This talk was prompted by an email exchange with a friend from the West Coast who is not a meditator but knows of my interest in meditation and Buddhism. The email ended with the statement: "I am juggling so many things these days that they overlap - give me some Buddhist inspiration so I can get this all done without losing my mind!" My response follows.
You asked for it, so here goes. ‘What is, is’. It's always been that way and it will always be that way. Buddha said that suffering, dissatisfaction, frustration, upset, stress or whatever you want to call any negative experience is caused by "wanting it to be different than the way it is.”
Accepting that what is, is, does not mean approving of what happens or being passive, indifferent, or insensitive to the reality of the need for action or change. It means accepting the way it is without reacting negatively. It means letting go of any negative reactions that may arise so that one's energy is not wasted in emotional reactivity to what can't be changed, since it's already happened, or worrying about a future that has not yet arrived. It means using that energy more effectively and efficiently in making any changes that are possible and beneficial.
For most of us, getting even close to experiencing this level of accepting that what is, is, (not approving) takes practice, through meditation and mindful living. We need to continuously acknowledge and be mindful of the fact that suffering is caused, not by situations, circumstances, or others, but by our negative reactions to them and by learning to let go of these reactions as quickly as possible when they arise.
Krishnamurti, an Indian Hindu guru and philosopher whom I had the privilege of hearing twice, once in Ojai, CA, in the 70's and again in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, when I worked there in the late 80's, said it much more simply.
When asked what his secret was to living peacefully, he said: "I don't mind what happens." And so I repeat: What is, is. Accepting – I didn’t say approving – accepting the way it is, is a quintessential way of expressing our already enlightened nature.
There are a couple of Zen stories that bear on this issue. A Buddhist monk lived next door to a family with a teenage girl who gets pregnant. The family told the monk about the incident and he said, "Is that so". When the girl finally gave way to her parents’ insistence on telling them who the father was, they went to the monk and said, "Our daughter tells us that you're the father of her baby.” The monk again said, "Is that so". When the baby was born, the parents took the infant boy to the monk and told him he had to raise the infant boy. Again the monk said, "Is that so". Though the monk’s reputation in the village was ruined, he compassionately nurtured and raised the boy for four years.
Then the daughter confessed that the monk was not the son's father, but that the father was a boy in the village whom she now wanted to marry. The parents went next door to ask for the child’s return and apologized profusely to the monk. Again, the monk said, "Is that so". The parents took their daughter’s son back with them, and the monk’s reputation was restored.
There are several points to this story. One is that we never really know how things are going to turn out. A negative point is that a lying about a person can destroy the person’s reputation. A positive outcome was that a Buddhist monk raised the boy during his first four significant, developmental years.
But the major point is that each and every time the Zen monk was approached, he accepted what happened without judgement, without attachment, and without any expectation or desire that it should have been other then the way it was. There was no way of refuting the lie without judging the girl negatively, without calling her a liar. The monk graciously accepted the consequences of whatever transpired and each time responded simply by saying, “Is that so.” He compassionately raised and nurtured the boy and without attachment returned him to his mother at her request. The monk accepted with compassion and equanimity whatever happened next in his life and dealt appropriately with the consequences.
There is another Zen story about a farmer whose only horse got out of the barn and ran away. That was the bad news, the loss, and a negatively judged event.
But a few days later the horse returned with a wild horse with which it had bonded, and the farmer now had two horses. That was the good news, an event judged positively.
The farmer’s son was given the responsibility for training the wild horse, and in the process was thrown off and suffered a broken leg in the fall. That was the bad news, an event judged negatively.
But a few days later, a King’s brigade came to the farm to recruit the boy for a planned battle against an invading nation in which he would probably be killed. But because he had a broken leg, they did not take him. That was the good news.
Again, the point of this story is that the future cannot be predicted and often results in a changed judgment or point of view about an event. And it emphasizes that it is our judgements and reactions to events or circumstances, not the circumstances themselves that cause suffering, for if we could know in advance that there would ultimately be very beneficial consequences, we would definitely suffer less, if at all.
It is important to note that I am not saying that we do not, should not, or can avoid, even if we wanted to, reacting with suffering to some circumstances. Our individual predisposing genetics and our learning, conditioning, and past experiences are very real causes and conditions that determine our reactions to events. I’m only saying that the circumstances or situations themselves are neutral.
An individual’s perceptual overlay, mental disposition, or attitude will also influence one’s suffering. A stock market crash for one person may lead to suicide and for another to the challenge of pursuing another fortune. A failing grade leads one student to drop out of college and another to try even harder. A sunrise may be beautiful for a student on one occasion but on another after studying all night for a test, he may view it anxiously as signifying the approaching exam. And an Oak tree under which a couple
gets engaged will have one meaning while they are happily married but quite likely a different one after they’re divorced.
Again, the point here is that recognizing that suffering is caused by our reactions to circumstances and not the circumstances themselves will substantially help in minimizing the intensity and duration of our suffering and aid us in making any needed and possible beneficial changes in the circumstances themselves. The Serenity Prayer used in alcohol and other addiction programs, whether recited as a petitionary prayer to God or simply as an affirmation of one’s thoughts and intentions, expresses this very well:
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
I’ll end by repeating Krishnamurti’s wonderfully simple statement for how to live life peacefully: “It doesn’t matter what happens.”
May you all be well, happy, peaceful, and harmonious.
*Contact Charlie Day at (515) 255-8398, www.desmoinesmeditation.com, or email@example.com to discuss meditation, Buddhism, sitting groups, retreats, or meditation experiences. 7-08
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