In the practice of “insight meditation,” also called Vipassana, the primary task is to cultivate what is called (no surprise) insight. In studying various meditation practices, I’ve come to understand that while the beliefs of various Buddhist sects may differ, the basic goals of meditation are remarkably similar. It’s no surprise that when you examine the Buddha’s earliest teachings, cultivating mindful attention is emphasized more than anything. The “object” of focus for meditation may differ among practices (the breath, a koan, a teaching or feeling), but honing one’s ability to see clearly, to examine the truth of situations and circumstances, to perceive illusions and falsehoods, all these remain consistent.
Our country was hit with the most significant tragedy of our time exactly a decade ago this month when two jets were driven by terrorists into the World Trade Center buildings in New York City. Our country encountered true evil in those moments as we witnessed how far fundamentalist doctrines based on hate and misunderstanding can push individuals and groups. To call it anything other than evil avoids confronting the universal aspects of that terrible day, that the capacity to hate and to love are innate in all. Given the right circumstances would we be capable of committing atrocities? We think not, but the evidence contained within the history of human conflict says otherwise.
That is where cultivating vision and insight can save us. Our is a tradition of applying reason and understanding to all doctrines and teachings, including ours. This is our practice of insight. Reason calls us to question freely that which does not feel right. Yet reason without insight is like weather forecasting without radar. A forecaster may have all the schooling and knowledge available, but without that clear picture of what’s going on and how systems are interacting with each other, predictions are made half blind. Insight lets us see what is actually happening. It is clarity of vision that will heal the wounds that have festered for a decade, leading us to perpetual war and fear of others. The scars will remain, certainly, for we cannot forget what has happened — but healing must be possible for the world to be right.
My prayer for our country is that the seeds of reason be able to take root in places where fundamentalisms have too long dominated, and that insight be the water that nourishes and quenches the ever growing spirit of humanity.