Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Gelassenheit

You will probably remember back in October 2006 when there was the news of the awful tragedy at an Amish school in Pennsylannia. Some crazed man broke in took hostages, eventually killing five girls before killing himself. After the tragedy it was noted widely how quickly the community forgave the man and even reached out to his family to give support. In 2007 a book called "Amish Grace: How forgiveness overcame tragedy" was released to popular acclaim.

I have not read the book, but something I saw this week reminded me of a news interview I saw back in 2006. A reporter was interviewing and elderly Amish woman about the tragedy and asked her how the community was able to forgive so quickly. The woman responded that they believed in "Gelassenheit"and it was an integral part of their Christian faith. This is a German word that translates as "yieldedness". They forgive because they accept, they "yield" their own feelings and agendas to realities truth. Which, of course, in their mind is synonymous with "God's will".

Whether one believes in God or not this is a very powerful and liberating frame of mind. Let me explore it a bit.

My first thought is that you find the same intuition in most if not all religious or spiritual systems. The one that comes to mind first is the Taoist path. The sage Lao Tzu said famously "The tree that bends does not break". This is pretty much it in nutshell isn't it? If we rigidly hold on to our desires and do not "bend' or let them go when necessary, we suffer. You find the same thing in Buddhism whose "first noble truth" is that "life is suffering". How do we over come suffering? By letting go of desire. Easier said than done I know! But lets face it...think back to any moment you were experiencing suffering, or even discomfort. The root of the problem can only be one of two things: either you wanted something you did not have, or you had something you did not want. It's as simple as that.

If you are not turned on by religion then you have (for example) the decidely non-religious teachings of the Stoics. This classical philosopical system, epitomized in popular culture in recent years with the Star Trek character Mr. Spock, goes back to the ancient Greco-Roman period. A basic example of a Stoic arguement would be as follows: It is the nature of glass, when it falls from a height, to break as it hits the ground. So why are you upset that your glass has fallen off the table and shattered? Is it not it's nature to break? How could it be otherwise? Why then are you being emotional? Accept the truth of reality and you are free. (It helps if you imagine Leonard Nimoy's voice reading the last few sentences)

What do you think people? Any thoughts?

2 comments:

theswearingchef said...

It's a great story , and a wonderful sentiment.
I would be interested to know how the Amish community would have reacted had the man not gone on to kill himself. Often, the people we need to forgive (including myself) don't disappear into history.

As a self-diagnosed control freak I often times have difficulty accepting painful changes in circumstances initially, but I've learned generally do much better over time.

It is the nature of the glass to break, and it is my nature to try and catch the glass before it lands. Yes, I desire to be the catcher in the.... area around the table.

Thunder Crystal said...

Yo MondayMike,

Well presented!

It's interesting that Buddhism's First Noble Truth, "Know suffering" is actually a prescription for moving beyond suffering – and Buddha placed this in the context of knowing that our actions now determine the quality of our future lives. Under this view the suffering we encounter in this lifetime is the effect of the causes we created in our prior-lives -- ie. karma. And, the positive or negative causes we create now will produce positive or negative effects upon our future lives...

For folks who think things like reincarnation and karma are pie-in-the-sky, I'd only ask them to suspend their beliefs for a little bit just to understand the implications of this Mind: We already know it as what goes around, comes around -- and it places the responsibility upon ourselves for what we get – a great basis for an enlightened society. This creates a direct path to World Peace, inner and outer, and thereby removes suffering. It's also at the root of Amish forgiveness...

So, if we know WE are the cause of out OWN suffering in some way or another (karma is complicated; not necessarily tit for tat) then it surely makes sense to forgo that anger, hate, rudeness, ridicule, resentment, getting-even, nastiness, en-slaving, hurting, maiming, torturing, killing etc., etc. of others because what we put out comes back around and we're really doing it to ourselves sooner or later.... Yikes!

Conversely, if we "know suffering" and wish to liberate ourselves from such, then we can change our habits to live our present human life in a proactive, positive way and thereby create positive causes that will produce the freedom from suffering in our present and future lives. Otherwise, the Buddha says, we're just wasting this precious time on this planet. A human incarnation gives us the opportunity to come into our potential – to become conscious and attain freedom – while a negative life can lead to countless paralyzed suffering incarnations on into the lower realms -- animal, plant, mineral and the hells...

All this is easier said than done, of course, for it requires the UNdoing of a lot of habitual, selfish and hurtful egoical behaviors as well as the blaming of others. But it certainly does flesh out the basic precept of humanity, "Do Unto Others...." because it's very directly Doing Unto Ourselves...