When the world seems bonkers

Guest article by Susan de la Vergne, native Angelino

5.5 mins read

One of our weekly Kadampa branch classes in the Los Angeles area is held in the foothill community of La Cañada at a YMCA — specifically in their chapel, which can hold 25 people who don’t mind sitting close together. There are two doors to the chapel, heavy wooden doors that swing open into the Y courtyard. The odd thing is that the doors don’t latch — it’s as if they’re unlocked and ready to swing wide whenever a chapel visit is needed.

Rain in LASince weather is rarely an issue in this part of the world, it’s not really a problem that the doors don’t latch. It’s not like a blizzard is going to rip the doors open and fill the place with snow. But a couple of years ago we did have a blustery day — windy, rainy, cold (by LA standards) — and as we started the meditation, the wind blew at the chapel entrance, and the heavy unlatched doors trembled.

Nonetheless, we headed into the opening meditation with the wind howling and the doors shaking, and as we started to pay attention to the sensation of our breathing, I hoped the weather would let up, not really thinking that it would. And it didn’t. The wind continued, and about five minutes into the meditation the doors opened a few inches. Leaves blew in from the courtyard. Then the wind blew the doors shut with an audible thud. But they didn’t stay closed. Again, the wind pried open the heavy doors. More leaves. I was having a difficult time meditating through Mother Nature’s noise and interruptions.

When we rose from meditation, we all shifted in our seats and shared a laugh about the challenge of meditating in the midst of all that weather.

But one woman remarked, “That was great!” Many of us looked surprised. “No, really, that was amazing because it was so great for meditation! I really had to concentrate with all that going on. It made me focus so much better. I loved it!”

Which was, of course, a teaching in itself. To me, the banging doors and the blowing leaves were obstacles; to her, they were inspiration! Once again, things don’t exist independently of the mind perceiving them. It’s as true for banging doors and blowing leaves as it is for everything else.

The News of the World

NYT online

I read the news of the world every morning. Things around the world appear to be heating up on many fronts. It’s easy to get discouraged and overwhelmed by accounts of rage and separatism, apparent lies that are becoming a new normal, predictions of imminent new wars, and leaders who used to speak to each other but won’t anymore. It’s hard not to feel swamped by the monumental problems of the world, especially as they appear to be intensifying.

But maybe they’re also an inspiration. Maybe the lies and the escalating hostilities are turning up the heat on our commitment to go inward so we can more skillfully go outward — to develop our capacity for love and compassion in the midst of what seems to be intensifying turmoil. Maybe they’re cranking up the urgency to practice, to make swifter than ever progress towards inner peace.

Just as the wind and the banging doors inspired the woman to hone her focus, so the news of the world can power our practice. When would virtuous minds be more needed than now?

Sometimes when I’m reading or watching the news, I find myself going for refuge to politicians who agree with me — “Yeah, that’s telling them!” I think or sometimes say aloud. I’m glad they get it, glad they have clout I don’t have, and hoping they use their clout and clarity to protect me from whatever craziness or violence I need protection from.

But they regularly disappoint me. They are politicians after all.

Better to take the latest world crisis to the Buddhas and to try to think about it as they might. For example: See the suffering! It’s samsara; what can we expect? Delusions of anger and self-grasping are behind all the violence, all the craziness. Think of the damage that’s being done to the mental continuums of all the people you’re blaming for the way things are. They’re facing far worse in their future, and they have no idea.

Buddha face smallerI’m not trying to put words in a Buddha’s mouth but adopting a perspective based on how they might view the things I’m angsting over. That’s a way for me to go for refuge and to develop compassion even for the people I don’t agree with. It’s also a way to bring to mind all the far-away, remote, “out there” people who happen to be suffering more acutely than I right now because of the anger, lying, resentment, conflict and a whole long list of deluded states of mind that are behind all our negative actions and their consequences.

When the news of the world knocks us down, we can go for refuge to Buddha and find answers to the question, “What can I do?”

In the aisle at Walmart

On Black Friday in November, two Walmart shoppers got into an argument that ended up in a mid-aisle fistfight. The two men brawled to the ground, surrounded by racks of Christmas wrap, while onlookers observed from a few feet away. A security guard broke up the fight, but not before one of the brawlers suffered a broken nose.

2 bearsI wondered how isolated an incident this was. How many hostile shoppers glared at each other across the aisles this past holiday season? Maybe they didn’t deck each other, but they were impatient and annoyed, the same states of mind that led to the Walmart clash.

Rage always starts small.

It is easy to judge the battling men at Walmart. “Really, guys, can you not see how pointless this is?” Or to feel helpless in the face of such an incident. “The world is simply going down the drain!”

Or we can use the difficulties we see around us to ratchet up our own refuge practice. “Buddha, what can I do? How can I view this?”

We can decide to better master our own anger and irritations. We can request blessings for instigators of conflict. We can make dedications. We can practice taking and giving. There are all kinds of practices we can engage in; and thanks to Geshe Kelsang’s practical guidance and instructions we have the tools and techniques we need.

So it’s good to remember that we’re not helpless even when things around us seem very crazy — and that when things seem at their craziest, we can use this as extra inspiration for our practice.

Questions and comments for the guest author are invited below 🙂