As we welcome the new year and the new decade of the 2020’s, with a heart full of gratitude to each and everyone of you, I convey my deep-felt wishes and prayers for peace and well- being for everyone. On this occasion, allow me to offer some notes on how our practice of cultivating stillness in Zen meditation may shed some light on living in our world today.
Defying the unsettling message given by the media on the state of the world as bleak, depressing, and on the verge of collapse, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof calls the year 2019 as “the best year ever.” We ask in near disbelief: how so? In writing thus, he does not turn a blind eye on the disturbing things that we hear being repeatedly harped about in the media. These disheartening things being reported as happening in our world today are undeniable, and deserve our urgent attention, he emphasizes. But he calls our attention rather to those facets which help us overcome the sense of powerlessness many tend to feel in confronting our world. What are these?
In brief, he notes 1) a huge reduction in global poverty, which means a much greater number of human beings are able to partake more of the goods of the earth; 2) a significant decrease in children’s deaths, which means that many more people than before are able to live to realize their potential as human beings rather than being deprived of this early in life; 3) major leaps in adult literacy and education, which means that more people are able to understand better what is going on and participate more intelligently in matters that affect their own lives. This is why, he suggests, the world is in a much better place than ever before.
Perhaps the most encouraging and empowering feature that has come to the fore more prominently in recent years is the heightened “passion so many—especially young people— show to make our world a better place.” Please click here to read Kristof’s entire column.
How can the Zen practice that bonds us as a worldwide community enable us to heighten our own passion “to make our world a better place”? For this, I borrow words from Henry Shukman, Guiding Teacher at the Mountain Cloud Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In a recent book, One Blade of Grass – Finding the Old Road of the Heart: A Zen Memoir he writes: “Zen is the opposite of withdrawal from the world. It’s a radical acceptance of life, the pain and suffering no less than the beauty of the dawn skies, of the sea in rain, the mountain dark under morning clouds, and the shopping list…”
As we continue our practice of sitting in stillness regularly and in a sustained manner, we cultivate the inner space and freedom that enables us to step back and clearly “see things as they are.” We are thus liberated from the inside and outside pressures that prevail upon us to assume attitudes, thoughts, and actions driven by greed, ill-will, and ignorance. We are able to recognize that these only result in increasing our own suffering and that of others. And as a result, we are better able to live our day to day lives in a way that is centered, focused, in peace and equanimity, open to responding to situations not from impulse or necessity, but from true inner freedom and from a heart of compassion that comes out of a deep love for the world.
I look forward to continuing to engage more with you individually, so we can learn from one another about what our respective “shopping lists” may contain— our gift to this troubled and troubling world of ours, which we are inspired and so moved to love with all our hearts and minds as our own self.
Ruben L.F. Habito
Maria Kannon Zen Center Dallas, Texas
January 1st, 2020