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Lions Roar : November 2016
frantically we apply approaches that have never worked. Because these times happen to be our times, for us they seem uniquely difficult. But it is hard to imagine any time that has not seemed troubled to the people who were expe- riencing it. The Buddhist notion of samsara implies that all times are troubled. Not only that, but the troubles we complain about are the very troubles we ourselves create and per- petuate. So to the extent that our world is dominated by hatred, greed, and ignorance, known in Buddhism as the three poisons, it is because we have collectively made it so. • The idea of samsara could be taken as an extremely pessimistic view of things. But it could also be a quite lib- erating message. It is liberating to drop the fantasy of there being a more perfect world, somehow, somewhere, and instead accept that we need to engage with the world as it is. It is our world, it is messy, but it is fertile ground for awakening. It is the same world, after all, that gave birth to the Buddha. IT IS EASY TO BE OVERWHELMED by all the problems in this world. You may already be overwhelmed by the problems in your own life. On top of that, you are contin- ually bombarded with news about political, humanitarian, and environmental problems. There seems to be no end of problems. While you are worrying about human trafficking, you get an email about starving giraffes in Indonesia. When you are distressed about racial hatred, you hear about the latest famine. While you are learning about nuclear proliferation, a politician says some- thing outrageous. It never lets up and it is hard to catch your breath. The continual bombardment of bad news can infil- trate so deeply that it subtly infuses everything you do. Ironically, it is only this disappointment with the world— with human beings and their stupidity, and with ourselves— that provides a powerful enough motivation to change. Traditionally, reaching the point where you see through the futility of samsara is considered an essential breakthrough on the spiritual path. • For many people, it is the experience of disappoint- ment in its many forms that leads them to the dharma and to the practice of meditation. Disappointment is a great instigator. From it, positive seeds of change can emerge. When we feel genuine remorse about our own contribution to the samsara project, it strengthens our longing for an alternative and our determi- nation to find a better way to live. You could go on for years, drifting along in your com- placency, not wanting to let the world’s pain touch you. But when it does, you are primed for transformation. Your will- ingness to feel the suffering of samsara begins to draw out from you a bright stream of compassion for all beings. You could pretend none of this is happening, that it has nothing to do with you. But because you are human, like it or not, you cannot help but care about such things. • You need to recognize your ability to care and appreciate it for the gift it is. You can actually care about something beyond yourself! You can care about others, you can care about our Mother Earth, you can care about structures of oppression. How amazing that you have not shut down, that you have not given up! What about when you feel that the intensity of this world is just too much? When you’re caught between freak- ing out and shutting down? • This is the moment when you need to step back and get some perspective. When you feel your mind/heart filled to the point of claustrophobia with thoughts of disaster, fear, and despair, it is good to bring to mind the many counter examples of human kindness and sanity, which are so eas- ily overlooked. If you think about it, the degree in which our world is stitched together with loving-kindness is extraordinary. To a surprising extent, accomplishing the simplest daily tasks requires that most people we encounter will be relatively decent, even kind. This network of decency is so close at hand, so mundane and ordinary, that it is mostly invisible to us. Even in the midst of the most dire conditions, there are countless examples of people who still manage to love, share, help one another, smile, and laugh. WHEN YOU GET NEWS of something disturbing, it is good to pay attention to the shape of your reaction. If you hear about a suicide bombing in Lahore, for instance, what is your immediate response? Most likely it is one of empathy. You imagine how horri- ble it must be to witness such a thing. You think about how painful it must be to be killed or injured or to lose a loved one so suddenly and violently. You imagine how it must feel to be stuck in a country at war with no means to get out. That natural response of human empathy and kindness is tender and raw, and at the same time, it is uplifted and beautiful. • If possible, notice and stay with your empathetic response and get to know it. It is simple and immediate, but it also tends to be fleeting and subtle. It is good to keep coming back to that natural compassionate response to suffering, for it is easily lost in the complexities that follow. The plot thickens as our innocent and natural response to suffering is captured by ego’s defense mechanisms. That tender response, with its rawness and vulnerability, gets taken over by our emotional habits and fixed views. We are ➢ page 70 LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2016 50