Single-mindedness

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I wanted to share some wisdom from a very good book I read lately, called Peace is Every Step. It is written by a monk named Thich Nhat Hanh. He was born in Viet Nam but has spent many years in North America and Europe, so he has a good outlook on western culture. This book talks about inner peace and meditation and does so using everyday language and modern analogies. In it, he quotes 14 precepts that most Buddhists live by. There are a couple that really struck me because they are totally opposite to how many of us think. The first precept is “Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory or ideology. All systems of thought are guiding means, not absolute truth.” The second is similar: “Do not think that the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice non-attachment from views in order to be open to receive others’ viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times.”
Isn’t that interesting? Most people, in North America at least, are quite single-minded in their beliefs. They seem to think that the more narrow-minded they are (or the better their blinders are), the better the proof of how dedicated they are, therefore proving they are good people. Many even become fanatics to a certain belief, no longer questioning it at all, until they are completely unable to see someone else’s point of view. But imagine if most people were the opposite – not bound to a belief but willing to listen and learn about others’ beliefs at any time, not feeling that doing so challenges their own beliefs or faith, and even be willing to let their beliefs be challenged and change them if necessary. Some people would have us believe that too much tolerance is evil, but I know from experience that too little is not the answer either.
The third precept is about how we relate to others’ beliefs. Many modern Christians/Evangelicals could learn from this: “Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education. However, through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness.” How much indoctrination is done in the name of education!! Not that all education is bad, but unfortunately in the course of that education and by watching those around them, children are also learning how to be intolerant, stubborn, narrow-minded and judgemental – not qualities we should be cultivating. Think about it – these traits also lead, in the worst cases, to racism, sexism, and religious extremism, and in the lesser cases, to insensitivity, unkindness, and living with fear of judgement. Why can’t we let people have their own beliefs without feeling threatened in our own?
Just some things to think about, and if this sounds interesting, I’d encourage you to read “Peace is Every Step” or Hanh’s other writing – like “Living Buddha, Living Christ” which I am currently reading! It’s another great one!

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