The 4 Great Bodhisattva Vows
Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them all.
Desires are inexhaustible; I vow to put an end to them.
The Buddhadharma is boundless; I vow to master it.
The Buddha’s Way is unsurpassable; I vow to attain it.
While I'm not a Zen practitioner, one of the sanghas Erin and I have benefitted from sitting with during these past two weeks of election madness and post-mortem is affiliated with Roshi Joan Halifax and the Upaya sangha in Santa Fe.
Yesterday we sat with the well-known teacher David Loy, a lovely man who has long been at the epicenter of Buddhist engagement with climate change and social justice, as well as local Tucson teacher Sensei Al Kazniak, who while not as well-known as Loy seems to me to be equally accomplished.
Both of these teachers have a default mode of deep listening and curiosity that's clearly anchored in compassion and a steely determination to not only be of benefit but to bring life's most difficult challenges onto the path of practice and liberation.
I quoted the four great vows from this tradition because they embody so much of what seems called for at this time. They're all about intention and aspiration - about (one could say) aspiring to do the impossible because it's what's necessary. At a more subtle level, such vast altruistic aspiration also undercuts clinging to outcome - something that was made so much more poignant when listening to Loy (who turns 70 next year) talk about his intention to focus ever more clearly on altruistic activism in his own limited remaining time on earth despite being fully aware of how irreversible catastrophic climate change already is.
Moving from the big picture to our own very small but still real challenges, we've been confronted lately with just how much clinging to security, stability and control of outcomes we're still invested in. We've really appreciated being back in the U.S. for the better part of three years now, but our ability to do so has been entirely contingent on Obamacare. And while there are far more unknowns than knowns about life under Trump and the Republicans over the next four years, repeal of the Medicaid expansion and slashed subsidies in the individual insurance market are pretty much guaranteed to be among the first things that occur.
So...having only just recently put so much energy and emotional investment into the early stages of becoming part of the community here in Tucson we're faced with the very real, perhaps inevitable, possibility of resuming expat life in Mexico with no plan to return. The question then becomes how do we embrace that situation joyfully and fully, and how can we structure our lives so as to be of benefit?
It's really interesting, albeit unpleasant, to walk through our cozy but comfortable 70's mobile home and see the clinging arise as we try to summon the energy for one more move after way, way too many previous ones (and to see how draining and unhelpful it is to hold onto that story/tape loop too!).
In the past we've always hedged our bets at least a little: renting a small storage locker "just in case," stashing a few boxes with relatives for future sorting and schlepping. We're beyond done with that, and are instead seeing what it looks like to give up our deep clinging to real physical books in favor of Kindle-able everything, let everything from home-roasted coffee to microbrews go, and make plans to get on a plane with a couple of checked bags and a carry-on apiece as our sole worldly goods. That's still a hell of a lot more stuff than a Thai forest monk with two sets of robes and an alms bowl, but we do try to keep in mind the liberating potential of the Buddhist definition of homelessness.
Years ago we did a retreat in Albuquerque with the wonderful vipassana teacher Eric Kolvig, at the height of the '08 financial market meltdown and while there were grave doubts about whether Obama could win. Eric wisely shelved the planned retreat topic and instead made the whole time together about turning towards fear, panic, uncertainty and desire for control while culitivating the mindstates of equanimity, compassion, lovingkindness and empathy that are our true nature and refuge. Early on in the process he offered this teaching from his own teacher Sayadaw U. Pandita:
"Why do we do this practice? To develop a heart-mind that is ready for anything."
May it be so.