The following question was posed to Lama Surya Das at his Dzogchen Winter Retreat in Garrison, N.Y.
Leo S. asked: Can meditation practice assist in ending suffering?
Lama Surya Das: Sure it can! That is the very purpose of Buddhism, according to the original teachings: to find ourselves and reduce the causes and origins of suffering and dissatisfaction, and bring about a more free, unconditioned, harmonious and delightful way of life. This is all embodied in Buddha’s first teaching at Deer Park outside Benares, known to history as The Four Noble Truths – or four liberating facts of life from an enlightened perspective.
Famed British writer and thinker G. K. Chesterton once answered an essay contest requesting writings on the subject of “What is wrong with the world today?” with this trenchant one-liner. “I am,” he said; that was his submission.
My erstwhile Concord neighbor H. D. Thoreau, who greatly influenced Mahatma Gandhi, said that society’s reformation can only happen when the individual is reformed. Thoreau insisted that social reformation begins with the individual. A society can not reform unless the reformation of the individuals that make-up a society reform first.
Many quote Gandhi today: ‘Be the solution that you want to see in the world’.
But that sentence is incomplete if it does not factor in the presuppositions of Gandhi. Gandhi said that in order to be the solution in the world, you have to be true to the truth of your highest principles. Do we want to see peace in the world? Then be peace. Be true to, live, the principles of peace – manifest as the principle of peace.
Human suffering will end as each individual reforms and transforms his or her own selfish system. Each self system is a microcosm of the universal system; when more and more individual selfish systems reformat into altruistic beings, wise and compassionate, then there will be a tipping point; positive change will manifest. Meditative awareness and the cultivation of mindfulness— lucid, nonjudgmental present-moment awareness— is an excellent tool for helping us to awaken to who and what we are, how we function, and what is conducive to producing happiness and well being or pain and suffering for us in this world, both individually and collectively. For example, on a very practical and personal level, I’ve found that mindful anger management can greatly reduce the violence in us and our relationships.
Mindful awareness and self-scrutiny vastly facilitate the development of self-awareness, relational mindfulness, empathy, loving kindness, and altruism, all of which have been show to contribute to happiness and well being through balancing our own need and greed, passion and compassion, and concern regarding self and others.
My friend, the Buddhist nun Drubgyudma, says: ” Humanity has evolved into a system that is now able to create consciously new systems. Humanity can turn things around by the reformation of their self system – the individual manifesting as an altruistic being in the world.”
“My life is my message.” Gandhi said. Every person’s life is their message. Our truth is manifested through our words, speech and actions. Our truth manifests through our lifestyles. Our lifestyles reflect our inner states and worldviews. Again, this brings us back to continuous practice and application in daily life. Spiritual practice makes perfect and is perfect; we just have to do it, leading inexorably towards an altruistic humanity manifesting compassionate wisdom in the world.