Meditation & Dharma Talk at East Bay Meditation Center’s Alphabet Sangha on January 26, 2021 on Zoom with Patrick Brown.
Dharma as Truth? with Patrick Brown & Dawn Haney
Notes on themes I planned to talk about:
Talking about truth feels especially poignant as our national presidential political conditions change. I had compartmentalized just how distorted truth had gotten under our last President, until I watched President Biden’s administration hold their first formal press conference on Inauguration Day last Wednesday. Press Secretary Jen Psaki began her remarks, “When the President asked me to serve in this role, we talked about the importance of bringing truth and transparency back to the briefing room …. There will be times when we see things differently in this room – I mean, among all of us. That’s okay. That’s part of our democracy.” My body is still shifting gears to feel like conditions have changed toward an interest in sharing daily information with as much as accuracy as possible, even if it makes us uncomfortable or in disagreement. As the Buddha might describe it, we’re being invited to take refuge in the way things really are.
I really felt this tension of relative and absolute realities working with the Buddhist activists during the Occupy movement in 2011. [Wow, almost 10 years ago]. The slogan “We are the 99%” was an electrifying way to consolidate vast coalitions of people against the mega-power of corporations and multi-billionaires. I was a new leader at Buddhist Peace Fellowship as this movement was emerging, and was in a lot of conversations with long-time Buddhists who wanted to push back on this slogan with a message about absolute reality: “We are the 100%.” It was really helpful to have the Buddha’s teaching of relative and absolute realities — we are talking about two equivalent truths here, and our practice is learning how to hold the paradox of both at the same time.
One way we think about Dharma as Truth is the wisdom from ancient writings. But it’s also the Dharma Wisdom from our own practice. I’m someone who rejected the Christianity that I grew up in because of some spiritual violence to LGBTQ community in a church I was going to in college. I appreciate that the Buddha is really careful to not shove wisdom down my throat, but instead invites me to ‘come and see for myself’ — the word in his language is ehipassiko, ‘come and see for yourself.’ This was incredibly healing of this spiritual wounding.
Vietnamese teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says this succinctly, “Dharma books and tapes are valuable, but the true Dharma is revealed through our life and our practice.” A practice gives us a place to integrate truth into our lives, something we can know through experience. It gives you a sense of how we structure our time together — time for practice, time for teacher experience to point where you might practice some more.
In this way, finding refuge in truth is less about putting all our faith in the wisdom of gurus — or in a political realm about putting all our faith in the wisdom of new presidents. The work we’re doing is about learning to trust our own sense of wisdom. And through that trust, relaxing into greater ease, healing, protection, care, and happiness for ourselves.
Questions for breakout group conversation:
- The Dharma = Truth. What are you thinking about that?
- What does it mean to find support or refuge in truth? What has that looked like in your life?
- Where in your life are you holding a paradox of both absolute and relative realities?