“There is only one heroism in the world: to see the world as it is, and to love it.’
Romaine Rolland, novelist.
As any year ends there is a time of reflection. We want to connect with our loved ones, share gifts. It is, we are often told, the season of joy. Paying attention to the joy and beauty in your life when many people in the world and in your own street are suffering so much could feel harsh. If your intention is not to feel their pain.
Our Buddhist spiritual practice is not however about denying any suffering. Our practice doesn't lie in making some thought experiment where you superimpose a picture of your happy place on the world around you and only see the lovely, the beautiful and the true. Nor, on the other hand, does it lie in you getting lost in trying to fix the world, solve all its problems, make all its ills go away.
As Buddhists we are ever seeking a middle way between extremes.
Part of our Buddhist practice lies in recollecting that suffering isn't the totality of our experience. There is pain and there is joy at the same time. I was quite taken aback when I first got this teaching. A tragedy had left me immobilised and overwhelmed by sorrow. My study teacher at the time, Ratnadevi, gently reminded me to cultivate the beauty in my life as well as grieving the losses. It was a revelation. When I allowed myself to let the beauty in, I found myself responding more acutely to art, music and kindness. I was still in grief but it wasn't my whole experience. And in doing that I wasn't, as I had feared, betraying those who died by living it all; the joy and the pain. I was honouring the life that they and I cherished. By holding both, I became more fully alive.
So, as this year draws to an end, what do you see looking back? Where was the beauty and where the suffering?
Glasgow Buddhist Centre emerged from the lockdown conditions early this year, tentatively, carrying anxiety created by the pandemic. We moved into our current home in Berkeley St. We have been so grateful to be able to gather, to hold public classes, festivals, and to start building our new normal. It's been a beautiful thing to be sharing the Buddha’s dharma in person again. Our sangha has generously moved towards all the various tasks involved in creating this new normal. It's heartwarming and inspiring to be a sangha (community) made up of teams of people each giving what they can. And of course the problems that we face as a sangha have not gone away. As we contemplate the various ways we could implement our new vision for the GBC, we see that each option has a mix of joy and suffering in it. And short of enlightenment, we know, there is no avoiding suffering.
When Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva, failed in his vow to save all beings from suffering, his head exploded. He did not die though. Instead he was given several heads and one thousand arms and with 2 of those arms, he held the wish fulfilling jewel to his heart. Each of the thousand arms held a different capacity to respond to suffering and each head faced a different direction in order to identify suffering. He did not die, he just grew a bigger response to the many cries of the world.
Next year, with Avalokiteshvara in our midst, the Glasgow Buddhist Centre will be doing just that, developing our capacity to identify and respond to the suffering in the world.
Kuladharini, Dec. 2022