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Lions Roar : May 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2009 40 There she meets the Buddha, who is so much skin and bone that he seems to be giving off a faint light, and she thinks at first that he is a tree spirit. She hands him the bowl, saying, “May this milk give you as much pleasure to drink as it gave me to make.” he drinks, goes on to meditate through the night, and is fully en- lightened when grace comes with the dawn. he declares that he has lived in the house of suffering but now he sees the builder and has broken the roof beams of that house. Sujata’s gift changes the world—she breaks us out of the dream we have been living. “May you take as much pleasure in drink- ing this gift as I took in making it.” She is not just handing out food, she is giving a blessing and a welcome into a larger, more generous, less selfish way. This milk rice she brings is a child’s food, comfort food, something innocent and delightful. Sujata indicates that it’s good to find out what you really want. If you follow Sujata you’ll do what you love. This is the fourth noble truth. The Buddha described this path in very specific terms, but you can also see it as a simple question and response: how can we live in the world and care for ourselves and one another? not through craving what isn’t here, but through noticing that when craving drops away, kindness and joy appear. This is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering: it is the noble eightfold path. Buddhism is based in reality. When we lose what we thought we had, our panic asks, “What will happen to little me?” and any answer to that question is likely to be overwhelming and shadowed. It is human to panic out of habit, without asking ourselves what is really going on and what our true, deep reaction is. But the gods in disguise show that sudden change can happen in a positive di- rection. The path out of suffering is closely related to accuracy, to noticing what really is, as opposed to what we first thought. To ask for our true, deep reaction is to step beyond the gods and into our own, handmade lives. It is like drinking the milk and rice. here’s an example from a woman who notices a change of heart that came unasked for, just by paying better attention to what is really going on, as opposed to what she thought must be going on: “I have a fundamental underlying happiness even though many things, some of them hard, have been happening—difficulties in my family, breaking up with my partner, money. It’s been quite a year. Within that, even the word “happiness” does not convey it. happiness suggests an emotion and what I have is more like a fundamental state. Every day is a good day. Something victorious about that; the rafters breaking open. “When a friend lost more than half his money with the as- sistance of the fraudulent Mr. Madoff, he said, oh well, it might be interesting. I might have to think about working differently. Equanimity isn’t indifference, or denial; it’s an orientation to re- ality, the ability to turn quickly. What is real is more interesting than what might have been.” In the story of the Buddha, there is a progression of insight. First we realize that what happens to others will happen to us. and that loss and dying and so on must be a part of being hu- man. The next step of the realization is that what is happening to others is happening to us. We can move from being worried about ourselves to being concerned about others. Kindness ap- pears even more suddenly than money disappears. Empathy is a feature of the product we call consciousness, something as fundamental as loss. Instead of asking, “Why is there so much sorrow?” we might ask, “Why is there so much kindness?” and it doesn’t take time to develop empathy, since it is already here. We just have to notice it. Empathy is natural— we naturally enter the minds of others. When a chimp watches another chimp eat a banana, the neurons in her brain associated You can see the Buddhist path as a simple question and response: how can we live in the world and care for ourselves and one another? not through craving what isn’t there, but through noticing that when craving drops away, kindness and joy appear.