An object for compassion
I enjoyed Clark Strand’s article “13 Ways of Looking at a Madman” (Spring 2011). Every single situation presents us with an opportunity. If we were never sick, how could we appreciate our health, or if our body never died, how would we appreciate our limited time here? Perhaps it was his giving of his stones, or maybe it was his giving of his time or his utter sincerity; whatever it was, Mark Rogosin gave people something. He gave them an object for their compassion.
I had a good friend many years ago who lived with me for a time, and I watched his schizophrenia develop in his early twenties. Later, after I had moved away from that small town in Arkansas, I learned that his paranoia grew so much that he used a rifle to shoot some cars from an overpass. Fortunately, no one was injured. Yet at times he was quite lucid and could pierce reality with just a few words. I would stare at him then, wondering how I had not seen what was so obvious once he said it.
Every situation, while we wear these bodies, gives us a chance to experience, learn, and appreciate something; we have but to awaken.
White Hall, AR
A step back
Lori Deschene’s article “Ten Mindful Ways to Use Social Media” (Spring 2010) was an excellent reminder that occasionally we need to step back from our smart phones, Twitter accounts, and computer screens to take a moment to listen and breathe. My job as a journalist and blogger requires me to seek out articles like Deschene’s for a living, but no advice about using social media has ever seemed more timely or important. Prior to reading “Ten Mindful Ways” I had become forgetful of the essentials of a mindful online experience: authenticity, intention, and being able to use technology “sparingly.” It’s achingly similar to the consistent struggle I have with the rest of my life, constantly reminding myself to slow down, breathe, and find time for meditation.
I took Deschene’s wisdom to heart and immediately went on my blog and set an intention for myself to always remember why I began blogging in the first place—not for attention or credibility, but to be able to share what matters to me most. Thank you for the reminder that there are still individuals out there who are looking to take a step back and live in the moment (without having to tweet about it first).
Walk it alone
I was struck by Sylvia Boorstein’s use of the community of practitioners as an antidote to Lone Wolf’s question about sangha in “Dear Abbey Dharma” (Spring 2011). It is unfortunate that alternative views of sangha are trivialized by the seemingly unchallengeable authority of the masters of Asian Buddhism (be it Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana, Mahamudra, or Dzogchen). While it is undeniable that the Buddha was a proponent of sangha, one needs to also look at the ancient Indian milieu in which such a stance developed. Given the overwhelmingly Hindu/Vedic culture that the Buddha was confronted with, it was sound advice for the early practitioners, situated within the vast cultural landscape of ancient India, to gather in a supportive community.
We are now in a modern cultural predicament: The current Western environment of secularism and scientific materialism has to a large degree been grafted onto Asian Buddhism, and vice versa. One reflects the other and produces an infinite number of counterreflections that cannot be easily overcome without simply stepping away from the reflecting surfaces. In other words, take a break— and for goodness’ sake, do not feel guilty about it.
While it is absolutely necessary for the dharma to be presented by a clear-minded and qualified teacher, at some point one has to go it alone for a while (and perhaps a long while). That “stepping away” is at times the only way to find the path, which will be missed if one is constantly caught in reflections from outside.
It is true that we can delude ourselves into believing that we are the best judge of where we are with our practice, but in my experience the Perfect Guru of our own buddhanature sometimes calls us to walk it alone. Make sense of it. Integrate the teachings into our individual nature; then, maybe, rejoin the group and be a source of wisdom for others as well as becoming available for new wisdom from the teacher and the group.
—Brad M. Isaacson
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Image 1: Envelope from Lumbini, 29 July, 1970, courtesy of United Nations Archives.
Image 2: © Neal Crosbie