When Buddha described the evolution of samsara…..the cycle of constantly recurring problems in which we are presently trapped, he said that its origin was ignorance. This is a specific type of ignorance, one that misunderstands the nature of existence. Whereas things are dependent on other factors and are constantly in flux, ignorance apprehends them in a very concrete fashion.
The great Indian sage Shantideva advised us, “If you have a problem and you can do something about it, there is no need to get anxious about it because you can actively do something to solve it. On the other hand, if there is nothing you can do to solve it, getting anxious about it is useless…..it won’t fix the problem.” So either way you look at it, whether the problem is solvable or unsolvable, there is no sense in getting anxious or upset about it.
The Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn taught people to take good care of their anger, not to push it away but to hold it with kindness, as we would a wounded child. In addition to anger, I would encourage us all to also hold our fear and pain and everything else that arises. When it gets right down to it, this is our practice: we offer ourselves the gift of nonjudgmental awareness. This awareness is much more spacious and warm than our thinking, which (sticking to “I” statements here) is very repetitive and limited.

The other day in teachings, I told the story of meeting Thich Nhat Hahn for the first time. We sat together in a small room in Manhattan soon after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The great teacher had just finished a protest fast and sat looking very still and small and grave on the floor before me. He had just published his book Anger, and I was there with my dear Teacher Sudharma and other monastics to ask him about that particular emotion. But like everyone else I knew in New York and Connecticut, I was alternately cold and feverish with fear and sadness and uncertainty about what would come. I asked him again and again how we could live with fear. He spoke a bit about holding anger. About the rest, he was still.
Next to the great Zen teacher sat the diplomat and pastor Andrew Young, who was a friend of Martin Luther King, Jr. (King nominated Thich Nhat Hahn for the Nobel Peace Prize). I circled round and round about fear.  Finally, Young asked Thich Nhat Hahn if he might say something to me. It could have been projection on my part, but I detected an almost imperceptible smile of relief on the great monk’s face.
Young told me that he marched with King. He told me that his friend Martin knew that he might die.  Yet he reached a point where he laughed at dying. He made jokes about it.  He would say things like, “Andrew, I think they’re going to kill you today.  But don’t worry. I’ll preach a most wonderful eulogy at your funeral.”
How did this great man reach this state of fearlessness? “He knew what was important, and he made sure he did it every day,” Young told me. Young sat forward as he told me this, emphasizing that he was talking about a living reality, not just a nice thought. Martin Luther King, Jr. sought to live in the light of the truth.  He walked with it.
“Martin knew that death could never destroy who he really was,” Young said to me.  “Death can never destroy who you really are.  Suffering can never destroy who you really are.”  Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that we are more than we think we are. He knew truth is more than we think it is at any given moment.
After that encounter, I was so deeply moved that I read the sermons and speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. Here is one snippet from a sermon in 1968: “You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid.”
These words toll like deep bells for us today because we hear them as a foreshadowing of what would happen to this great man.  But the truth remains that Martin Luther King, Jr. understood fear. You might say he held in the light of a greater awareness, a truth beyond thought.
One of my dear teachers often defines “peace” in this way: “if you can walk down the street with all the angry beings…if you can drive in traffic with the bitter souls….if you can find ease in what your government is doing….and if you can live your life honestly and quietly……if you can do all of these with compassion, love and mindfulness…..that is when you know what peace is.”
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me.”  He would know those words by heart. Yet in every tradition, including Buddhism, there are beings who accompany us in the dark places and times of unknowing. And what if we brought them down to the scale of a moment…..the scale of the next breath?  What if today and in the days to come, we give the gift of nonjudgmental, caring attention to ourselves and the people around us? What if we aspire to give ourselves to a greater truth? We can take it breath by breath, step by step.  Love, peace, faith….will always, always, always….trump hate.

Ven. Upasanti
Venerable Guruji Upasanti Durgānanda
अर्हत् गुरु उपशान्ति दुर्ग
Chuang Yen Monastery – 莊嚴寺
Mobile 203.524.4052