By Dave Edmonds
Actually I think "all lives matter" is a pretty profound challenge. What if we were to decide to practice with this for a few days? We could decide that wherever we go we could remind ourselves of this - no matter who we see we could just repeat this simple phrase to ourselves.
So we pass people that we are attracted to - okay maybe it's easy then. What about when we pass someone that we find challenging, like someone who's homeless? Maybe we could learn to see the obvious and the subtle ways we set ourselves above others. Maybe we could challenge ourselves to see and question the ways we divide ourselves from others.
Then there are big challenges: like do rapist's lives matter? Do terrorist's lives matter? Even if we say yes we are still left with having to balance the life of a terrorist against the lives that that person may take. Because all lives matter.
This teaching could also remind us that anger doesn't cease by anger, hatred doesn't cease by hatred - only by love. If we act aggressively towards someone because we feel justified by their aggression towards us - still we have created more aggression.
Ultimately we may find, from such a simple teaching, that the answers aren't always all that easy, which is itself a pretty profound insight.
Also, the practice I am exploring is very similar to one Pema Chodron calls "On the spot equanimity" wherein as we go about our daily life, on the street, in the grocery store, at work, we just notice when we experience attraction or aversion towards different people - we don't judge it, we just notice it - and we notice how we open up to those we are attracted to, and close down towards those we feel aversion toward. Again all this is done without judging - just being aware and looking deeply into what is happening and how we can skillfully respond to that.
Okay so, what if we take it another step further and say “all lives matter” to ourselves every time we see life? What if it’s a turtle by the side of the road? Most of us would probably say yes, it matters, it’s cute. What about a pig that lives at a farm and will be slaughtered for food? The loss of that life will be food for other lives, but are there other ways to sustain life? Or, in nature some animals are strictly carnivorous - do their lives matter more, less, or the same as the lives of their prey? What about the bugs and other small creatures that we consider to be pests - do their lives matter? What are the interconnections of their lives into all other lives? Smaller creatures are often food for larger creatures and so the loss of one life supports other lives. People hunt for food. In traditional communities this was a primary way of sustaining life. Does the life of a deer that is taken in a hunt matter? It matters to the people whose own lives are sustained by that source of food. Native American traditions involve offering a prayer of gratitude to the animal whose life was given up in the hunt. They are recognizing the value of that life and also recognizing how deeply that life is intertwined into the sustaining of other lives, So they practice gratitude. There are so many connections and interconnections throughout life - everything exists because of everything else that exists - that we can’t possibly know all the effects of any given decision.
Today I dumped out some accumulated water from all the recent rain. It had dozens of mosquito larvae swimming and wiggling, living their lives as intended by their nature. I wondered about the value of their lives and about the decisions we make about taking lives. Yes their lives matter - they are part of the totality of the web of life. They have their own life and purpose, and they also are food for other creatures that have their own life and purpose. But they also carry diseases that can be life threatening or crippling to humans and many animals. So by pouring out that water my intent was not to take life just for the sake of taking it, my intent was to protect life.
In what ways then do we value life? Is it enough to just practice not killing? What about the bug that we don’t kill that in turn carries and spreads disease that kills or cripples another life? The first of the five basic precepts in Buddhism is “I take up the way of not taking life” Yet like all the precepts, and really all of Buddhism, it’s not so much a belief to buy into as it is a question. In practicing the precepts we are expected to look at our own lives and see into our patterns of behavior and how those patterns affect our selves, others and the world. We are asked to look deeply into the things we say, think and do and to ask ourselves what they mean, and what they create in the world.
Life exists as part of a grand web of interbeing. All life exists because of all other life and is supported by the death of other beings. Life is sustained by the death of other life. Impermanence is a fundamental aspect of our existence. All lives matter, and death and transformation are an indivisible part of that life.
Interestingly, I just found this after having written my own post --
From the book “everything is the way” (yes, no caps) by Elihu Genmyo Smith; in the chapter titled “The Seamless Moment” which is a transcribed Dharma talk:
“A Zen meal verse begins, ‘First, seventy-two labors brought us this food; we should know how it comes to us.’ This is the interconnectedness of all life, of all the activities and beings that are our life. Zen practice encourages and supports us to be this interconnectedness, this interbeing, this interdependence.
But if interdependence remains just another good idea, then it is not much, because our actions continue to be based on our beliefs of separateness, and therefore they result in suffering. To practice is to experience our actions, and to notice when they grow out of separation.
Even as we explore connectedness and separation, there are areas of life we try to avoid. I encourage you to explore the interbeingness of ‘our self’ and those ‘beings’ we see as outside the pale of the acceptable, even including extremes such as the murderer in Rwanda and the torturer in Bosnia. How do we act appropriately in terms of unacceptable behavior (even in horrific actions) and interbeing? And not only in terms of individuals who are difficult to accept ‘out there’ but also ‘in’ our thoughts, the murderer and torturer ‘in’ what we think of as our self. What experiencing do we avoid?
As we become aware of making self and other out of life, as we become aware of separating our self from our self, the effort needed is to stay as this bodily-sensory awareness. There are activities and things we exclude from our experience and awareness. What are these?”