June 08, 2008

The Next Moment

One of the first books I bought at the beginning of my path was The Heart of Buddha's Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh. It was the first one which really clicked with me, which compelled me, and showed me what I already knew if not in so many words. Two years ago, I gave that book to my friend Marilyn, who had cancer. She told me when her daily cocktail of drugs kept her up at night she would read that book even though that same cocktail of drugs kept her from understanding much of it in her fuzzy headed state. It would help her find sleep again. I was glad of it. When she died, February before last, I had neither the heart nor the courage to ask for it back from one of her children, with whom I had never been close.

A week ago I purchased a new copy for myself. Saturday morning I trotted down to the Laughing Goat coffee shop on Pearl Street, purchased a pastry and a mocha and sat at a little table near the window to once again read Thich Nhat Hanh's words.

"Buddha was not a god," he writes. Then he continues and begins as the Buddha began, with suffering.

"The ocean of suffering is immense, but if you turn around, you can see the land. The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don't wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy."

Here I sit, clean and healthy, in my nice new second-hand jeans, with a wonderful book I was able to buy with money from my fulfilling new job, in a trendy coffee shop in one of the more affluent cities in, arguably, the richest nation in the world, well fed and well caffeinated, and reading about suffering. Don't get me wrong. This is not about guilt. This is about gratitude. I am so grateful for my job, and my jeans, and this book, and this teacher, and this wonderful city in this free country where I can practice my own path. And I am especially grateful for the Laughing Goat's wonderful strawberry pastries.

At the same time, I know this moment is fleeting. Those jeans I bought will have to last the next five years, maybe ten, until they literally fall apart. Soon I'll be addicted to caffeine again (about the time school starts) and go into withdrawal each morning. I'll be hungry in a few short hours. The job will end and I'll be on the hunt before too long, with an uncertain future. I'll be home in Nebraska, dodging cars who are not as nice to cyclists as they are here. And you know what? That's okay.

That moment, when it comes, will be no less perfect than this moment. In that moment I'll have just as much to be grateful for, if not more, because the suffering which comes with change is my greatest teacher.

"The Buddha called suffering a Holy Truth, because our suffering has the capacity of showing us the path to liberation. Embrace your suffering, and let it reveal to you the way of peace."

Because, let's face it, peace rocks!


mcarp said...

Thich Nhat Hanh has written about losing friends to the conflict in Vietnam. Buddhists were held in suspicion by both sides.

My own life is very calm and sedate, in part because I arranged it that way and in part because circumstances beyond my influence have made it possible.

Moreover, we live, as you've pointed out, in a nation and culture that even now, in these relatively intolerant times, is more tolerant of differing spiritual beliefs than most parts of the world.

Easy enough, then, for me to talk blithely about neither being nor not being, or the sage moving effortlessly between heaven and earth, when I'm sitting in my own little comfortable corner. My beliefs have never been put to the test the way they have been for Buddhists in Vietnam and China, or more recently in Burma and Tibet.

Almost every person I know has more problems than I do. I have friends with deteriorating health, financial pressures, crazy and abusive parents and other relatives, you name it.

How can I presume to tell them to let go of their attachments, or only don't know, when I'm not walking in their shoes?

wolfie185 said...

Hi Monica,
I stumbled acrossed your blog a couple of weeks ago when i type in Buddhism Lincoln NE, I live in Kearney and was going to be in Lincoln for a few days due to the birth of my granddaugther, she was born at 7:00am July 4th, very Zen moment!! I really enjoy writings. I have just started exploring and applying Buddhism, read Steve Hagen, Dalia Lama and in the middle of Heart of Buddha's Teaching by Hanh. I am a recovering alcoholic and find the practice very beneficial to my recovery. Kearney is a very hard place to tap into Buddhism, even in recovery circles being a non-Christian is looked down upon even though it goes against AA text.
I just wanted to let you know your writings have touched another out of place Nebraskan. I would like to correspond with you if you don't mind, my normal email address is swolf@fasse.com I am not use how this google thing works but willing to learn.

wolfie185 said...

Hi Monica,
My name is Scott. I stumbled across your blog while searching for Buddhism in Lincoln and I like what you have written. I started my path about September of last year, started with Hagen’s “Buddhism is Not What You Think”, the Dalai Lama’s “Art of Happiness” and am currently reading Hahn’s “ Heart of Buddha’s Teaching”, I have also read other books on spiritualism and bits and pieces on the net concerning Buddhism. I am a recovering Alcoholic and a member of AA. Buddhism seems to fit my spiritual needs for living and staying clean and sober. I have always been interested in Buddhism and Taoism, I have a worn copy of the Tao but it is hard to truly comprehend and practice Eastern philosophy when you are intoxicate most of the time, no matter how much I wanted to. I live and Kearney and I haven’t found anyone to connect with out here, people in recovery are fine with my spiritual choice for the most part but I get the impression they still think that Buddhism is a cult, most people are way to caught up in Judeo Christian thinking even when the text of Alcoholics Anonymous states over and over it is “the God of your understand”. The aspect of Buddhism I concentrate the most is the “Eightfold Path” which brings me serenity when I can concentrate; I work at practicing the 8 rights to the best of my ability. Anyway that is where I am at on my path; I haven’t developed a strong mediation practice yet although I do a short breathing mediation before leaving the house and use concentration mediation at work.
I would be interested in corresponding with you if you don’t mind. Just to have someone who is on the same path to talk with on occasion and answer any questions I might. I will fill in you in on other information if you ask.