survival & empathy


We can either react to terrorism and insecurity with fear, and create a frightened, barricaded society—a fortress America—or we can use the teachings of Dharma to respond calmly, with both prudent action and a fearless, steady heart. Thich Nhat Hanh tells us, “When the crowded refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked, all would be lost. But if even one person stayed calm, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive.”

Through practice, we can learn to make our own hearts a place of peace and integrity. With a quiet mind and an open heart we can sense the reality of interdependence. Inner and outer are not separate. We are all in the same boat. Buddhist teachings have always taught that life cannot be divided into compartments. Our relationships with others, right speech, right action, right livelihood are part of the eight-fold path. They are factors of enlightenment. Our relations, and society as a whole, are an expression of the enlightened heart. Thus we can understand Gandhi’s challenge, “Those who say spirituality has nothing to do with politics, they do not know what spirituality really means.”

In this political climate we are bombarded with propaganda from every political point of view that dulls the senses and overpowers our inner value system. Whatever our political perspective, we will encounter troubling images and feel anger, frustration, even outrage and impatience. If we stop and breathe and meditate, we will feel underneath these reactions our fear and under this our connectedness and caring. If our actions come from this deep sense of caring, they will bring greater benefit and greater peace. From a quiet heart, we have the ability to look and see how our society treats its most vulnerable members. How does it treat the poor, the elderly, and children? Is it acting in ways that foster greed, hate, fear, and ignorance? What can we do nationally and internationally to support generosity and respect, to minimize violence, and to end racism and exploitation? What rings true for each of us as followers the Dharma? We need to take an honest look and see what we are doing as a society.

America has sometimes confused power with greatness. But genuine greatness is not a matter of mere power; it is a matter of integrity. When we envision a society of compassion and justice—and as a nation we are called upon to do this—our actions can stem from respect for all beings, and peace is the result.

Once we have looked clearly, we can set a long-term intention, and dedicate ourselves to a vision of a wise and compassionate society. This is a Bodhisattva’s act. Like setting the compass of the heart, this intention expresses our deepest values. If we set a long-term intention, it remains empowering no matter who wins a particular election, or what governments rise and fall. It becomes our way of practice. Thomas Merton taught, “Do not worry about immediate results. More and more you must concentrate on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.” With a dedicated intention we are willing to face the sufferings of the world and not shy away, to follow what we know is true, however long it takes. This is a powerful act of the heart, to stay true to our values, and live by them.

~Jack Kornfield

how have you survived with others’ for so long? how do we need each other and yet feel so divided?

inquiry for today~   what truth can you live by? how will you ‘be the change’ with deep compassion?

be the vessel

Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create
a clearing
in the dense forest
of your life.

~Martha Postelwaite

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