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Lions Roar : January 2003
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2003 51 heart of loving-kindness is not about straining, not about gritting your teeth and, though seething with anger, somehow covering it over with a positive sentiment. Loving-kindness is a capacity we all have. We only have to see things as they actually are. When we take the time to be quiet, to be still, we begin to see the web of conditions, which is the force of life itself, as it comes together to produce each moment. When we look deeply, we see constant change; we look into the face of impermanence, insubstantiality, lack of solidity. As the Buddha pointed out, given this truth, try- ing to control that which can never be controlled will not give us security or safety, will not give us final happiness. In fact, trying to control ever-changing and insubstantial phenomena is what gives rise to our sense of isolation and fragmentation. When we try to hold on to something that is crumbling or falling apart, and we see that not only is it crumbling but we are changing in just the same way, then there’s fear, terror, separation and a lot of suffering. If we re-vision our world and our relationship to it so that we are no longer trying to fruitlessly control but rather are connecting deeply to things as they are, then we see through the insubstantiality of all things to our fundamental interconnectedness. Being fully connected to our own experience, excluding no aspect of it, guides us right through to our connectedness with all beings. There are no barriers; there is no separation. We are not standing apart from anything or anyone. We are never alone in our suffering, and we are not alone in our joy, because all of life is a swirl of conditions, a swirl of mutual influences coming together and coming apart. By going to the heart of any one thing, we see all things. We see the very nature of life. There was a monk in the Buddha’s time, it is said, who originally came from an extremely wealthy aristocratic family. Because he had lived a very pampered life, he was ignorant about some of the simplest things, which made him the object of much teasing by the other monks. One day they asked him, “Where does rice come from, broth- er?” He replied, “It comes from a golden bowl.” And when they asked him, “Where does milk come from, brother?” he answered, “It comes from a silver bowl.” In some ways, our own perceptions about the nature of existence may be a bit like those of that monk. When we attempt to understand how our lives work, if we do not look closely, we may see only superficial connections and relationships forming our world. Upon closer exam- ination, we come to understand that each aspect of our present reality arises not from “golden and silver bowls” but rather from a vast ocean of conditions that come together and come apart at every moment. Seeing this is the root of compassion and loving-kindness. All things, when seen clearly, are not independent but rather are interdependent with all other things, with the universe, with life itself. At the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the Insight Meditation Society, some young adults planted a tree in the garden. When we look at that tree, we can see it as a distinct and separate object, standing alone, a sin- gular thing. But on another level of perception, its exis- tence is the consequence and the manifestation of a sub- tle net of relationships. The idea to plant the tree had aris- en in someone’s mind as a thought one day, and the idea for some young people to plant it had arisen in my mind another day. The earth that received the tree had been nurtured by a succession of people who had lived at or visited IMS. The twentieth anniversary came to pass because of the enthusiasm and support of so many peo- ple over so many years. Each of the young adults who planted the tree had come to have a connection with meditation through varying life experiences. The tree is now affected by the rain that falls upon it, by the wind that moves through and around it. It is affect- ed by the weather and by the quality of air. We know that pollution creates acid rain, which impacts our tree. We hear that a variable as subtle as a butterfly flapping its wings in China affects the weather pattern in Massachusetts, and so events on the other side of the planet are affecting our tree. Every individual who now sees or touches the tree has arrived at IMS as the result of many forces in the universe converging to make his or her visit possible. In the same way, we are all part of each other’s life and journey toward liberation. One of my favorite things to do when I am sitting in front of a hall full of meditation stu- dents is to sense how many beings brought us all together there in one way or another. How many friends, loved ones, people we’ve had diffi- culty with, have in some way influenced our life to be there? I think of the lineage of teach- ers extending from the time of the Buddha, the men, women and even children who had the courage in life to take a risk, the willingness to be different, to look at the nature of their lives and of their minds in a way that was not conventional. I feel how many people, past and present, are in some way a part of why I am sitting in that hall at that moment, and I sense their presence there too. I couldn’t even begin to trace the number of influ- ences, encounters, conversations, meetings, partings, times of sharing great joy and times of pain or loss that have brought me to that particular time and place. It’s not exactly like a slide show in my mind; it’s almost more like