The following is an essay that was written by Venerable Ani Drubgyudma in response to a friend who was burdened about the tremendous amount of suffering in the world, and asked “can meditation practice assist in ending suffering?”
Can Meditation Practice Assist in Ending Suffering?
Human suffering – violent human suffering – will end as each individual ‘reformats’ – reforms – the self system. Each self system is a microcosm of the universal system. The suffering in the world comes back to energy as it manifest in the world. Energy manifests through creatures.
Humanity is one of trillions of creatures that make up Gaia. Humanity has evolved into a system that is now able to create consciously new systems. Humanity can turn things around by the reformation of their self system – the individual manifesting as an altruistic being in the world. When more and more individual self systems reformat into altruistic beings – compassionate wisdom beings – then there will be a tipping point – change will manifest.
Thoreau, who Gandhi was greatly influenced by (so much so that he named his movement after Thoreau’s essay ‘Civil Disobedience’), said that society’s reformation can only happen when the individual is reformed.
We mostly remember Thoreau for Walden Pond, not for the essay ‘Civil Disobedience’. Thoreau went to jail for not paying taxes – he disagreed with the government in terms of slavery and the war in Mexico. Thoreau believed in non-violence and equally believed that one must resist any authority that is not just.
Thoreau insisted that social reformation begins with the individual. A society can not reform unless the reformation of the individuals that make-up a society reform first.
Thoreau lived simply, was a Harvard graduate, and wrote over 6000 pages throughout his lifetime. Yet, he was considered by the elite NY Times literary critics of his day a lunatic on the fringe of society. “’James Russell Lowell…writes Thoreau down as hardly more than a member of the lunatic fringe which surrounded Emerson.’ (Walden & Other Writings, Thoreau, edit and intro by Krutch, p 20)
Thoreau was a happy man, and said that he had no regrets. He believed that simplicity was one of the keys to happiness, and he tried to teach others through his lifestyle and writings. He worked with his father in a pencil making business – he put the lead in the wooden pencils that they made. He was not ambitious for worldly “success”. In fact he did not accept the common explanations of success. He “scorned public opinion”, and “refused to be moved by the judgment of others”.
“”The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it.” and it is one of his most fundamental convictions that the getting of most of the comforts, complexities and luxuries we think necessary costs more of our life than they are worth.” (ibid, 10)
We see that “the comforts, complexities and luxuries” of Thoreau’s day are what the wars and environmental crises of today’s world are built upon – as we continue to desire more and more comforts, complexities and luxuries. We also see that happiness and peace of mind is something not dependent upon “things”.
Many quote Gandhi – ‘Be the solution that you want to see in the world’. But that sentence is incomplete if it does not factor in the presuppositions of Gandhi. Gandhi said that in order to be the solution in the world, you have to be true to the truth of your highest principles…he used the word swaraj – living the highest truth of the self.
What solution do you want to see in the world? Do we want to see peace in the world? Then be peace. Be true to, live, the principles of peace – manifest as the principle of peace.
There comes a great price with this truth of being true to our principles, our values. Living the truth of our principles involves the willingness to risk looking deeply into our lives – seeing where we don’t live up to what we believe our principles to be.
Then despite the risks, or inconveniences, involved, we live the change we want to see in the world.
“My life is my message.” Gandhi said. Every person’s life is their message. Our truth is manifested through our words, speech and actions. Our truth manifests through our lifestyles. Our lifestyles reflect our worldviews.
When each person is able to live as a compassionate presence in the world (this is the value of the many techniques that Buddhism offers the world in terms of dispositional transformation through the sundry meditation practices) – then humanity will have stabilized as altruistic.
One of the major problems of living an ethical life without a stabilization of our Buddha nature – spontaneous compassionate wisdom manifesting in the world – is that of fundamentalism. A fundamentalist is someone who usually is very ‘ethical’, but has no direct stabilization as a wisdom being – is not able to manifest as an altruistic person living and working in the world.
A fundamentalist lives life according to the rules and roles and is judgemental – a black and white, us against them mentality. We know this very well, but we don’t often see the subtleties of fundamentalism within our own worldviews and how they play out.
Again, this brings us back to practice – the practice is perfect – perfectly leading forward towards an altruistic humanity manifesting a lifestyle of compassionate wisdom in the world.
The light fields of positive energy manifesting through humanity does radiate out to heal. Meditation is a tool assisting in the healing of humanity, culture and nature.
In closing let’s applaud the following quote,
“We in the West – perhaps I should say in the modern, increasingly secularized world as a whole- live with what is, when taken in the context of world religions, a remarkably devalued idea of human nature. We seem no longer to believe that human nature is perfectible or that genuine saints are possible. Such a view has, obviously, profound impacts on the way people think about and engage in (or do not engage in) the spiritual life. In my view, prevailing interpretations of Buddhism which, as we shall see, reduce the saints to peripheral actors in the tradition represents another, if perhaps more sophisticated, expression of this same modern devaluation. Buddhism may be seen essentially as an ethical system, an elegant philosophy, a practical psychology, a technique for dealing with mental distress, a cultural tradition, or a force of civilization. Rarely, however, is it seen primarily as a tradition that produces and celebrates genuine saints. Yet, at least in my reading, this is finally what Buddhism essentially is, and as long as this fact is not recognized, the specific genius of Buddhism is missed, a genius with the potential to provide a healthy challenge to our increasingly scientific, materialistic, and consumeristic view of human nature.” (Preface, Buddhist Saints in India: A Study in Buddhist Values & Orientation, Reginald Ray)
With Ray let’s endeavor to believe that each individual can manifest as an altruistic presence in the world!
What aspects of my life are inconsistent with my values?
What is altruism?
How are the values of altruism keys to happiness for self and others?
How are the values of a personal altruism related to the values for a societal altruism?
What are the keys in cultivating an altruistic lifestyle?
What are the obstacles that I face in cultivating an altruistic lifestyle?
(Ani Drubgyudma May 2008)