Winter is dragging on in New England and Zenchild spent the entire week battling fevers to 103, just to name one of her many symptoms. It's a humbling realization that in life, in general, sometimes all our grand efforts to help are reduced to simply patting a back, sitting on the bed, fetching water. Even in the ICU, with all the wonders of technology at our command, it can be the most difficult task just to be fully present for a patient for whom the technology will not be enough. And it feels like I am not enough either until I shake off my pompous delusion of being able to make everything right and do what I can do -set my intention and be present.
This week I've been feeling tired, sun-deprived, and uninspired so I felt a tiny bit of anxiety when I was given a small assignment by my sangha leader: to speak for a few minutes on the first mindfulness training at our sangha today. This will be part of a panel discussion in preparation for a transmission ceremony to take place at the day of mindfulness we are planning for the end of April. Here's Thay's version:
"Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life."
(Sigh.) Doesn't it just make you appreciate the Ten Commandments where you could march right by "Thou shall not kill" with a quick "check" and be on the way to heaven? I notice even with this training I want to commit fully to vegetarianism and call it accomplished... my ego, it's relentless! But this training has ramifications that reach into every area of my life, with the goal of cultivating compassion and weeding out the seeds of violence even in my thoughts. It's easy it is to recognize the benefit of good intentions and wishes, as I've been noticing at home and at work this week. How is it that I can think I've got a free pass on violent thoughts and bad attitudes devoid of compassion? I realize I am called to pay attention to the effect my actions and thoughts are having out there in the world which also cause suffering for myself. It requires vigilance though as it seems I purposefully set good intentions but the less benevolent thoughts take a more insidious route into my consciousness.
So I circle back to the first words as a place to begin: "Aware of the suffering caused..." because it seems clear that the first step in eliminating causes of suffering is to become aware of them, to look deeply at my own part in perpetuating violence as I make choices everyday. Everything's on this table: what I eat, what I say, the clothes I wear, the car I drive, even the actions I don't take that support the status quo and institutionalized violence: war, poverty, prejudice. Phew! Thank goodness we are asked only make a concerted effort to head in the direction, knowing we will never reach the ideal.
In one dharma talk, Thay refers to the depiction of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, who has one thousand arms and one thousand hands. In the middle of each hand is an eye. The image is so stunning. When we have eyes in our hands, when we can see what our actions are doing, then we can have compassion. Maybe I can bring a photo to the sangha today so I don't lose my train of thought and crumple into a heap of mono-syllables when a mere 40 or so eyes turn to me...LOL.
More importantly, this morning we are baking brownies for a soup kitchen being put on by sangha members. Another example of "too little" thinks my cynical mind. Then again, who doesn't enjoy a brownie now and again and today it's what we can do. I'm going to think about those thousand arms. Those eyes. And into each brownie we will breathe the intention, "May we be aware of suffering. May we be free from suffering".
Authentic Kindness of the Heart