm through self-discipline than to fully investigate these deep emotions, especially considering how our Western society favors restraint and suppression. We are encouraged through so much media -- TV, radio, newspapers, the Internet, etc. - to feed our cravings and repress our self-awareness. We are led to believe that many of our feelings are simply not acceptable and that, if we have them at all (which we all do!), we are bad people. It's no wonder that the popular antidepressant, Prozac, brings in yearly multi-billion dollar sales. When society teaches that we're all bad people, a large number of us are going to believe it, especially considering that billions of advertising dollars go into making sure of it. Under such heavy weight, it's a natural consequence that there is no soil in which to sow the seeds of compassion. We are stuck in a vicious cycle. Our internal feelings and needs lead us to believe, often unconsciously, that we are bad people; fear builds, and feelings of unworthiness consume us. Soon there are layers upon layers of negativity pushing against us. We become pinned down by an unbearable burden.

Every practice in Zen starts with ourselves. No other person can experience life for us. Nobody can get inside our minds and observe our thoughts or feelings. Nobody can calm us or help us see things more clearly. It has to happen within ourselves. All religions recognize this. "Physician, heal thyself!" [Luke 4:23] It's the same with loving kindness, compassion, joy, and forgiveness. It all begins within ourselves, with taking an honest survey of that "dark side" we've neglected.

We can do all in our power to circumvent this dark side of our psyche, but eventually, one way or another, we will have to deal with it. Dr. Carl Jung called this dark side the enemy shadow, or sometimes just the shadow, and he warned us about the dangers of neglecting it:

"Everyone carries a Shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected and is liable to burst forth suddenly in a moment of unawareness. At all events, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions." (C. G. Jung,Psychology and Religion, 131)

In the beginning, it helps if we simply recognize the patterns of destructive action. We internally catalog old hurts that we can't let go of - maybe something somebody did or said sometime in the past that we can't forgive. Rather than attaching blame or judgment (which also spills over into other relationships we have), we observe the pain we have sustained for so long because of our inability to forgive. We observe how it caused us to become guarded, jaded, and wary, or to no longer be able to trust.

These patterns can be directed toward ourselves, too. We recite negative self-talk. We wallow in self-pity. Our mind clings to that which we fear and that which is unresolved in our life's experience. To break out of it we have to become a non-participating observer.

As we begin to recognize the patterns (and face the fear), we can, in the Zen way, call our actions into question:

What am I not accepting about myself?

What is so difficult to embrace?

What is it about me that causes me to be afraid that other people won't love and accept me if they know about it?

What separates me from my own heart and from other people?

How did I get locked into that sense of separation, where forgiveness seems like a barren desert?

It's no wonder that we're afraid to do this most difficult work. We can more easily forgive the most heinous criminals than ourselves. Much of the fear we have stems from the nature of emotions. While the mind is pure thought and imagery, emotions seem to be raw energy over which we do not feel we have control. When emotions are expressed in hurtful ways, it feels "out of control" and we become afraid of the consequences.

Our compensating strategy is to try to control our emotions through suppression. In reality though, in doing this we deny the very nature of our humanness. All humans experience anger. All humans experience joy. As R.E.M. says in their popular song by the same name "Everybody Hurts." Perhaps it's the universal truth of this statement and the sentiments the song conveys that sent the tune to the top of the charts in 1992.

Chan has a solution for the predicament. With Chan practice, we relinquish control to a higher source. Emotions come, we experience them, and we let them pass. We assume the role of observer, not controller. Rather than suppressing the emotions, we allow them to arise so that we may see them clearly for what they are. In this way they have no force over us and we are not manipulated to act on them in a harmful way. We are just being present with them. This is a skill that must be learned. It takes patience and practice, but it is attainable. Once achieved, it brings a sense of freedom unlike no other.

There has to be a willingness to be present with emotion and its energies -- energies that can sometimes be raw and frightening. We observe the intensity, discomfort, physical and mental reaction, and we compassionately and gently allow the experience of it to happen. We open our heart to it and accept it for what it is, without judgment toward it. We don't think, "I'm angry and I hate feeling like this." We simply observe, "I'm angry." We are present with it. It is present with us. Then, miraculously, as fast as it arose, it's gone.

If a secondary emotion arises, such as "I hate feeling angry," we recognize it but don't get caught up in the history of anger we have felt in the past. We don't open up old wounds to perpetuate the cycle of pain.

True liberation of the heart comes from stopping the war within ourselves. We must let the unhealed parts of ourselves have the opportunity to heal. If we cannot give ourselves permission to experience emotions, to heal from injury and to love ourselves, how can we begin to love others?

Our lives must be led unconditionally.

Finding deeper compassion and acceptance for others and ourselves does not mean condoning harmful behavior. Compassion opens the door to understanding, to wisdom. It allows us to see people as they truly are and recognize that we are all the same - that there is truly no separation.

Atonement is also an important aspect of spiritual growth. We can forgive a person for something harmful done, but that person must also atone for the harmful action if spiritual growth is to happen. Forgiveness is found through our own understanding of the situation, our empathy, and our recognition that we are all in the same boat … that we are all Buddhas. As our own Rev. Chuan Zhi has said, "People who hurt us don't usually do so consciously - after all, they are Buddhas too -- but they live in delusion. They don't know themselves and it causes great pain ... pain that they take out on others as well as themselves."

Forgiveness is a first step to true compassion. Challenge yourself. When you've had a bad day, look deeply into what's really bothering you. Once you start working toward healing your own internal wounds, it's a natural consequence that your outer presence will reflect the inner peace you gain. You will also find that it becomes much easier to ask forgiveness from those you have hurt.

Then, as you pray that all sentient beings may know peace and joy, you may be surprised that it carries a new and deeper meaning. Because you've found those things within yourself!

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