It is one thing to say that “it’s just the way it is.” It is one thing not to get angry or agitated. It is one thing to feel at one with all things and people and have compassion for others. But when we are faced with such situations, as we are every day, we can as Buddhists not help but feel pain and sorrow at the suffering we observe. We cannot ignore it, we cannot turn a blind eye to it. It is there. It is part of life. It must be observed.
Where then do we, at such times, find nourishment? Can we experience joy in the midst of such societal and individual pain (a question I raised in an earlier post and answered for certain situations, but not this one)? How do we keep going, how do we not get beaten down, when surrounded by a culture which is so at odds with virtually everything that we feel is important in life?
When I was asked this by a friend recently, I had no ready answer. To answer that one takes refuge in the Three Jewels ... the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha ... while certainly relevant, seemed too abstract here. I had been there often myself. But when I meditated the next day, the answer was clear. We find nourishment, we experience joy, by going deep within and taking refuge in our true Buddha nature. That is the well from which we can always receive nourishment; that is the source of the unconditional love and compassion we feel for ourselves. Pearl Buck, who was not a Buddhist, put it this way, “Inside myself is a place where I live alone, and that’s where you renew your spring that never dries up.”
Then the other morning I was meditating on the oneness of myself with all things and I happened to go back to an experience I had had the day before, where I was in a setting where I experienced no joy, people weren’t friendly, and I clearly was not feeling at one with the other people there.
But beyond that, I realized with some dismay that my attitude was not friendly; it was very matter of fact. I didn’t say hello, let alone with a cheerful voice, to the people who waited on me; when I walked into a room to sit and there was only one other couple sitting at a table, I didn’t say hello to them. Instead, I was not in touch with my spirituality and had a decidedly neutral experience. And this I acknowledged with further dismay had for decades been my normal modus operandi.
I realized at that moment what I not only missed out on that day, but what I had missed out on for most of my life. By not offering joy to strangers, as opposed to those who were near and dear to me, I experienced no joy in my interaction with them. I thought about my twice-weekly visits to the supermarket. I saw the same staff each time, but I almost never had a kind word or smile for them. How sad. There is no end to the examples I could give. How easy is it to slip out of compassion and loving kindness if we aren’t aware.
The 11th Step I proposed in an earlier posting talks about improving my conscious contact with my true Buddha nature. This is a perfect example of that. No matter how many years I’ve walked the path, each day I need to affirm my approaching everything I do in a spiritual manner. Each day, and throughout the day, I need to affirm turning my will and my life over to my true Buddha nature, being one with my unborn Buddha mind, and so feel its unconditional love and compassion, its joy, towards myself and towards all others. That is the only way, unless one becomes enlightened, that we can maintain a spiritual path 24/7, or as close to that as possible.
And when I offer joy, I will do it with no expectations. Some will respond positively, but many will not. And that’s fine. I am not offering joy for the reaction I get; I am doing it because it is Right action and will thus keep my spirit buoyed. It will keep me in touch with my true Buddha nature. And so even when I am in circumstances that show clearly that our culture does not accept or respect my spiritual values, I will be able to experience joy.
In the preface to my book, Making Your Way in LIfe as a Buddhist, I note that if we are not enlightened, then certain things follow. Mainly, that we need to be constantly aware of what we are doing and be mindful so that our actions keep us on the path, rather than allow our ego habit-energies to constantly pull us off the path. My post today is just one more example of the challenge we face in following the path and finding not only peace and contentment, but truly ending our suffering and experiencing joy,
Another lesson in practical Buddhism.