Friends, in a short span of time the USA was rocked by its biggest ever act of domestic terrorism/gun violence and the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Economic, political, and social systems around the world seem to be in crisis.
If we have taken refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, how are we to relate to major events such as these?
The point is to see that the conditioned realm is something to contemplate and understand rather than to make assumptions about it or try to control and bend it to our desires and will. The more we try to control the conditioned realm, the more disappointing it will become, until we finally feel despair, fear, depression and all the negative mental states that can dominate our conscious experience. –from a talk by Ajahn Sumedho, “Beginning to Sense the Unborn”
Many of us have recently been made aware of assumptions we made that are (seemingly) suddenly null and void. Our faith in some major institutions has diminished or been extinguished. We like to think that a few world leaders have the power to “fix” things, but it is increasingly apparent that this is not the case. Our sense of security on a personal, local, national, and planetary level is being challenged.
It is useful to remind ourselves that many people who started their lives in situations that seemed stable are now confronted with war, displacement, loss, dire poverty, and a multitude of uncertainties. For those of us living in relative comfort, the uncertainties we face also rattle our sense of ourselves. We thought things would be one way and they have turned out to be another way. This is a clear example of the Buddha’s first truth: there is dukkha. There is uncertainty where we want certainty, confusion where we want clarity, security where none is to be had.
We can come back to the Buddha’s first truth and try to understand it as it unfolds in our own lives. Were we counting on national leaders to pull together? Did we think that someone would come to the rescue? Did we assume that the electorate (in whatever country) was basically forward-looking and charitable? Whoops! None of these turns out to be correct. If we look into our own hearts we can discover what assumptions or clingings are the source of our current discomfort.
The conditioned world cannot provide us with a reliable sense of comfort or security.
Relying on the Dhamma, we can remember that thoughts and emotions rise and fall. What is true right now? What information are our six senses giving us? What is the state of the body, the breath? What mind states are passing through? With wisdom and calm we can know what we can control and what we can’t, what to pay attention to and what to set aside. We can look deeply into causes and conditions from a non-personal perspective. When we act from this understanding, our actions are more likely to be effective and not simply thrashing about in response to fear and confusion.