My teacher Jack Kornfield was asked, if we were to put up a giant billboard for the whole world to see, what should we write on it? His reply, it should be a question: “How could I love myself and this world better?”
Last week I spent sometime with a friend of mine as she returned from a trip back home visiting her family who just experienced an unutterable tragedy involving a child. I am going through an array of emotions – ranging from sadness and anger to fear and helplessness. Meditation teacher Pema Chödrön writes in her book When things fall apart, “We often find ourselves in the middle of a dilemma – what should I do about the fact that somebody is angry with me? What should I do about the fact that I am angry with somebody? Basically the instruction is not to try to solve the problem but instead to use it as a question about how to let this very situation wake us up further than lull us into ignorance. We can use a difficult situation to encourage ourselves to take a leap, to step out into that ambiguity.” Can these teachings apply to even the most horrendous situations life can dish out?
Jean-Paul Sartre said that there are two ways to go to the gas chamber, free or not free. This is our choice in every moment. Do we relate to our circumstances with bitterness or with openness?
Meditation teacher Suzuki Roshi was asked to reduce the Buddhist philosophy to one phrase. “Everything changes,” he said. One of the foremost teachings in Buddhism is that everything in life is impermanent. Suzuki Roshi is referring to this impermanence by saying “everything changes”. Because it encompasses everything, you can contemplate for hours on end and not realize the full magnitude of the principle of impermanence. You are impermanent, your loved ones are impermanent, your home is impermanent, even our planet is impermanent.
Why is this important? Because it teaches us that grasping onto things is one of the major reasons as to why we suffer. We need to live being aware of the ever-changing nature of reality and appreciate the present moment. It’s not about letting go, it’s really about not grasping in the first place. If we can learn to live in this way, we can find peace in everyday life.
“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” – Gautama Buddha
Bodhisattva Prayer for Humanity
May I be a guard for those who need protection
A guide for those on the path
A boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood
May I be a lamp in the darkness
A resting place for the weary
A healing medicine for all who are sick
A vase of plenty, a tree of miracles
And for the boundless multitudes of living beings
May I bring sustenance and awakening
Enduring like the earth and sky
Until all beings are freed from sorrow
And all are awakened.
– Shantideva, Indian Buddhist sage 700 A.D. Prayer performed each morning by His Holiness the Dalai Lama