As young Buddhists all over Europe we have some things in common. The most prominent one being our spiritual ancestor Buddha Shakyamuni, otherwise known as Buddha Gotama, or the Thatagata. He is the root of all our traditions. When he first shared the Dharma with his friends he came up with the 4 Noble Truths: Suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering and the path.
I want to take these 4 steps as a guideline, a map to compose this article. Beginning with the status quo and ending with the path of healing and transformation.
The question I want to investigate in this article, is: What can we as young Buddhists contribute to make a future possible? What is the path which can lead us out of the difficult situation we face on a collective and individual level? Let’s start with the investigation:
1. Suffering or Reality Check!
The world’s ecosystems are not in a good shape.
Human beings have a negative impact on the climate, the pollution of the air, the land and the oceans.
The killing in war zones are often related to the exploitation of resources, like oil or minerals.
Billions of animals are being bred to be killed every year.
Millions of people are starving.
Millions are leaving their home, looking for a better place to life, because of ecological, economic and political reasons.
Many poor countries are being exploited by a few rich countries.
This is the collective level – the global level of suffering. The points above are just a few very general spheres of suffering which have great impact. I put them there in all their ugliness to wake us up, to create a sense of urgency. Many of these factors, if continued as they do today, point to an unpleasant future for mankind. The danger of human extinction is ever increasing, unless we, the young people, initiate a change in a direction of well-being for ourselves and the world and all its living beings.
Face it! This is our reality! Let this in! Let us come into touch with the unpleasantness. Not to drown in desperation, but to wake us from our sleep of forgetfulness. Our actions have consequences. What have we done as a species? To embrace the current situation is where the journey for awakening begins.
The Bodhisattva Siddharta faced the suffering on his rides out of his palace. There he saw an old man, a dying person, a corpse and a holy man. Confronted with the fate of all those who live, motivated Siddharta to leave his home and to start his quest for enlightenment.
All of us live in a little palace, a bubble of self-indulgence, of carelessness, loosing ourselves in the internet or other “joys” to avoid suffering all together. The first step on the path of awakening is stopping to pretend that suffering is not there. In other words, to turn around and face it directly.
2. The cause of Suffering or WHYYYY??????
When we have the courage to face suffering in and around us and allow our anger, sadness, and frustration to be there and to take care of it – holding it tenderly, breathing in and out in our meditation, we can begin to see the causes for the situation we find ourselves in. It is our multiplied, collective greed, anger and unwillingness to really look (delusion), that destroys us and our planet. And through reflection we can come to the insight that to revolt and change this situation, means to stop attempting to change things from the outside. The revolution must start from within.
Developing the eyes of interbeing (interdependence) we can see that it is our constant demand for things, cheap means of travel (airplane) and the food we eat that heats up our planet. It is the choices we make, our thirst for alcohol and hunger for meat which are the causes for a lot of suffering which has a long-lasting effect on future generations. It is important for us to ask ourselves: Which forces drive us? From which place do our actions originate? How do we look at ourselves and the world? Do we look with eyes of exploitation, or do we look with the eyes of understanding and love?
3. The End of Suffering or the Revolution of Waking Up
The revolution starts with looking. If we allow ourselves to see and really experience our situation, we can identify the causes for our individual and collective suffering. If we have identified the causes we can start to work towards the goal of feeding these causes less and less until we stop feeding them all together. This is how I understand Right Diligence: Feeding the good factors and starving the unhelpful-factors. This can mean that we boycott certain brands which harm the environment or the society, or it can mean that we start a diet which reduces suffering of living beings by going vegetarian or even vegan.
4. The path that leads to awakening
We need to question what we learned in school about life and the world, about how our society works. We need to question all the promises that were planted in us by the influence of advertisement.
Is the consumption of stuff really making us happy? Or is the void inside growing bigger and bigger? Asking questions like these, we can start to align our thinking and review our basic assumptions about life and formulate intentions for ourselves which lead us towards a happy present and future.
We can also share these through the means of our speech with our friends, so we can come to a more accurate understanding of reality together. Also, in the domain of speech, there is a big opportunity to reduce suffering as well. So much harm is done by harmful speech!
First, we have to learn the ability to stop, to calm our body and mind and to see clearly and deeply. Often, we think we need to do something to change the world. But acting blindly, has created all this mass of suffering in the first place.
Through engaging in mindfulness practice, we can learn to come home to our body. By following our inbreath and outbreath we can make contact with ourselves. Coming home to our bodies, we can make contact with our emotions, learn to let them be and hold them with tenderness and kindness. Through this process we learn to take care of ourselves, and the more we will be able to develop kindness towards ourselves. A kindness that will, without trying, radiate outwards to others.
Engaging in this process we increase our awareness of our actions of body, speech and mind and we can start to see our impulses and if they are helpful or leading to more suffering for ourselves and others. We can start to practice to nourish states of mind like compassion, tenderness, understanding and love towards ourselves and others. On the other hand, we can learn to stop ourselves from being angry at ourselves or being jealous or watching the 4th episode of a TV series in a row, because we don’t want to be in touch with how tired we actually are.
Through the practice of mindfulness, concentration and insight, we start to see the reality of things. With a calm mind we can start to see which actions lead towards a future to be possible, and what that will bring to the future. It will lead to important decisions, like choosing a job which doesn’t cause anyone suffering. Do we act out of greed, lust, anger – or do we act in order not to be in touch with suffering, to blind ourselves.
To work with the 5 Sila or the 5 Mindfulness trainings, as they are transmitted in the Plumvillage-Tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, are a means of orientation which can be helpful in this endeavor. To have a direction in life is something very precious. With the practice of the five Buddhist ethical guidelines, we can stop the cycle of destruction. We can start to see that happiness arises from living a simple and ethical life, and that happiness arises from a clear and calm mind.
Touching Peace Together
The more we align ourselves with the five Buddhist ethical guidelines, the more we become real revolutionaries. A part of a worldwide movement which has the aim to create a culture of peace and harmonious living.
Entering a Sangha (the community of practitioners) we enter a community that strives to live in harmony and awareness. In our sangha we can find true refuge. It is a circle of people where the dharma is studied and practiced and where we can be who we are and share our happiness and suffering. In a time where loneliness is burning like wildfire, it provides a coming together, a network of support, and doing so quenches a deep thirst for togetherness.
Together, we can engage in the true revolution of turning around, to go against the stream of our reaction to pain, fear and other strong emotions. Instead of turning away from our suffering we can learn to embrace it and to start to make peace with ourselves. The more we end the war within, we become a refuge for others.
Feeling accepted and supported on the way we can come together to look deeply, at the way we live and which way is leading into a happy future.
The practice of mindfulness and kindness has the capacity to change the fate of humanity if it is practiced on a mass level. Engaging with the dharma we can make a real change.