The Seven Trainings in Diversity
Written by Larry Yang in “Friends on the Path”, by Thich Nhat Hanh, compiled by Jack Lawlor, published in 2002.
The practice of these trainings is an opportunity to begin the journey towards narrowing the experience of separation. As humans, we all participate in the harmful behaviors that these trainings are addressing. We all have been the perpetrator and victim, at one time or another. These trainings are for all of us, not just for any particular group or community.
The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of Thich Nhat Hanh were an invaluable inspiration and nourishment of these trainings in diversity. Thich Nhat Hanh has written: “Many of today’s problems did not exist at the time of the Buddha. Therefore, we have to look deeply together in order to develop the insights that will help us and our children find better ways to live wholesome, happy, and healing lives.” This encouragement and suggestion becomes especially important with issues of diversity.
The invitation offered is to begin by transforming a piece of oppression, rather than being intimidated by the vastness of its suffering. The concept of “practice” presents itself as an incremental and cumulative process. The practice of diversity is also such a process. The hope is that this process can invite us into taking important steps in transforming our experience with oppression in deep and meaningful way.
(This intro was shortened from one that Larry Yang wrote himself)
1. Aware of the suffering caused by imposing one’s own opinions or cultural beliefs upon another human being, I undertake the training to refrain from forcing others, in any way – through authority, threat, financial incentive, or indoctrination – to adopt my own belief system. I commit to respecting every human being’s right to be different, while working towards the elimination of sufferings of all beings.
2. Aware of the suffering caused by invalidating or denying another person’s experience, I undertake the trainings to refrain from making assumptions or judging harshly any beliefs and attitudes that are different or not understandable from my own. I commit to being open minded and accepting of other points of view, and I commit to meeting each perceived difference in another person with kindness, respect, and a willingness to learn more about their worldview.
3. Aware of the suffering caused by the violence of treating someone as inferior or superior to one’s own self, I undertake the training to refrain from diminishing or idealizing the work, integrity, and happiness of any human being. Recognizing that my true nature is not separate from others, I commit to teaching each person that comes into my consciousness with the same loving kindness, care, and equanimity that I would bestow upon a beloved benefactor or dear friend.
4. Aware of the suffering caused by intentional or unintentional acts of rejection, exclusion, avoidance, or indifference towards people who are culturally, physically, sexually, or economically different from me, I undertake the training to refrain from isolating myself to people of similar backgrounds as myself and from being only with people who make me feel comfortable. I commit to searching out ways to diversify my relationships and increase my sensitivity towards people of different cultures, ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages, physical abilities, genders, and economic means.
5. Aware of the suffering caused by the often unseen nature of privilege, and the ability of privilege to benefit a select population over others, I undertake the training to refrain from exploiting any person or group, in any way including economically, sexually, intellectually, or culturally. I commit to examine with wisdom and clear comprehension the ways that I have privilege in order to determine skillful ways of using privilege for the benefit of all beings, and I commit to the practice of generosity in all aspects of my life and towards all human beings, regardless of cultural, ethnic, racial, sexual age, physical, or economic differences.
6. Aware of the suffering caused to myself and others by fear and anger during conflict or disagreement, I undertake the training to refrain from reacting defensively, using harmful speech because I feel injured, or using language or cognitive argument to justify my sense of rightness. I commit to communicate and express myself mindfully, speaking truthfully from my heart with patience and compassion. I commit to practice genuine and deep listening to all sides of a dispute, and to remain in contact with my highest intentions of recognizing the Buddha nature within all beings.
7. Aware of the suffering caused by the ignorance of misinformation and the lack of information that aggravate fixed views, stereotypes, the stigmatizing of a human being as ‘other’, and the marginalization of cultural groups, I undertake the training to educate myself about other cultural attitudes, worldviews, ethnic traditions, and life experiences outside of my own. I commit to be curious with humility and openness, to recognize with compassion the experience of suffering in all beings, and to practice sympathetic joy when encountering the many different cultural expressions of happiness and celebration around the world.
At my local sangha, Be Here Now, we’ll soon be launching a new monthly series centered around these Diversity Trainings. I’ll be giving an intro talk, as well, to help us kick things off, next Monday, the 22nd. Then we’ll be focusing on one training on the first Monday of each month, from June through December, with a different practitioner signed up to speak each month. I’m looking forward to this new series and what it might inspire in our sharing circles. And, as usual, it helps me to write out my thoughts when preparing to give a talk, so here goes:
It can be easy to hear/read these trainings and think I’ve got these down, it’s _______ that needs to work on them (fill in the blank: my dad, my neighbor, my co-worker, my sister, republicans…). But what’s important to keep in mind is that these trainings are similar to our Mindfulness Trainings, and similar to really all of our mindfulness based practices & tools, in that they are intended to be cultivated continuously and on-goingly. There are always new layers, deeper layers, to be discovered. If, and when, we find ourselves thinking I’ve got this all figured out and I’m done working with it, it’s often an indication that we haven’t taken the time to look deeply enough. And since I would assume that most of the people who are likely to read my blog (or come to sangha) would consider themselves to be on the liberal side of the spectrum, this set of trainings might be especially easy to get caught in the trap of thinking that it’s the “other side” that needs to work with these, not us.
After reading through these trainings a number of times, I’ve identified what I see are three main practice points which serve as threads throughout them:
- Learning how not to get entangled in the three complexes: superiority, inferiority, and equality.
- Strengthening our capacity of equanimity & inclusiveness.
- Cultivating the art of non-duality.
All three of these practice points require ongoing work for us to develop an understanding of and relationship with – and all three also contain certain words/teachings that may be a bit unfamiliar to us, so I will attempt to illustrate each one briefly, to hopefully help clarify them a little bit.
- Theodore Roosevelt said it best when he said: Comparison is the thief of joy. This is one of my favorite quotes. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches about the three complexes that we fall into: the superiority complex, the inferiority complex, and the equality complex (which may be the most difficult one for us to start comprehending). We are often caught in one or more of these complexes in our daily lives, especially if we happen to be a social worker or consider ourselves to be an activist or politically engaged in some fashion. When I was in my late teens and early 20’s, I was very geared towards environmental activism: writing letters, circulating petitions, disseminating info from national & worldwide eco-based groups, and that sort of thing. I had a lot of anger towards companies, businesses, our governmental & societal structures, and individuals. And I thought that anger equaled action, that without anger I would simply become complacent and ineffectual – that anger was a necessary component to creating change. Looking back, in all of the anger I carried around with me everywhere I went, because I was always confronted with something I deemed a grave and disappointing strain on the environment, I can see clearly that I was swept up in all three complexes, which disabled me from being able to really connect with people. No one likes and responds well to being berated or judged, and with my anger I was doing just that, largely in passive aggressive ways. I was separating myself from others by creating a clear distinction between myself and those who I considered to be ignorant and stupid, based on their actions that negatively impacted the environment. But it was an extremely naive approach to take and over time I came to see how anger was not a vital component to affect change, and was also a very heavy burden to carry around. I was able to start getting in touch with our shared collective humanity and the inherit goodness that exists in all of us, to strip away the need to stack qualities of being side-by-side and rest well in my own skin, and allow others to rest in their own skin, with all of the causes and conditions that go along with each one of us.
2. Moving onto the second thread we may be wondering what the word equanimity means, since it’s not a very common word in our vernacular. Equanimity is a state of mental and emotional stability, especially when faced with tension or stress. And the example I’d like to call upon here is in regards to our consumption of the news. I recently watched a TED talk which sited research from the PEW Research Center stating that when people were given an assortment of both real headlines and fake headlines, the real headlines were identified as being somewhat or very accurate 83% of the time, and the fake headlines were identified as being somewhat or very accurate 75% of the time. To me, this speaks to our propensity for firmly and adamantly hitching our wagon to news/ideas/concepts which are inaccurate. We have a strong negative bias and a strong tendency to be shaken up by things in which we don’t fully understand, which is especially true of the news we consume and how we react to it. We read one news story and think we know what’s going on, and it’s simply not true. Thich Nhat Hanh offers us the practice tool of routinely asking ourselves the question: Am I sure? In order to develop a balanced inner composure when it comes to reading or watching the news, we can ask ourselves this question over and over again. Am I sure? To further develop our equanimity when it comes to the news, and not get consumed and overwhelmed with anger and sorrow, we can investigate for ourselves how much news is too much, where our own balance is, and how we can foster and maintain that balance. Because there is such a thing as too much news, there are less sensationalized news outlets to get our news from, and there are more legitimate news sources in which to spend our time on. And there are also times which might be more suitable for us to catch up on the news, such as when we’re fresh and alert in the morning, verses sluggish and tired in the evening before bed. These are all considerations to look into if we have a desire to stay in touch with the news and not become cynical or depressed by what we read. Investigating our relationship and reactions to the news we consume is a great way to practice strengthening our capacity for equanimity and inclusiveness, which will help benefit many other aspects of our daily life.
3. Duality refers to a dual state or quality, so non-duality refers to the lack of a dual state or quality. An example of duality would be right and wrong, us and them, good and bad. The teachings of non-duality speak to the fact that all notions are a relative concept, so there are no universal laws of what is right or wrong, etc. Everything is dependent on causes and conditions and fluctuates based on those causes and conditions. So the more we are able to start breaking down our deeply held ideas of what is “right” and “wrong,” the better equipped we’ll be to understand, interact, and communicate with people who have different backgrounds, values, beliefs, and ideas than we do – and the more we can learn that differences don’t need to be labeled as “good” or “bad.” Some people may remember my having spoken about a pen pal relationship I have with a man I met though sangha a few years ago, who’s currently incarcerated at Montana State Prison. At the start of our letter exchange, he had inquired about why I was choosing to write to him, since I didn’t know him very well and it had been a while since last we saw each other. I also came to understand that he wasn’t used to anyone caring for him simply for the sake of caring, without wanting something from him in return, so he was very skeptical of my intentions. I contemplated for myself what my motivation was and it was very clear to me that my intention was not to change him in any way or to get him to come to any understanding – I was not at all interested in being a spiritual advisor, thinking I had some great wisdom to offer him. I was simply wanting to reach out and be a friend, because I cared for him as a member of our sangha, regardless of how fleeting his time spent with us was. The more we write to each other, the more I learn how he and I are not separate from each other – it’s not a matter of making the distinction of “law-abiding civilian” and “lifelong criminal.” It’s not a matter of my lifestyle being “right” and his lifestyle being “wrong.” We are both a manifestation of our causes and conditions, that’s it. There is no separation, in the larger scope of things, between he and I. And that is the wisdom of non-duality, not getting caught in dualistic ways of thinking and acting.
To get a better handle on these Diversity Trainings I would like to encourage all of us to be churning and working with these three practice threads in particular, which are woven throughout all seven of the trainings. There’s a lot to digest in these trainings, so I invite you to spend some time with them, and to join us on the first Mondays of the month starting in June, so that we can look deeply into each one together as a community and learn from one another about how to develop ways in which to integrate them into our daily lives in a way that is beneficial and of value to ourselves and those around us.