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Lions Roar : May 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2009 46 the only true method. a common theme running through many of the sutras could be summarized in modern terms as, “this is just what I did and this is what I recognized. Don’t believe any- thing I say because I say so. try it out for yourselves.” he didn’t actively discourage people from considering what he’d learned and how he learned it. Rather, in his teachings on buddhanature, he presented his listeners with a kind of thought experiment, inviting them to discover within their own experi- ence the ways in which aspects of buddhanature emerge from time to time in our daily lives. he presented this experiment in terms of an analogy of a house in which a lamp has been lit and the shades or shutters have been drawn. the house represents the seemingly solid perspective of physical, mental, and emo- tional conditioning. the lamp represents our buddhanature. no matter how tightly the shades and shutters are drawn, inevitably a bit of the light from inside the house shines through. Inside, the light from the lamp provides the clarity to distin- guish between, say, a chair, a bed, or a carpet. as it peeks through the shades or shutters we may experience the light of wisdom sometimes as intuition, what some people describe as a “gut level” feeling about a person, situation, or event. Loving-kindness and compassion shine through the shutters in those moments when we spontaneously give aid or comfort to someone, not out of self-interest or thinking we might get some- thing in return, but just because it seems the right thing to do. It may be something as simple as offering people a shoulder to cry on when they’re in pain or helping someone cross the street, or it may involve a longer-term commitment, like sitting by the bedside of someone ill or dying. We’ve all heard, too, of extreme instances in which someone, without even thinking about the risk to his or her own life, jumps into a river to save a stranger who is drowning. capability often manifests in the way in which we survive dif- ficult events. For example, a long-time Buddhist practitioner I met recently had invested heavily in the stock market back in the 1990s, and when the market fell later in the decade, he lost every- thing. many of his friends and partners had also lost a great deal of money, and some of them went a little crazy. Some lost con- fidence in themselves and their ability to make decisions; some fell into deep depression; others, like the people who lost money during the stock market crash of 1929, jumped out of windows. But he didn’t lose his mind, his confidence, or fall into depres- sion. Slowly, slowly, he began investing again and built up a new, solid financial base. Seeing his apparent calm in the face of such a terrific down- turn of events, a number of his friends and associates asked him how he was able to retain his equanimity. “Well,” he replied, “I got all this money from the stock market, then it went back to the stock market, and now it’s coming back. conditions change, but I’m still here. I can make decisions. So maybe I was living in a big house one year and sleeping on a friend’s couch the next, but that doesn’t change the fact that I can choose how to think about myself and all the stuff happening around me. I consider myself very fortunate, in fact. Some people aren’t capable of choosing and some people don’t recognize that they can choose. I guess I’m lucky because I fall into the category of people who are able to recognize their capacity for choice.” I’ve heard similar remarks from people who are coping with chronic illness, either in themselves, their parents, their children, other family members, or friends. One man I met recently in north america, for instance, spoke at length about maintaining his job and his relationship with his wife and children while con- tinuing to visit his father who was suffering from alzheimer’s disease. “Of course it’s hard to balance all these things,” he said. “But it’s what I do. I don’t see any other way.” Such a simple statement, but how refreshing! though he’d never attended a Buddhist teaching before, had never studied the literature, and didn’t necessarily identify himself as Buddhist, his description of his life and the way he approached it represented a spontaneous expression of all three aspects of buddhanature: the wisdom to see the depth and breadth of his situation, the capa- bility to choose how to interpret and act on what he saw, and the spontaneous attitude of loving-kindness and compassion. as I listened to him, it occurred to me that these three char- acteristics of buddhanature can be summed up in a single word: courage—specifically the courage to be, just as we are, right here, right now, with all our doubts and uncertainties. Facing experience directly opens us to the possibility of recognizing that whatever we experience—love, loneliness, hate, jealousy, joy, greed, grief, and so on—is, in essence, an expression of the fundamentally unlimited potential of our buddhanature. this principle is implied in the “positive prognosis” of the phOtOBYmIchaeLgODenaU