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Buddhadharma : Summer 2009
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 0 9 44 us more socially aware, to ask, what does Buddhism tell us about an economic system that has failed us badly? If we had a decent healthcare system, for example, that would make a huge difference. It doesn’t make sense for someone to feel totally responsible for what happens to them. There is that element to practice, to be sure, but it’s also important to see that our social system has been failing in some very significant ways. So one issue that certainly concerns me is some of the insti- tutional, economic implications of the dharma. It’s an oppor- tunity for us to become more aware of what’s wrong with this social system and to be more conscious of the need to address this, because of all the increased suffering that’s happening. Sharon SaLzberg: That makes total sense, and I completely agree. John TarranT: I agree, but you don’t have to be a meditator to see that. One of the things I’ve noticed is how much ordinary people who have had no exposure to teachings of Buddhism really get the basic principles we’re talking about. There’s a generosity and kindness and compassion that seems to come naturally out of a basic kind of prajna. People have moments of noticing they can do something helpful, perhaps like elect a black president. They naturally want to help people. I think some humility is in order in terms of what Buddhism has to offer. People who have no interest in Buddhism are doing amazing work with homeless shelters and free clinics. buDDhaDharma: Concerning this crisis, though, the Zen teacher Norman Fischer was saying to me recently that practitioners— being very humble and not having some superior attitude about having the great dharma answer for everybody—may nevertheless be able to contribute something uniquely helpful during these difficult times, and it may behoove us to speak up and say so. John TarranT: Yes, that offering is practice. The idea of prac- tice is a noble and tremendously profound idea. It focuses the natural qualities of mind, and the clarity and brilliance of mind. But with the big interventions, like whether a stimulus package or a bailout of an industry or an economic reform will work—I don’t think most of us are qualified to know the answers. I’m not sure that anybody is qualified to know; there’s a tremendous amount of uncertainty and guesswork. There are clearly things we can do in terms of healthcare and other means of being helpful, but one of the nice things about Western culture that’s different from the old feudal cultures is that we have a respect for what we don’t know, a skepticism for our own opinions. Sharon SaLzberg: Something that amuses me these days in political and economic discourse is how often the word “inter- connected” appears. President Obama said it just this morn- ing in his address about the mortgage crisis. He said, “These problems are all interconnected,” and went on to use that word over and over again. The last few months have been a time of rising uncer- tainty and anxiety in current affairs, and today most forecasters predict further turbulence ahead. It’s one of those periods in society when there seems to be more pessimism than optimism about the future. We face difficult challenges, and the possibility that rather than getting bet- ter—which is how we like to see the future—things may get worse. When our view of the future is optimistic, or things are going well, then it can be exciting for us. When it is pessimistic and there are problems, it can be frightening or depressing. And this happens on top of the everyday life events that can affect any of us at any time, such as illnesses, accidents, or bereavement. And even when there are no crises in our lives, there are the day-to-day frustrations, disappointments, and dissatisfactions, because the world around us simply isn’t the way we would like it to be. Or we aren’t the way we’d like to be or think we should be. These are just some of the “worldly winds” which can so easily blow us around. When the weather is stormy we need a safe harbor or a strong anchor. The Buddha’s teachings point us toward that place of refuge, where we are better able to see through our fears and expectations and relax around them. Whether it’s devotion to the Triple Gem or confidence in our practice that helps us to bear unwanted events and the unpleasant feelings that arise when they happen, when we let go, we allow some- thing new to emerge, which is a response from the heart. The heart can recognize that whatever is going on, what- ever confusion, upset or longing we experience, there is also the capacity simply to be aware of this. And in awareness that is free of assumptions and judgments, there is a peacefulness and willing acceptance. The heart is content simply to be, and in that being it is open, receptive, and loving—even if not necessarily liking what is happening in ourselves or in the world around us. It is in this willingness to be that we find the strength and compassion to respond to life’s challenges. From the Forest Sangha Newsletter, January 2009. tHe worldly winds in the face of life’s challenges, says ajahn jutindharo, we must find the strength to let go and just be with whatever is happening. www.PHotosfroMtHedePtHs.coM