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Buddhadharma : Summer 2012
SUMMER 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 63 mind is unable to bear reality and instead retreats into pat terns of distraction, resistance, or blame. Things arise accord ing to the laws of cause and effect. In the context of the violent history of South Africa, we have to take into account the profound causes that have been set in place. In a relational field where unacknowledged trauma tends to impair sensitiv ity and trust, healing doesn’t happen overnight. There has to be a longterm view and an ability to withstand difficulty. Ajahn Chah’s teaching encouraged us to “bear with how it is” for a moment longer, rather than react habitually. Taking time to reflect that “this is how it is” orientates the mind toward a realistic appraisal. Even in disharmony we can be with how it is without the need to tack on judgments. We can allow pain and confusion to come and go alongside the rolling tides of idealism and dashed hopes. In allowing life to be exactly what it is and meeting it there, we trust and listen into the “suchness” of the situation. In doing so, even when faced with impossibility, an appropriate response usually becomes clear. Learning to deeply accept and allowing response to emerge from that acceptance are not in opposition. There can be letting go and equanimity and there also can be vigorous work to transform suffering. While it can seem there is a conflict between nonattachment and finding an appropriate response, in practice each informs the other. Language creates the appearance of separation, where in truth there is a fundamental unity. When it’s time to act, then act; when it’s time to let it be, then simply let it be. What guides our response is mindfulness. When aware ness is purified by wisdom, all distinctions dissolve, and the underlying unmoving “suchness” of reality appears. The dualities of subject and object, action and inaction, healthy and sick, wise and deluded, you and me, are revealed to be mere appearances. In the Mula Sutta, Buddha said pann’uttara sabbe dhamma (wisdom overcomes all things), vimutti sara sabbe dhamma (freedom is the heart of all things), and ama- togadha sabbe dhamma (all things merge in the deathless). If we enter this understanding, there really is nowhere else to go than right here. With wisdom we realize that all so called separate things constantly arise, cease, and merge into an undivided heart. Right in the midst of every condition is the radiant heart. There is no other field of awakening than what unfolds right now. This is the emptiness that opens into intimacy with all that is, that understands “being nothing” is also “being everything.” When we realize this, we see that it is not a question of helping others because at the deepest level of reality there are no others. We are all connected. This subtle contemplation aims to keep the heart softened and open. In the story of Avalokitesvara, we find that the bodhisattvaintraining cannot handle the huge task of alle viating so much suffering and so his head shatters into pieces. His teacher Amitabha Buddha (representing the ocean of infi nite light and life) remakes his dearest disciple and gives him eleven heads through which to meet the world and a thousand hands and eyes to effectively respond. The hands of Avalokitesvara, or Kuan Yin, hold symbols of many kinds of wise and compassionate responses. Some are calming and merciful, like the vase from which healing nectar flows, or the whisk to wipe away obstructions. How ever, some are fierce and powerful, like an axe to cut through obstructions, an arrow to pierce hearts with truth, or a lariat to tie up demons. Compassionate response can be fierce. There may be the need to place appropriate boundaries if there is a lack of ethics or some kind of abuse. It has been our daily practice, while living in South Africa, to chant the Great Compassion Mantra, which is said to energize each of the hands and eyes of Kuan Yin. It is a faithbased practice that connects with the intention of compassion. Mantra practice guides attention beyond the complex structures of thought. It taps into the primordial matrix of awareness from which wise intentional ity is honed. As a daily practice it gives focus, protection, and a connection to the vow power of the bodhisattvas. For us this has been a very real and tangible support. South Africa has challenged us. Like Avalokitesvara, it has shattered and reshaped us, just as the challenges we all experience, wherever we are, continually offer an invitation to grow into our full humanity—a humanity infused with the divine impulse of the bodhisattva mind. In face of the challenges of rural South Africa, we try to stay honed to goodness in spite of sometimes being over- whelmed and demoralized. We could not have done this without drawing from the depths of Buddhist practice. Stupa at the Buddhist Retreat Center in KwaZulu TOMASCAMPHERPHOTOS(ABOVE)THANISSARA,(BELOW)JURGENMOLLERS