caring for the world

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Being grateful — so the latest research says — is good for us. It makes us more optimistic, energetic, resilient, peaceful and productive. We feel better about ourselves and our lives when we are grounded in gratitude.

One of the best ways to explore this path is by focusing on your own bounty. Be grateful for your eyes and your ears! Your teeth! Be grateful for the music that is in your very heart. If it is available to you, you can summon gratitude even for the parts of your body where you experience pain or discomfort. It has sometimes been through physical challenges that people have been able to recognize how much there is to be grateful for.

Also, by respecting and caring for ourselves, we are caring for the whole world. Remember: peace on earth begins with me. It is the same with harmony on earth, and health on earth. By nurturing the seeds of compassion and kindness in yourself, you are helping the universe become kinder. And by caring for ourselves unconditionally, as tenderly as a mother cares for her newborn, we are creating more love in the world.

Using mindfulness to connect to the present moment allows you to tap into the wonder of being a part of the cosmos, which invites gratitude and awe. I love this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh: “Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed.”

To me, gratitude is simply awareness of that which we value and cherish. When we access gratitude, the positive in our lives is highlighted, and seeds of hope, kindness and love are thus planted.

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bravery in the name of love

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Engaged Buddhism is the taking of one’s practice from the meditation cushion and out into the world. It was a path first taken 50 years ago by a small group of monks — including Thich Nhat Hanh —  who decided to leave their Vietnamese monastery and try to help bring about peace during a terrible time of war. It was an act of bravery made in the name of love.

At its core, this path is about how we are all connected — we inter-are — and how being aware of this connectedness as we live our lives can bring about greater well-being for all.

I have referred before to Thay’s illustration proving the interconnectedness of the universe by considering a piece of paper. Without rain or the sun to nurture the tree, he says, there would be no piece of paper. Without the lumberer, there would be no paper. Without bread to feed the lumberer, there would be no paper. For a piece of paper to exist, there must be clouds and time and energy and soil and the mother and father of the lumberer. In fact, to look at a piece of paper, as thin and small as it is, we can see the entire universe as part of its existence. When you understand this, you know that you are never just you, separate from everything else.

Think of this in terms of people, and it is the same thing. In order for one person to be ahead, another will be behind. It is the nature of things; there can’t be an above without a below. In order for some to be affluent, some must live in poverty. No one among us can claim a lack of responsibility. But it is not a punishment! Just like the piece of paper, we are all made of everything else. We inter-are, with sunshine and water and even those with whom we may not feel any connection.

What to do with this information? Once you absorb it, once you really take it into your heart, you know what the answer is. You can share the pain of those who are suffering and wish them well through your thoughts and deeds. You can be deeply careful with the earth. You can see the homeless person in the street and the corporate executive alike as beautiful souls, connected to you and everyone else, and each just as worthy. You can bow to him or her. Then, once you have opened your heart in this manner, you can begin to make change in a thousand small ways.

To do this, it is important to be cognizant of the problems that exist and persist in the world. Then think about your own actions, and how those actions create ripples. Everything we do has a reaction, and we can strive to create positive ripples; ripples that intentionally create peace and true kindness, benefiting the earth, other people and all living things.

This is Engaged Buddhism. This is courage in the name of love.

the nobility of friendship

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The buddha is said to have told his student that there are five steps to finding lasting peace in one’s heart. First, one must have true intimacy with at least one good friend. The second is virtuous conduct. Third, one needs the kind of deep connection that inspires and encourages growth and practice. Fourth, diligence, energy, and enthusiasm for the good. And the fifth step is an insight into the impermanence of things.

To the cement the point, the Buddha went through the list again, this time preceding each of the other items with the first: “When there is a lovely intimacy between friends,” he began, “then virtuous conduct will follow,” and so on. In other words, friendship is a most important element in the spiritual path to peace in the heart. Everything else naturally flows from it.

boundless love

 

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How well do we know our loved ones? Is it a goal of yours to understand the dreams and the struggles of the one you love? Do you know his or her heart? Do you see her, as Thomas Merton says, the way she looks through God’s eyes? If the answer is yes, then it is really no wonder that you find your loved one so completely lovable as you do. You cannot help but love someone whose heart you know. This is true whether that person is your partner, your child or, the Buddhists would say, any sentient being on earth. If you look deeply enough to see their beautiful hearts, there will be boundless love.

Try it the next time you are out on the street. Try to see the heart of a complete stranger. Imagine the way they look in the eyes of their beloved. You will be amazed.