Serenity in the storm

7 mins read.

It’s no secret that humanity has been living through some difficult times and a lot of people have been struggling to stay afloat.

Friends all over the world have told me they’ve been having a challenging two years. Some who were relatively carefree have been experiencing levels of anxiety they didn’t expect, for example, and I know what they mean. I read that therapists cannot keep up with demand because stress and other mental health issues are, not surprisingly, at an all time high. Samsara (the cycle of impure life explained by Buddha) was not exactly working out even before this pandemic; but the pandemic has functioned like a magnifying glass for vulnerabilities.

Nine out of 10 therapists say the number of clients seeking care is on the rise, and most are experiencing a significant surge in calls for appointments, longer waiting lists, and difficulty meeting patient demand. Nearly one in three clinicians have 3-month waiting lists, and report hating having to turn so many people away.

This has got me thinking even more than usual about the value of Buddhism, or Dharma. Buddha specialized in overcoming adversity and suffering. His teachings address all aspects of the human experience, including trauma, grief, loneliness, depression, anxiety, anger, and overwhelmingness. Buddhist meditation is both therapeutic and transcendent, and anyone can learn how to do it, Buddhist or not.

We can go to classes now all over the world. There is no waiting list, no one has to be turned away, and weekly classes are kept accessible and inexpensive — not much more than this over-priced coffee I am nursing. And once we learn how to meditate we can do it whenever we like, for free. It doesn’t require special clothing or equipment. We can do it wherever we like too — on our bed or on our commute or on a park bench.

Hole or door?

I have been wanting to share a bit of advice for any of you who might be feeling fear and worry in these difficult times — advice I am just going to go ahead and repeat verbatim from a fellow ancient Kadampa:

This moment that humanity is living through can be considered a door or a hole. The decision to fall into the hole or go through the door is yours.

If you consume information 24 hours a day, with negative energy, constantly nervous, with pessimism, you will fall into this hole.

But if you take the opportunity to look at yourself, to rethink life and death, to take care of yourself and others, you will go through the door.

Take care of your body and mind. When you take care of yourself, you take care of others at the same time. Be kind to yourself and others.

You are prepared to go through this crisis. Grab your toolbox and use all the tools at your disposal.

Don’t feel guilty for feeling fortunate in these difficult times. Being sad and without energy doesn’t help at all — enjoy life! You have the right to be strong and positive. You have to maintain a beautiful, cheerful, and bright demeanor. This has nothing to do with ignoring the world’s problems, it is a strategy of resistance.

When we walk through the door, we have a new view of the world because we have faced our fears and difficulties. This is what you can do now:

  • Practice serenity in the storm
  • Keep calm, meditate daily
  • Make a habit of encountering the sacred every day
  • Demonstrate resilience through faith, patience, and love.

I hope this year that lots of people will add tools to that resilience toolbox by taking advantage of the meditation centers existing all over this big wide world.

While we remain with delusions such as aversion, uncontrolled desire, confusion, and fear, we are all of us mentally unhealthy to a greater or lesser degree. If we don’t understand ourselves, we cannot heal ourselves, let alone anyone else. Therefore, we need to learn to apply the medicine of Dharma to our own actual problems; and with a skillful meditation teacher this is exactly what we can do. Moreover, Buddhist meditation is not only immediately curative but also an entire path to the everlasting bliss of enlightenment – meaning that we can practice it at whatever level we wish.

For any Kadampas amongst you, this pressing need for Dharma to stay widely available has got me thinking about a related topic that seems quite relevant  …

Find your Sangha

Listening recently to one of Venerable Geshe Kelsang’s teachings from a Festival he taught years ago, I heard the laughter of thousands of people in attendance. It struck me how important these Festivals are for the flourishing of Kadampa Buddhist teachings in this world, providing the glue to keep this tradition alive and whole.

I really appreciate the opportunities that livestreaming meditation classes have created for people everywhere – it has been a genuinely silver lining to this pandemic, and I hope it stays put. However, from what I can tell, there has also been a lot of inevitable fracturing over these past two years of involuntary separation, and the sooner we can all try and get back in person to our Centers and Festivals, the better. (Maybe not this minute, with Omicron raging, but as soon as the coast is clear.)

We talk about the Three Jewels of refuge in Buddhism – not just Buddha and Dharma (his teachings), but also Sangha (the community of practitioners). Our Sangha provide the antidote to the isolation so many of us have been feeling, as well as the advice and help we need to make sustained and happy progress. I recall Venerable Geshe-la saying years ago:

People come for the teachings, but they stay for the Sangha.

What is our Center for?

What is your Buddhist Center for you?

I think this might be quite an important question to ask ourselves as we deliberate on whether or not to head on back there.

Kadampas are all about living a more heartfelt, enlightened way of life. That’s the theory, anyway. We really are supposed to mean it when we say, “Everybody welcome”; and this is because we are trying to be Bodhisattva communities. We share in the vision of bringing about lasting peace and freedom in the hearts of each and every single living being! Every Center is dedicated to this very aim. As Geshe Kelsang says:

If we always maintain the recognition “I am a member of a Bodhisattva family; our community is a Bodhisattva family,” we will develop respect for our community, which in reality is Mahayana Sangha and an object of refuge.

If we go to our Center in person, we can help build up a warm, inclusive, and kind-hearted Sangha community, and it really will become a place where anyone feels they can come for company, joy, and mutual support. It can also act as a reliable base from which we can take everything we learn back out into our family and wider communities.

But, to paraphrase Gen-la Dekyong from last Summer’s International Festival, how can we say “Everybody welcome” if we’re not at the Center to let them in?!

We need to show up, somehow, to do our bit if we possibly can. I think so, anyway. As Venerable Geshe-la says in a talk he gave called “What should our main practice be?”

We cannot cherish all living beings immediately because our self-cherishing is too strong. Therefore, to train in the intention to offer happiness to others we need to choose one object to begin with. Eventually we can apply this practice to all mother sentient beings. I can say that for us this object is our own Dharma Centre. If we help Dharma Centers, in reality we are giving happiness to all living beings.

He goes on to explain exactly what he means by that, summing it up like this:

By helping Dharma Centers to flourish we are helping pure Dharma to flourish, and if Dharma flourishes people will have the opportunity to listen to, contemplate, meditate on, and realize Dharma. In this way they can solve their problems and gain permanent freedom from suffering.

Without our Dharma Center flourishing, what would be left in our area? Would we even have the rather convenient livestreaming we have all come to know and (sort of) love … ?!

Finally, in the current climate I think it’s worth mentioning also that Kadampa Centers are political-free zones. There is so much more we humans have in common than not, and Buddha’s teachings help us to appreciate this such that we can genuinely understand and respect one another. Something the world could use more of, wouldn’t you agree?

Comments on this subject (pros and cons of livestreaming) are appearing on this article, and your experience is very welcome if you can take a moment to write about it in the box below.

(One thing I want to just add is that, in my observation, livestream has worked well as a way to stay connected for those who had already attended Centers and somewhat knew their Sangha. Less so for complete newcomers — livestream is not quite as supportive — which may be why some Centers are now noticing that there are more “new” people than old-timers showing up for in-person classes. Your thoughts are welcome on this too.)

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Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

16 thoughts on “Serenity in the storm”

  1. Thank you very much for this article. This is a bit long, but I hope it is helpful. I think there is value in offering a hybrid option. I teach a branch class which continued via livestream through the pandemic. The core group of GP students continued to attend via livestreaming. There have been some drop-ins and one person became a regular GP student. Some people said they were looking for something in-person and would not attend via Zoom. Two students took advantage of livestreaming the Summer Festival. One of them would not have been able to attend in-person, the other would prefer to attend in-person.

    Recently, the branch started a hybrid class that is in-person and livestreamed. In that class, the in-town regulars tend to come in person except when they are sick. When they were sick, they attended via livestream. One student lives 45 miles away and comes in-person periodically which is what she did prior to the pandemic. Now she also takes advantage of livestreaming when she cannot get into town so gets more Dharma now than before the pandemic. Three new people showed up in-person and one of them has come multiple times. The in-person students enjoy the support of interacting with each other before and after class and I think some friendships are beginning to form. Having a hybrid class has been an advantage for the students to be able to attend in-person or via livestream depending on their circumstances.

    On the personal side, the arrival of livestreaming was wonderful, and I hope a hybrid option continues in the future. One wonderful thing that happened was that two Kadampa friends, who work in low paid service jobs, were able to attend the Festivals. One friend could not leave the country so had never attended a Festival before. Neither of them could afford even the cost of livestreaming, but, because there was no travel expense, others were able to pay for all the Festivals for them. My friends were overjoyed to be able to attend the Festivals for two years via livestream. The one who could not leave the country received HYT empowerment for the first time. He was so happy.

    The first several years of my practice was at a Dharma center where I could attend classes and help with events. The last several years I have lived 100 miles from the closest Dharma center only occasionally getting to a center event and attending study programs by correspondence. At this point, because of physical limitations of aging, I am not able to drive myself long distance to a Dharma center and find it difficult to sit through multiple sessions in one day in a straight-backed chair. With livestreaming the past two years I have been able to attend all Festivals. It was amazing to see how the Festival teachings flowed together and impacted my heart in a way that had not happened before only being able to attend an occasional Festival. Also, because I could take care of my body, I could concentrate more on the teachings so got more out of them.

    I see so many advantages of the hybrid option and hope it continues so that people everywhere, no matter what their circumstances, can receive Venerable Geshe-la’s precious teachings.

  2. Yes totally get that KL, about the crucial need for strong, stable, harmonious hubs to keep Kadam Dharma flourishing and GL Dekyong’s point about how can we say ‘Everybody welcome’ when there’s noone at our Centres to let them in really got me thinking too.

    For us physically remote ‘outliers’ who can’t get to our Centres often, is part of the answer to get a GP class going in our hometown, to maybe even offer to teach it ourselves? If we can that is. It may not give us the Sangha support we need ourselves but it’s very inspiring & helps stop us falling into a self-cherishing ‘hole’ as well as all the benefit it will obviously bring to our local community. And flourishing GP classes do feed into their ‘parent’ Centres. Re the last para in your blog – when Covid first arrived and the GP class in my town had to stop I tried to keep in touch with some of the regulars & encourage them to join the livestream classes from our Centre. But within a few months all apart from one had given up on them. They missed the face-to-face nurturing & inspiration they needed, the welcome in person. So they ended up without anything apart from me on the end of a phone, which was/is really sad. Too sad. It can’t be allowed to happen at our Centres too.

    Back to us outliers, to our practice – if we can’t get a GP class going locally for whatever reason – maybe keeping the wish for this, the wish to help others in whatever way we can, if not physically then with prayers & developing our bodichitta, will help soften the blow if live-streaming has to be stopped. But I hope ways can be found to support both old and new-timers with their practice 🙏

  3. Like the person in the previous post, my physical isolation from my Dharma centre & from Festivals had been going on for years even before Covid arrived. I’ll describe my situation here because I know there are many others in similar circumstances and I hope this will be considered in decisions about whether to continue live-streaming. In my own case my isolation was due to illness & disability preventing me travelling the 50 miles to my Centre or coping safely with Festivals and also financial obstacles. I was doing correspondence FP/TTP and my partner would get me to my Centre for the January retreat, and was deeply grateful for this. My RT & myself were getting a small GP class up & running in my hometown too just before Covid. But the majority of the time I felt like I was practising in a ‘Dharma desert’. Your Kadampa Life blog really helped me keep going KL and I was/am deeply grateful for that too. But when live-streaming came along, all of a sudden I could be with Sangha whenever I wanted and be flourished with the most beautiful Dharma nectar all the time – Festivals, teachings, empowerments, retreats, with my own Sangha & RT and others from all over the world. Again thank u so much KL! So for me live-streaming hasnt dis-connected me, it has RE-connected me at a deep level and for the first time in years I don’t feel like I’m practicing alone. I completely understand that our Centres have to flourish and for the sake of this I am prepared to re-enter the ‘Dharma desert’ and talk ‘only’ to Geshe-la and the Buddhas when I have day-to-day questions & challenges – but I hope I won’t have to. I hope this especially for the numerous practitioners with various obstacles really preventing them getting to their Centres. There is definitely a place for live-streaming. I pray a compromise can be found 🙏 💚

    1. Me too. Thank you for sharing your experience so clearly, it is quite common.

      I totally understand how connected livestream has enabled us all to feel during this time. It has been a life saver. I hope we can continue with both in person and livestream classes so that Dharma flourishes far and wide to every nook and cranny of this world.

      That might depend, amongst other things, on people who can get to their Centers and Festivals doing so whenever they can so that we always have that strong stable harmonious hub to keep the Dharma Wheel turning.

  4. I want to thank you not only for this article but for all your other articles! An immense contribution and support to Sanghas around the world🙏🙏.
    With deep gratitude and love from Denmark🇩🇰.
    Wish you a wonderful new year. Elin

  5. Beautiful article ❤🙏🎅
    Are you able to reveal the author of the Beautiful poem?

  6. Yes you are Right
    Sangha Centers Festivals
    Real treasures
    Miss them!!!!

    Traduce. yo atarte

  7. I’m so happy our center has reopened. My mind is always peaceful there and so enjoy seeing other sangha members. Thank you for this beautiful article.

  8. The pandemic doesn’t seem to want to let go, and as long as that’s the case, livestreaming is considered by at least some people the safer alternative. Yet of course I take your point. If we’re not at our Dharma centers, inside them, operating them, in the company of others, it could all get very weak and frayed, maybe even unraveled. That would be a tragedy. I’m wondering if you think the in-person/livestream hybrid model is here to stay and that we simultaneously just need to keep the focus on the importance of being there, keeping the doors open, knowing that our virtual doors aren’t closing. Or will livestream phase out? I know you don’t have a crystal ball, but maybe some thoughts…?

    1. My personal speculation is that if people do not go back to the Centers at all, when they can, livestreaming could become more of an obstacle than a benefit, and might be stopped.

      I personally hope very much that it will always be available for the ill, infirm, unwell, those with very busy responsibilities, and those who live hours away from a Center.

    2. For me the isolation from my Dharma Centre happened long before Covid. I have been caring for adult family members and trying to work. Streaming teachings and festivals has been magic. It has given me access to teachings I would not normally have. My centre is a good distance away and I don’t have the leave or money to regularly go to festivals. I hope the online festivals continue. Not all of us have the finances and freedom to travel around the world. Great article. Thank you!

      1. Yes, I agree, it is magic, and I hope we can all find ways to make sure that the teachings will always remain accessible, now that this genie is out of the bottle.

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