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Coming Together without Falling Apart: Unity through Adversity
Posted: 7/27/2015 | Guest Bloggers Comments
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Coming Together without Falling Apart: Unity through Adversity

By Lama Surya Das

Once, long ago, a spiritual seeker traveled to the Himalayas. He was on a quest for the last and best word on the subject of enlightenment. The seeker trekked and schlepped his bags all the way to the foot of an extremely high peak in Nepal. As he struggled up the mountainside, the stuff he carried grew quite heavy, so he threw his tent into a gulley and left his backpack under a tree.

Gradually, hour after sweaty hour, he stripped himself of almost everything as he climbed. He inhaled and exhaled hundreds of thousands of breaths. He was ready to arrive at the summit, ready to listen to the wisdom he felt confident he would hear at the top. The seeker pulled himself up over the final ridge of the mountain and looked into the mouth of a cave.

Much to the seeker’s amazement, the Buddha was sitting right there!

Overjoyed, the seeker asked the Buddha his big question: “What is the most important truth and teaching?”

The Buddha replied, “Dukkha. Life is suffering; life is fraught with difficulties.” The seeker felt so disappointed. He had come such a long way. He looked around wildly and shouted, “Is there anyone else up here I can talk to?”

I love that joke. I can relate to it, too. What do we do when we experience something that isn’t quite what we had hoped for? Or, worse, when we experience something that is life-and death challenging?

One of my least favorite inter-meditations is dealing directly with troubles and difficulties—meditating with adversity. Unlike a lot of other spiritual teachers, I’m not eager to tell everyone how great it is to face the hardest things, as far as spiritual growth is concerned—to experience disappointment and loss, illness, tragedy, and crises. The Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh says that everything can serve as a Mindfulness Bell—like a meditation gong or call to prayer—awakening us to the here and now, the miracle of this moment, including suffering. He lived through the French occupation and then the Vietnamese War, in his youth, in his own country. By contrast, I’m more of a card-carrying member of “The Ostrich Lineage” that teaches a bury-your-head-in-the-sand practice. “No gain if pain is involved” could be our childish motto. No one would rather avoid difficulties and pain more than I, and sometimes I catch myself avoiding pain rather than confronting it.

However, in the years of my gloaming I have come to learn better, the hard way, and understand matters a little more deeply. Luckily for me, Buddhism abounds with wonderful teachings about life and its travails. These teachings provide both solace and guidance, and they can help us deal intelligently with loss, change, and fear. Additionally, they can guide us to find fitting answers to the big questions, like the meaning and purpose of our lives, and they instruct us about death, mortality, and suffering. For there is no Nirvana, no Heaven, no enlightenment outside of daily life, as countless masters attest. Here’s a Lojong aphorism that can help us practice this wisdom:

Join whatever you meet with awareness practice, so even the unexpected becomes the path.

We cannot spend all our time and energy striving to avoid the unpleasant and just experience the pleasant things in life, tempting as it may be to do so. Life has other demands and requirements. As they say, when man plans, Buddha laughs. Yet you can integrate whatever you meet unexpectedly into your life, bring it into your meditation through co-meditative awareness. It’s like a bigger frame or perspective that can accommodate and embrace everything. As I love to say, it’s all grist for the mill, like manure fertilizing and nourishing the fields of Bodhi blossoms. As Thich Nhat Hanh says:

Everything we are looking for is right here, in the present
moment. We don’t have to go anywhere to obtain the
truth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle we don’t
even recognize. Enlightenment is not separate from
washing the dishes or growing lettuce. Walk slowly, don’t
rush. Each mindful step brings you to the best moment
of your life, the present moment.2

Our path consists of all of the circumstances of our lives—falling in love, a sarcoma diagnosis, cuddling with puppies, and the atrocities of genocide and domestic abuse, too. Don’t think that they’re in the way of your path—there’s no other path! The only way through is through. Please take a breath now, and absorb this. You’re not in the way, obstructing yourself—though it can sometimes feel like that. You are the Way, and it runs right through you.


Adapted from Make Me One with Everything: Buddhist Meditations to Awaken from the Illusion of Separation by Lama Surya Das. Copyright © 2015 by Lama Surya Das. To be published by Sounds True in May 2015.


About the Author: Lama Surya Das is one of the most learned and highly trained American-born lamas in the Tibetan Dzogchen tradition. Surya is the founder of the Dzogchen Center in Cambridge, MA and Austin, TX, and the author of many books, including the international bestseller, Awakening the Buddha Within (Broadway Books, 1997) and Awakening to the Sacred (Harmony, 1999). He lives in Concord, Massachusetts. For more information, visit surya.org.

For further information on accessing the wisdom, happiness, fulfillment, and peace you desire, click here to learn about Dr. Howard's Multiple Award Winning Book "Your Ultimate Life Plan: How to Deeply Transform Your Everyday Experience and Create Changes That Last.
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