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Squeezing George Washington so tight he cries

By W. P.

A sad man sitting in the street, head bowing low.
Sad for all the times I should have helped, but instead watched. Sad for all the great and simple things that have passed me unnoticed. (Photo by javi.velazquez)

Every time I have a moment of clearness and silence I become sad. Sad for all the times I should have helped, but instead watched. Sad for all the great and simple things that have passed me unnoticed. The things I took for granted and failed to appreciate and all those that will escape me in the future after this short respite of clearness has left. It is in this sadness that I feel most compelled to act, to let my compassion overpower my greed and selfishness.

For a long time I took the basic Buddhist teaching, that one must renounce all attachment to the external world in order to eradicate craving and end suffering, to mean that we should not care or feel for things because it will only bring us suffering. So for a long time I was going through life like a cyborg from a sci-fi movie, aloof and distant. And though I was peaceful and calm, my life was dull and lacked meaning.

Then one day I came across the Metta Sutra1 which reads:

He who is skilled in good and who wishes to attain the state of calm should act thus:
He should be able, upright, perfectly upright, compliant, gentle, and humble.

Contented, easily supported, with few duties, of simple livelihood, controlled in senses, discreet, not imprudent, he should not be greedily attached to families.

He should not commit any slight wrong such that other wise people might censure him. Then he should cultivate his thought thus: May all beings be happy and secure; may their minds be contented.

Whatever living beings there may be – feeble or strong, long, stout, or medium, short, small, or large, seen or unseen, those dwelling far or near, those who are born and those who are yet to be born – may all beings, without exception, be happy-minded!

Let not one deceive another nor despise any person whatever in any place. In anger or ill will let not one wish any harm to another.

Just as a mother would protect her only child even at the risk of her own life, even so let one cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings.

Let one’s thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world—above, below and across—without any obstruction, without any hatred, without any enmity.

Whether one stands, walks, sits or lies down, as long as one is awake, one should maintain this mindfulness. This they say is the Sublime State in this life.

Not falling into wrong views, virtuous and endowed with insight, one gives up attachment to sense-desires. Verily such a person does not return to enter a womb again.

After reading this I realized that the Buddha wasn’t saying not to care and love, but to let that care or love be based in compassion or altruism rather than greed, anger, or ignorance.

Since then I have been trying to cultivate compassion and an altruistic attitude, but it is very difficult. And the more I cultivate these virtues the harder my practice becomes. For example, it is easy for us to give a drowning person a helping hand. But very difficult for us to give that same person our life savings so that he can pay for a life-saving operation. Or, it is easy for us to give our neighbor a ride someplace in our car. But extremely difficult for us to give that same car to a homeless person even if the simple shelter of our car would keep that person from freezing to death. And even if you had two or three cars. And how many of us would even give that person a ride in our car?

We all know that another person’s life and wellbeing is priceless and worth more than all of our possessions. But will our egos let them go?

  1. Translation by Venerable W. Rahula 

Incarcerated people

Many incarcerated people from all over the United States correspond with Venerable Thubten Chodron and monastics from Sravasti Abbey. They offer great insights into how they are applying the Dharma and striving to be of benefit to themselves and others in even the most difficult of situations.

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