This past Sunday, March 22, 2009, The Concordia Spiritual Center of Warwick, Rhode Island, hosted a most remarkable speaker, the Venerable Bhante Wimala, a youthful Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhist Monk. This was not, however, a religious event in any conventional sense of the word, for Concordia is not a traditional church per se. It is, rather, a gathering hall for people interested in spending quiet, contemplative time together as a spiritual community. Concordia is located at 292 West Shore Road in Warwick, and is a simple, warm and comfortable facility with wooden ceilings and beams, and a deep, pervasive sense of quiet and peace.
After a brief, song-filled, non-sectarian morning service, this young and calm Buddhist Monk led the participants in a moving workshop focused on meditation and the techniques we can use to prevent suffering from dominating our lives in this confusing and high-pressured modern world. The essence of Bhante’s message, to me, was quite straight forward. True, he acknowledged, suffering has always existed in this world. Just study history; look around; read the news; watch the television! We, on the other hand, have a choice to make every day; the choice of whether or not to allow this suffering to enter into us; whether or not to let it become a disruptive influence in our own lives.
He used as examples ‘hatred’ and ‘anger’, two traditional human emotions we sometimes direct at one another. Bhante reminded the audience, in serene and carefully chosen language, that cruelty and unfairness directed towards us are outside behaviors; behaviors of others; words of others; actions of others. This cruel treatment only becomes our suffering if we let the negative emotions in, and then react to them in negative kind. Events continually happen out in the world! It is our choice how we respond to these external events.
Do not let it in, Bhante suggests. Do not let the negativity in! Instead, do your best to be calm and compassionate and positive and try to understand why that other person suffers so; why that other person is trying to hurt you. Respond with compassion, not anger… How unhappy that other person must be to want to cause you harm! It is not easy to respond this way, the serene Monk admits, but with practice, it does become possible. Do not let another person’s suffering become your own. Do not let anyone else ‘water negative seeds’ in your own garden.
Buddhism talks of Noble Truths. What I heard Sunday, in this moving seminar, was a young Sri Lankan Teacher explain in simple, lay terms to an enthralled Western, American audience the essence of Buddhism’s Third Noble Truth. Namely, suffering exists in the world! There is no shortage or doubt of that reality. But we have the choice, in most cases, of how we respond to that suffering. Do we react to it in an angry and negative manner? Do we meet the fires of another’s negativity with our own resentful responses? Or, rather, do we look at the suffering and the cruelties directed at us, and try to understand them, calmly and thoughtfully and with compassion?
The historic Buddha never said, twenty six hundred years ago, that there is anything we can do to prevent others from trying to make us suffer. Rather, he said, there are things we can do with the events of the world to stop making ourselves suffer. Our sense of suffering is very seldom caused by an outside event. It is caused, rather, by how we chose to react to these outside events. The choice is completely ours. Choices are ALWAYS completely ours! That was the wonderful message I heard Sunday. That was the message that made me smile, and that was the message I took home with me to share with others.
His Holiness, the Dali Lama is quoted as saying,
?Bhante Wimala’s heartfelt concern for the suffering in the world, and the simple remedies he draws from the Buddha’s teachings will be a source of strength for everyone confused by the pressures of modern life.?
Everyone confused by the pressures of modern life? Isn’t that most of us?