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Lions Roar : November 2019
A LONG TIME AGO IN KOREA, a student asked Zen master Man Gong, “What is the most important and precious of the three jewels? Is it the Buddha, the dharma, or the sangha?” Without hesitation, Man Gong answered, “Sangha.” When I first heard Man Gong’s answer, I was surprised. The way I saw it, without the Buddha there’d be no dharma, and without the dharma, there’d be no teaching at all. After some years of meditation, I now see that Man Gong was pointing to our practice. We’re all in this together. We’re part of each other, for each other, and all made from the same cosmic cookie dough. The moon and stars, all animals, flowers, and trees are the sangha. The ground, air, sun, and water are the sangha. All beings and all things are included. Another great Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh, spoke about our interconnectedness in this way: “In the paper, there is a cloud.” At first, one may wonder what in the world that means. There’s no cloud in the paper! But with this profound teach- ing, Thich Nhat Hahn is inviting us to see the whole picture: the paper is made up of many non-paper elements. Without the cloud, there’s no rain. Without the rain, there’s no tree. Without the tree, there’s no paper. Everything in this world is interdependent. A third teaching pointing directly to sangha is from Shakya- muni Buddha. Once, at Vulture Peak, many followers were assembled, waiting for him to speak, but the Buddha sat silently for several minutes. Finally, wordlessly, he held up a flower. Only his disciple Mahakashapa smiled. In that moment, Mahakashapa perceived that the whole entire world is con- tained in that single flower. He smiled because he recognized our common, universal substance. If we’re so wholly connected, why is there so much loneliness and alienation in our modern world? This sense of separateness comes from feeling disconnected from the community of all beings, and in a more concrete way, from our local communi- ties, families, friends, and our own selves. Sometimes this lonely feeling comes from living in a new country or state. It can come from having been abandoned—whether due to the death of a loved one, being left as an elderly person in a nursing home, or being bullied or ostracized from the “in” group as a teenager. Sometimes loneliness is simply a state of mind: “No one likes me” or “I’m not good enough” or “No one understands me” or “I’m all alone in this.” My teacher, Zen master Seung Sahn, used All the Lonely People You may be lonely, but you’re not as alone as you think. Sometimes, says JANE Mc LAUGHLIN-DOBISZ, you have to put your phone down and stop to taste the cookie dough. to call this state of mind “not-enough mind.” He’d say, “If your mind is complete, the sun, the moon, the stars... everything is complete. If your mind is not complete, then the sun, the moon, the stars are not enough. You will feel as though there is some- thing missing.” That’s how it is for a lot of folks nowadays—it’s become somewhat of a global epidemic. There are commissions on loneliness and campaigns to end loneliness. In the United Kingdom there’s even a Minister for Loneliness. According to some articles, loneliness affects young people more than the elderly. Others say just the opposite. Some studies claim one out of every two people surveyed are lonely. Others say it’s one in three. Research is being done by Harvard, Cigna, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, AARP, CBS, the BBC, USA Today, and so many others. It would seem that being lonely is somehow a by-product of our modern indus- trialized society, perhaps related to our use of social media, perhaps a result of living longer or of no longer living in extended families or tribes. Not only does loneliness affect our mental health and well- being due to its associated raised levels of stress hormones and inflammation, it’s also correlated with physical issues too, such as heart problems, dementia, depression, diabetes, and suicide. Here’s the thing; loneliness is a huge societal issue. In our modern world, as wealth grows and lifespans increase, so too does our isolation. The more connected we become with our phones, computers, and virtual relationships, the less we look each other in the eye or have actual conversations. We represent ourselves on social media almost as a self-marketing strategy, posting only the most positive and stylish aspects of ourselves. This creates a new kind of loneliness, particularly for those viewing others’ seemingly perfect lives while perhaps making comparisons to something not quite so perfect in their own lives. Somehow in all of this, we’ve completely forgotten our interdependence and how much we need each other not only to be happy but also just to survive. We can look at this issue and ask ourselves the obvious question: “How does practicing meditation get to the root of JANE MC LAUGHLIN-DOBISZ is the guiding teacher of the Cambridge Zen Center and the author of One Hundred Days of Solitude: Losing Myself and Finding Grace on a Zen Retreat. PHOTOBYTIMROBINSON/MILLENNIUMIMAGES,UK LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2019 38