There is a small Buddhist group in Cancun, Mexico whose members have attended Venerable Thubten Chodron’s talks in Mexico and write to her for Dharma advice. This email came about a week after Hurricane Wilma, the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, slammed into Cancun in October 2005, bringing fear and insecurity in the minds of those there and causing great damage to the town.
Dear Venerable Thubten Chodron,
I hope this finds you in good health. I am writing on behalf of our Buddhist group here in Cancun. You must have heard about the hurricane that hit this area. Even though we were prepared for a major hurricane, the destruction and devastation is beyond imagination. Members of our group were not harmed and we all had a safe place to endure the storm. Unfortunately, looting and vandalism took over during the disaster, for the first time in Mexico’s history, so now we also have to look for safety even after a week.
It is difficult for me to explain how we all feel. There are people that stand strong and positive, others feel broken and find no hope. There is much suffering around. Besides reconstruction of the city, the economy is paralyzed. We know we’ll have to work harder but at times it seems very difficult.
Would you please advise us about practice during these tough times? We’ve been following a program as you suggested in the past. Previous to the hurricane we were doing analytical meditation on precious life in depth. I hope we all can get together in a couple of days and practice together. Personally, I found great inspiration in Green Tara, as well as tonglen. What do you suggest?
Venerable Thubten Chodron’s response
I was in India and just received your email. All of you in Cancun have been through an ordeal. Although we hear teachings on the disadvantages of cyclic existence, the ignorance in our mind prevents us from meditating on this topic—we don’t want to think that suffering will happen to us. So while this experience has not been pleasant, it has opened your eyes to the dangers of cyclic existence and now you understand better why our teachers encourage us to generate the determination to free ourselves from cyclic existence.
Yes, “tonglen” the taking and giving meditation is good to do. Think, “As long as I’m experiencing these difficulties, may it suffice for all sentient beings who are going through hard times.” Think specifically of those who have been in hurricanes and imagine taking on their suffering with compassion and giving them happiness with love. When we spend some time considering others’ problems, our own difficulties appear more manageable in comparison. Sure, we have problems, but in comparison to what many others are experiencing our difficulties aren’t so bad. Our mind becomes stronger and more courageous; we know that we can manage the situation all right.
Green Tara practice, too, is very helpful. Imagine Green Tara in front of you, or if you’ve had the initiation, imagine becoming Tara yourself. From Tara’s heart, beautiful green light radiates and touches each and every sentient being. It purifies their negative karma and eliminates their misery; it also fills them with the realizations of the path—love, compassion, wisdom, and so on. When you feel that your physical energy is in a slump or that your mind is depressed, then imagine Tara’s spectacular green light filling you from head to toe—going into every cell of your body. At the same time, Tara’s optimistic, compassionate energy fills you, giving you a sense of hope and willingness to work to improve the situation of yourself and others. Then dedicate for the enlightenment of all sentient beings.
This whole experience is a teaching on impermanence. Watch how things arise and at the same time cease. The hurricane came and went. Our moods come and go. The situation around us is constantly changing; our emotions are as well. Thus, don’t make anything solid and concrete in your mind. Avoid forming a negative view of what you’re experiencing or thinking that it will last forever. It won’t. Since the hurricane struck, you’ve received so much kindness from others and you’ve been able to give kindness and optimism to others as well. So rejoice in the goodness that exists in the universe and generate the bodhicitta motivation.
Sending my love and good wishes to everyone in the Dharma group,
Venerable Thubten Chodron