Twenty-five years ago this month (April 27, 1995) we held our first meditation service and discussion at what is now Tendai Buddhist Institute. It saddens me that we will not be able to be together to celebrate this important milestone. There are so many significant events that we had had to cancel or postpone as a result of the pandemic. We will appreciate getting together for an appropriate celebration later this year, and next year when the Jigyodan will be joining us for a belated observance. I will be discussing this in the last discussion this month.
Many people look for a silver lining to our pandemic. It’s natural, a way to find some good that might arise amid the rotten. A common theme I have heard is that the environment benefitting from our isolation. Pollution is less, we aren’t driving as much, aircraft are grounded, some factories are closed, etc. The price of oil is down 66% as a result, less demand, lower prices. From this perspective that’s great. The earth needs a respite from the onslaught of human created pollution. This also demonstrates what it takes to make such a significant positive change. It can not be sustained. Once we are no longer isolating, we will be making up for this imposed environmental breather (no pun intended) by rescheduling our vacations and business travel. What if we used this as a lesson to find ways to decrease the overall contribution to anthropogenic environmental degradation? Just a random thought.
COVID has become a threat to our health and economic wellbeing. We have experienced a degree of isolation we have not been subject to for many generations in the U.S. This in turn has resulted in anxiety, overwhelming sadness at the loss of friends, our way of life, and for many, emotional stability. Most of us have been inundated with information about how this pandemic will play out. There is much conflicting, if well intentioned and well thought-out, information. I’m ignoring the deliberate misinformation. I will not contribute my thoughts about the probable outcomes right now because we have reached a point where the assumptions we make in order to create the various models are at best based upon incomplete data. For instance, at what point does a person who is asymptomatic become and cease to be contagious? Is the age associated mortality due to the concomitant disease profile and immune system of the individual, or is this an artifact of the viral load? There are so many factors we do not fully understand. This is not a failing of the science, it is just that we do not have enough data. I would like to address what we should consider. I spoke about this last Wednesday evening, but I want to write it down to emphasize its importance.
Our anxiety and disorientation we are experiencing is due to, 1) we are not in control. 2) we have expectation of what should be and 3) the uncertainty of what will happen. This is always the case when we are fearful and confused. Our provisional self always seeks to be in control, and we are always less in control than we think we are or should be. Our expectations can be pessimistic, optimistic, or a alternations of both. These often come in wave of one over the other at any given time. And finally, the uncertainty leads to all sorts of emotional upheavals. We grasp at certainty, as a drowning person grasps at water.
Each of the above are addressed by Buddha śāsana in very specific ways. However, they boil down to being in the moment and watching our mind unfold, without reacting to the unfolding. It is important when anxious to bring oneself back to this moment, and see oneself as an element of the larger whole that we call the universe. Surrender your need for of control, drop your expectations and be with the calmness that arises from not knowing, nor being concerned with what will be and see yourself as in the present only. That is the only certainty we can be sure of – what is right now?
Yes, I know that is easier said than done. To compound this the now may be a present that is itself undesirable. We sit with the sadness of a friend who is dangerously ill. An event we had made great plans that are postponed, maybe cancelled. We must have the discipline to sit with the sadness as well as we would sit with delight. The ambiguity of uncertainty, lack of control, and positive expectations are a vital part of our practice.
The teachings on non-self, the teachings on interpenetration, the teachings on the Middle Way, are the underpinning of this practice. But in the end this requires faith that these teachings are the result of a reality that is as tangible as any experience we might otherwise perceive. Now is when our teachings and practices bear fruit. Do not look for instant solutions, rely on these teachings and the discipline that Shakyamuni Buddha gave us.
When the mind begins to wander here and there this is a good time to recite the Heart Sutra and contemplate, “Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha.”
Join us Wednesday evenings, Tuesday mornings, this coming Saturday morning, for support from your sangha and know that there is loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity in boundless quantities just a call away. You are loved, cared for, and essential. Never doubt that. Have faith in the awakening within, the teachings and the sangha. Have faith that we will survive this dystopian time and we will once more thrive.
Love and Gassho … Monshin