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The Way It Is… Is This

Here in Sri Lanka we are approaching the Sinhalese & Tamil New Year, the biggest event in the country. Held in mid April, people wait all year for New Year celebrations and festivals. But this year it will be very different. The pandemic curfews disallow the possibility of visiting family, cause food shortages and loss of income, resulting in struggles for food and water rather than celebration. But we are humans and one of our strongest capacities is adaptation, coupled with a good dose of foreseeing! Life will continue and we are looking for good things in the future and positive outcomes/changes from this.

Last week we donated over Rs 150,000 (close to 800 USD) worth of hot water flasks to the police forces of Sri Lanka along with a special formulation of herbal immune boosting tea. They, together with the Army and Health Professionals are looking after the country – policing the adherence of curfew to ensure social distancing and virus testing of individuals. They work on long shifts in check points and expose themselves to the virus through tiredness and social interaction.  

These moments in history, when humans have to come together for answers, the subject of compassion may arise easily. But an important point to notice is the difference between the more common view on compassion and the one that was taught by teachers like the Buddha. Many times we encounter an idea of compassion as being the act of ‘suffering with’ someone. But, in the Buddha’s teachings, compassion is karuṇā, a positive mental quality, not accompanied by suffering, that can and should be nourished. We would all choose to be in peace, but not to suffer. Compassion coming from a meditative mind is one that is not carried away by the emotion of pain or sadness, but stay rooted in clear awareness of the situation in order to act in the best way possible. 

Sometimes, if we just suffer together with someone that is in pain, instead of having only one person crying, now we have two! But how can one train the heart in order to maintain balance and firmness in difficult circumstances? The teachings would point that we need to first accept reality – that nature does not always provide only comfort and happiness, but also the flip side; second is to not take things too personally, amplifying the load of emotional baggage that we already have to carry. Instead, seeing the works of nature with its imprevisible character and seeing the personal happenings in each ones life as a process far beyond our reaches of full control could allow us to be more clear and sympathetic in our actions. Because, in the end, we are on the same boat of having a body and a mind which don’t always act or take the path that we have planned to. 
One of the greatest Buddhist monks in modern history, Ajahn Chah would hold up a glass and say: “If you can see that this glass is already broken, then when it breaks you won’t suffer”. The boat we are in is sailing with a clear destination, but the weather for this journey may not always be sunny with good wind. Sometimes the sea is rough and the forecast transmit wrong news! As a good sailor, gather your strength, raise up your sleeves, look after your crew and let’s wait and be ready for the good weather. Just as bad times come suddenly, the good ones might also be near. We just need to practice maintaining a mind that is freer from disturbances and a heart that is open to help.

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