While preparing for the annual Buddhist Peace Fellowship New Year’s Day Celebration of Peace, I turned to the dictionary and found these definitions for the word Peace: #1 “the normal, non-warring condition of a nation, group of nations, or the world.” #2 “an agreement or treaty between warring or antagonistic nations, groups, etc., to end hostilities and abstain from further fighting or antagonism.” #3 “a state of mutual harmony between people or groups, especially in personal relations.” #4 “the normal freedom from civil commotion and violence of a community; public order and security.” #5 “cessation of or freedom from any strife or dissension.” #6 “freedom of the mind from annoyance, distraction, anxiety, and obsession, etc.; tranquility, serenity.”
Sadly, it’s clear how far we are from abiding in a peace as described above: The current events in the Middle East; the US meddling in Ukraine, the shooting down of civilian airplanes; just a few stark reminders of the unrest in the world. Locally and across the country, the Dontre Hamilton case, the situation in Ferguson, etc., point out how far we’re removed from having racial understanding and justice. At our regular meditation group gatherings, this coming year we’ll continue to discuss these issues and work toward healing our community and our world. This look toward the world, as always, coupled with the heart of the Path of Awakening, the individual work of quenching the fires of dukkha that rise in the heartmind.
The Sri Lankan monk Bhante Gunaratana speaks of cultivating a peace and happiness that is not based on external causes and conditions. While Thai monk Ajahn Buddhadasa speaks of two kinds of Happiness, one based on hunger or want, the other based on not having any hunger or want. Both these definitions point toward the interior experience of life: are we clinging, or not? If we are, no matter the object, dukkha is right there. If we’re not, no matter the object, the cooling nature of nirvana is right there.
As my mom ages, she’s lost a lot of her ability to remember things that are going on around her. Then, this past Fall, she fell, broke the head of her left femur bone, and had to have hip replacement surgery. Bethany and I flew to Oregon to visit with her daily at the rehab facility, while my brother, her primary care giver, had to be away. A situation like this brings Bhante G’s words to mind: faced with a parent growing old, watching her lose her mental faculties, the mind literally unraveling, barely tethered to the physical reality unfolding in front of her, is a major test of one’s wisdom, love and patience. How many times can I answer the same question from my mom in a day? An hour? Within two minutes? What’s the most healthy, skillful way through here? In this situation, sitting with mom at the rehab center, observing the kind staff helping out, grateful for Bethany’s loving ministering, it was a call to be constantly vigilant with one’s mind, to be open, patient and loving with the delusions and confusion of my mom’s mind, her fear and uncertainty. All of which gave rise to grief, sadness and helplessness within our own hearts and minds.
The fear, sadness, despair and helplessness felt are real. These rising emotions part of being human. The Path is not about not feeling these emotions, not being a member of the human family. It is something other than that. Rather than being carried away by the usual emotions of the majority, where does a true and lasting peace reside?
After visiting with my Mom, we would spend the late afternoons walking along the shore, with the Pacific Ocean pulsing waves, one after another. The majestic basalt rock formations that form a good part of the shore in Yachats where Mom and Brother live calmly breathing in/receiving each wave as before. No matter the shape or size, the speed or force, each wave received by the Earth as the other one before, with a balanced, steady gaze of attention and thanksgiving. Nature as Dhamma, the great teacher, teaching again, embodying The Way. The embodiment of the Earth a reminder for Bethany and me to drop in to the refuges of body and breath, to stop, look, see, and discern the path that is the Middle Way between the extremes of life.
Noticing all the story making about my mom in the mind, dropping now out of the fear-based narrative, the worrying mind spinning stories of woe and catastrophe, dropping down out of the swirling mind-made dukkha into the body in order to experience the actual reality of grief, fear, sadness, helplessness and rage as they truly exist in the body of life. To know the reality of the feeling itself, not the mind’s deluded narrative of what the feeling means.
Then breathing through it all; breathing with it all; not labeling any of it; not making any value statements. Doing that, there’s a feeling of release, some level of Peace, in the actual sensation of Fear. This is what Bhante G and Buddhadassa are pointing mind towards, to let go of the causes and conditions that swirl, to not place the hope of happiness, or think that endless suffering exists, in something that’s conditioned and impermanent, to instead abide in the actual experience of life, just that place of contact between sense organ and sense object. To abide there, watching, looking, seeing and learning. And, letting go of the drama, the mind-made responses to mom’s situation, there is indeed Peace.
And so this annual gathering and our path of Peace today. There’s the personal, internal movement towards an open/free/empty mind that’s capable of being with all manner of experience without being tossed this way and that. And then there’s the great systemic violence, injustice, and inequality among peoples, coupled with the contamination and desecration of the Earth that is the reality we face today.
Being present with all these things, The Path calls us, challenges us, to find Peace amongst all of it. To let go of discursiveness, to drop into the body and breath, letting go of deduction and reasoning for a moment. You know Mindfulness is not about thinking, rather it’s a stepping into induction, into intuition, to being feeling, to note, is there Peace here? As we gather this morning with an intention to manifest Peace on Earth, if we’re honest with ourselves and each other, it’s clear we have a long way to go. May we all find the Nature that is Dharma within each of our own heart’s then, as we turn to face the world, walk hand in hand with sisters and brothers on the path to co-creating a life-sustaining civilization, shepherded by the Beloved Community.