ALL around us we are inundated with disasters, human-made as well as natural. Hurricane Katrina was devastating. In New Orleans the loss of life and the potential for the disappearance of a unique culture saddens me beyond words. It has been predicted that this calamity may well change the fabric of our nation. The tragedy of Iraq has resulted in death, disfigurement and destructions to Iraqis and Americans alike. Many are not aware of the typhoon that has caused loss of life and displaced people in Kyushu, Japan. How quickly the tsunami in Asia and the human catastrophe in Darfor have dropped off the radar of the press, but not our consciousness. How can we even imagine the desolation of HIV/ AIDS in South Africa? Today, as I write this, it is the fourth anniversary of September 11th. I know many of our sangha have their own personal struggles as well.
We should all be empathic and bear witness. Personally, I cannot tell you how many times tears have welled in my eyes listening to and watching the stories unfold in New Orleans and Mississippi. I don’t think a person can witness these kinds of misfortune and not be profoundly moved.
I know people who steep themselves in this suffering and immobilize themselves emotionally and physically. This does not improve the suffering of the world one wit, it just adds to the overall suffering. The Buddhist way of life tells us life is suffering, we need not be surprised when it becomes so evident. The Four Noble Truths, also exhort us to recognize this and do those things we can, not to avoid the suffering, but to actively work toward its extinction.
During sitting meditation, I take on this suffering and extend to all compassion. When doing the daily service, I do the offerings with those who are suffering from these events in my mind, in my prayers, in my heart. Of course prayers, empathy, and witness are not all we can do. We can materially assist the victims through the Red Cross, Salvation Army and other reputable organizations. I recognize the amount of contribution I can make is like a thimbleful of assistance in an ocean of need. The combination of donations, prayers, offerings, witness and awareness is what I can do, in the end it is all that any can do. We cannot control the weather, political forces, or other people’s hatred. We can make our lives the Dharma and contribute to this world in a way that reduces hatred, influences political discourse and ameliorates the pain of change. We also are brought to the reality that life is indeed suffering and we must do our best, bit by little bit over our lifetime of awareness for the benefit of all sentient beings. It may be a thimbleful of assistance, but we make the world that much better.
Today, a day in which there is so much misery in the world, the sun is shining bright and warm, a cool breeze of imminent autumn blows across my face. The reality today is that I am in this life to do what I can for the benefit of others and live in the moment; feeling the sun, feeling the breeze, feeling alive. I cherish my companion, family, teachers, friends, animals, and enemies without attachment. I breathe deeply of this life, knowing it comes and goes. And, like a turtle on a rock in the sun I exist in this moment without grieving that I cannot control the world. By living in this moment of beauty and grace I am not ignoring the suffering of the world I am cognizant of that sadness while I reduce the overall suffering of the world, one moment at a time.
The way of the Buddha is the way of the seasons. In the cold shiver, in the heat sweat; the sun will set in the evening and rise in the morning. Breathe in the air of spring, summer, autumn, fall. When sad be with the sadness, when happy be with the happiness. The Middle Way is the Way of Balance. Pray for those who are suffering then allow the sun to wash away your tears.