Dear Still Water Friends,
The hum of the sewing machine has become a soothingly familiar sound in our home in these days. Ever since recommendations to wear face masks emerged, I’ve been slowly ramping up my personal production efforts. It felt like nothing short of a miracle that I actually had the skills and capacity to make a thing that so many people suddenly needed. What a relief to have a concrete and measurable task to focus my energy during this time of uncertainty and powerlessness. And as I deeply considered my joy in mask making, I saw more clearly into my relationship with compassion and the bodhisattva path.
In Buddhism, a bodhisattva is someone who works to relieve the suffering of all sentient beings. Most Zen traditions have a version of a “Bodhisattva Vow,” in which we can commit to a path of not just attaining enlightenment for ourselves but postponing Nirvana fully until all other beings have too reached liberation.
The Bodhisattva Vows exist in many different forms; at the Upaya Zen Center they are chanted as follows:
Creations are numberless, I vow to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to transform them.
Reality is boundless, I vow to perceive it.
The awakened way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it.
Whoa…That is big. As I reflected on the relief I felt at making masks, I realized it was a task free of so many of the doubts and uncertainties that often plague my efforts at generosity: “Am I doing something useful?” “Is this a good time to do it?” “Am I the right person to do it?”
After the initial bliss and clarity of my early mask making endeavors, familiar misgivings began to emerge: “Are these really useful?” “Is there something more helpful you can be doing with your time?” Those questions, like my habitual doubts, are characterized by a lot of “me” concerns that seem to get in the way of kindness.
As I recognize how my compassionate intentions can get mired in preoccupation with myself, I’m reminded of the most basic elements of the practice. To stop, to breathe, and to make gentle space for whatever is coming up inside of me. When I get caught in my thoughts about compassion, it is helpful for me to remember that the everyday practices of mindfulness are essential to the path of bodhisattva. So as I consider how to relieve suffering in this moment when suffering abounds, I try to make time for “being” as well as “doing.”
I hope you can join us.
After our meditation period we will begin our Dharma Sharing with these questions:
- What is your experience with kindness and compassion during difficult times?
- What practices help you to be compassionate with yourself and others?
- What can get in the way?
- Has mindfulness practice helped?
Below is the Discourse on Love translated by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Discourse on Love
Translated by Thich Nhat Hanh
He or she who wants to attain peace should practice being upright, humble, and capable of using loving speech. He or she will know how to live simply and happily, with senses calmed, without being covetous and carried away by the emotions of the majority. Let him or her not do anything that will be disapproved of by the wise ones.
(And this is what he or she contemplates:)
May everyone be happy and safe, and may all hearts be filled with joy.
May all beings live in security and in peace—beings who are frail or strong, tall or short, big or small, invisible or visible, near or far away, already born, or yet to be born. May all of them dwell in perfect tranquility.
Let no one do harm to anyone. Let no one put the life of anyone in danger. Let no one, out of anger or ill will, wish anyone any harm.
Just as a mother loves and protects her only child at the risk of her own life, cultivate boundless love to offer to all living beings in the entire cosmos. Let our boundless love pervade the whole universe, above, below, and across. Our love will know no obstacles. Our heart will be absolutely free from hatred and enmity. Whether standing or walking, sitting or lying, as long as we are awake, we should maintain this mindfulness of love in our own heart. This is the noblest way of living.
Free from wrong views, greed, and sensual desires, living in beauty and realizing Perfect Understanding, those who practice boundless love will certainly transcend birth and death.
Etena sacca vajjena sotthi te hotu sabbada.[Repeat three times.] [By the firm determination of this truth, may you ever be well.]