Oh that my monk’s robe were wide enough
to gather up all the suffering people
in this floating world
What a time we find ourselves in! When has it ever been more important, this dharma practice, and the support of others to help keep it alive?
Surely no one needs it spelled out – it’s right in our face every day, and on the news: Climate catastrophe, social and political upheaval, wars, famine, fires and drought. With all of this in the background, I’ve been tuning into the sea of suffering – making an effort to open to it as part of my daily practice, reflecting on its roots in our own minds and hearts, and how all this relates to our practice and our everyday earthly existence.
I spent the month of July in Poland, working with the sangha there. It was my first flight over the ocean in two and a half years. Thanks to the internet, the Bodhidharma sangha has kept going strong throughout the pandemic.
But to be back at the familiar and spacious center, to see and be with our Polish dharma brothers and sisters again, actually , practicing together in our fully embodied forms – I simply wasn’t prepared for how deeply affecting and inspiring the whole experience would be.
It is, of course, an especially difficult time there in that part of the world. Some of our members’ homes lie very near to the border with Ukraine; one long-time member lives with his family on the other side of that border. But everyone in the region lives in the shadow of the terror of the war, especially those still living in Ukraine, and the millions of refugees who have had to leave their homes and livelihood and loved ones behind.
In the midst of all this I’ve also been reflecting, over the past months, on hope. Clearly it is the opposite of despair and cynicism. And as the famous Czech writer and statesman Vaclav Havel (1936-2011) has eloquently pointed out, we should not confuse it with mere optimism:
Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. It is this hope, above all, that gives us strength to live and to continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now. In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love and, finally, without hope.
True hope is grounded in deep faith – a faith based not on any doctrine or belief system, but on direct, personal experience of a fundamental wholeness, interconnectedness, and resilience waiting to be recognized and lived.. “Do not be deceived by surfaces,” wrote Rainer Maria Rilke. “In the depths, all is Law.”
Through deepening practice we can open the channels within us to this “Law” – one of the definitions of dharma – and to the bedrock conviction that this is the truth of what we are, what the universe is. This growing, spirit-strengthening certainty can help to hold us and others steady through whatever calamities may lie ahead. Daily zazen offers us a way, every day, to access these channels, to nourish and restore ourselves, to allow our minds to clear and our hearts, and arms, to open ever wider.
How fortunate we are, those of us not struggling with debilitating illness and hunger, not fleeing war and drought, floods and fires. Such a challenge and opportunity, to be able to keep a practice going in these times, and to support each other along the way! And such a necessity – for the sake of our own precious life on this beleaguered Earth, and for all the wondrous beings who share it with us.