Roses and Garbage

Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Understanding:
Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra
Parallax Press, 1988

A beautiful rose we have just cut and placed in our vase is immaculate. It smells so good, so pure, so fresh. It supports the idea of immaculateness. The opposite is a garbage can. It smells horrible, and it is filled with rotten things.  But that is only when you look on the surface. If you look more deeply you will see that in just five or six days, the rose will become part of the garbage. You do not need to wait five days to see it. If you just look at the rose, and you look deeply, you can see it now. And if you look into the garbage can, you see that in a few months its contents can be transformed into lovely vegetables, and even a rose. If you are a good organic gardener and you have the eyes of a bodhisattva, looking at a rose you can see the garbage, and looking at the garbage you can see a rose. [p. 31]

In twenty years, Thich Nhat Hanh will still be with us.  But will we recognize his many forms? The Heart of Understanding will be of service in cultivating that recognition, and many others as well.  In this commentary on the Heart Sutra, based on talks during the 1980s, Nhat Hanh introduces his understanding of interbeing. 

All these decades later, this short text can help us recognize our habitual denial of interbeing, particularly when it come to U.S. politics. For example, can we remain serene and un-triggered when reading the following passages? … “In this  … situation, each side  is pretending to be the rose, and calling the other side garbage….You have to work for the survival of the other side, if you want to survive yourself….do not hope that you can eliminate the evil side. It’s easy to think that we are on the good side. And that the other side is evil….We are not separate. We are inextricably interrelated.   The rose is the garbage.”

In his book, Hate. Inc., journalist Matt Taibbi notes about the mainstream media that they  “are nurturing emotional dependencies for cash. The key is always reporting negatively about the other audience, but never about your own. They’re bad = you’re good, and endlessly spinning in that cycle creates hardened, loyal, dependent followers….News consumers on both sides today behave quite like cultists. They self-isolate. They’re kept that way by being fed a steady diet of terrifying stories about fellow citizens.”

A spiritual exercise could be to watch the other side’s programming and practice conscious breathing for five minutes while noticing  how reactive our minds are.

Or, another exercise—don’t watch any news, step outside and look deeply for five minutes at the hydrangea blooming in the backyard.

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