Over the last few years, I have been asked a similar question with growing frequency: "How do we fix the world's problems?" Usually the question is narrowed down to a specific type of problem in the world, like "How can we put an end to war?" but sometimes it is as general as seeking to solve the problems in the world entirely.
My answer is always the same, initially unsatisfying, response that we can't fix the world's problems, we can only get right with ourselves. If we don't understand our own mind, if we don't see clearly our own path, then we are just adding to the mess in the world. Most of us don't want to hear this. We want everything else out in the world to change according to the way we believe it should be, expecting that somehow, in conforming to our wishes, we will find life suddenly satisfying. But it doesn't work this way. If the world around us does change, we find that we are still not satisfied, so we look for more things to "fix". This will go on endlessly and the world's mess just gets messier.
In my twenties I was guilty of getting caught up in the futile game of fixing the sorrows of the world, in order to find peace and contentment in my own life (though I didn't know that was what I was doing. I really believed I was trying to fix the world's problems.) I even withheld my own joy and happiness, believing I was not entitled to feeling good until all the world was healed. That approach lead me into a clinical depression, and, even for a time, in a hospital psych ward for my own safety. Denying my own joy, made me a misanthrope. In trying to fix the world I came to hate people, hate myself, hate life itself. It wasn't until I crawled out from my depth of depression and offer compassion to myself, that was I able to understand I would not experience any peace or joy, if I didn't first find the peace and joy that already existed within my own being. It was the peace and joy I discovered within my own being that became the fuel necessary to transform fear, anger, grief, sadness. With their transformation came the insight into the purpose and meaning of life...of this life...not "my" life, but the life that I was blessed to carry for a tiny, almost, insignificant span of time, in this human body. I continue to this day, to align the living of this life, with that purpose and meaning.
Today, I see so much suffering, compounded by the additional suffering of individuals trying to fix the world rather than understand their own lives. Too many are withholding their own joy, believing that punishing themselves, while trying to uplift others, is necessary and not understanding doing so undermines every good thing they try to realize in the world. There are also a fair number who are so fixated on everything else getting right first, that they don't realize what they think is happiness is really self-delusion, a kind of virtual reality created in their own minds. I am always trying to find a way to impart wisdom, to deliver a message that might wake people from their self induced trance. I have yet to offer any guiding words, other than those I use to describe my own journey. Until the day I find the right words, I turn to Joseph Campbell, the scholar of comparative mythology and religion. He distilled beautifully all he learned about the human condition and the spiritual journey into perhaps the clearest guidance I have read to this day. Pair this with the Buddha's foundational teaching of The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold path, and I don't think I could write anything better than the following:
The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.
What you have to do, you do with play.
Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it.
The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be.
Being alive is the meaning.
The warrior's approach is to say "yes" to life: "yea" to it all.
Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.
We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.
When we talk about settling the world's problems, we're barking up the wrong tree.
The world is perfect. It's a mess. It has always been a mess.
We are not going to change it.
Our job is to straighten out our own lives.
We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.
If we fix the old, we get stuck. When we hang onto any form, we are in danger of putrefaction.
Hell is life drying up.
The Hoarder, the one in us that wants to keep, to hold on, must be killed.
If we are hanging onto the form now, we're not going to have the form next.
You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs.
Destruction before creation.
Out of perfection nothing can be made.
Every process involves breaking something up.
The earth must be broken to bring forth life.
If the seed does not die, there is no plant.
Bread results from the death of wheat.
Life lives on lives.
Our own life lives on the acts of other people.
If you are lifeworthy, you can take it.
What we are really living for is the experience of life, both the pain and the pleasure.
The world is a match for us. We are a match for the world.
Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.
Negativism to the pain and ferocity of life is negativism to life.
We are not there until we can say "yea" to it all.
To take a righteous attitude toward anything is to denigrate it.
Awe is what moves us forward.
As you proceed through life, following your own path, birds will shit on you.
Don't bother to brush it off.
Getting a comedic view of your situation gives you spiritual distance.
Having a sense of humor saves you.
Eternity is a dimension of here and now.
The divine lives within you.
Live from your own center.
Your real duty is to go away from the community to find your bliss.
The society is the enemy when it imposes structures on the individual.
On the dragon there are many scales. Everyone of them says "Thou Shalt."
Kill the dragon "Thou Shalt".
When one has killed that dragon, one has become The Child.
Breaking out is following your bliss pattern, quitting the old place, starting your hero journey, following your bliss.
You throw off yesterday as the snake sheds its skin.
Follow your bliss.
The heroic life is living the individual adventure.
There is no security in following the call to adventure.
Nothing is exciting if you know what the outcome is going to be.
To refuse the call means stagnation.
What you don't experience positively you will experience negatively.
You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path.
Where there is a way or path, it is someone else's path. You are not on your own path.
If you follow someone else's way, you are not going to realize your potential.
The goal of the hero trip down to the jewel point is to find those levels in the psyche that
and finally open to the mystery of your Self being Buddha consciousness or the Christ.
That's the journey.
It's all about finding the still point in your mind where commitment drops away.
It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life.
Where you stumble there lies your treasure.
The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for.
The damned thing in the cave that was so dreaded has become the center.
You find the jewel, and it draws you off.
In loving the spiritual, you cannot despise the earthly.
The purpose of the journey is compassion.
When you have come past the pairs of opposites, you have reached compassion.
The goal is to bring the jewel back to the world, to join the two things together.
The separateness apparent in the world is secondary.
Beyond that world of opposites is an unseen, but experienced, unity and identity in us all.
Today, the planet is the only proper "in group".
You must return with the bliss and integrate it.
The return is seeing the radiance everywhere.
Sri Ramakrishna said: "Do not seek illumination unless you seek it as a man whose hair is on fire seeks a pond."
If you want the whole thing, the gods will give it to you.
But you must be ready for it.
The goal is to live with godlike composure on the full rush of energy, like Dionysus riding the leopard, without being torn to pieces.
A bit of advice given to a young Native American at the time of his initiation:
"As you go the way of life,
you will see a great chasm.
It is not as wide as you think,"
~ from "Reflections on the Art of Living: a Joseph Campbell Companion" edited by Diane K. Osbon
One realm we have never conquered--the pure present. One great mystery of time is terra incognita to us--the instant. The most superb mystery we have hardly recognized--the immediate, instant self.
I am Myohye Do'an, a bhikṣu (fully ordained Chán Buddhist monk) and Chán Master. Here I share my thoughts and observations about living a life of compassion, attention and gratitude.