During a recent zoom teaching, Anam Thubten, a Tibetan meditation master I’ve written about before, told a traditional story to illustrate the Buddhist concept of “Impermanence:”
In ancient times, a certain wise king welcomed scholars, philosophers, theologians, astronomers, and so on, to his court. One day he gathered them all and requested that they tell him something that is true under every possible circumstance. The wise men and women conferred among themselves, and after deliberations, returned to the king with the one truth that met his criterion: “This too shall pass.”
That’s a comforting truth at times, but over the last few years we have all been traumatized by the constant passing and threats to too many things we love.
We’ve all known people who have sickened or died of covid. The hope for “herd immunity” has faded as new variants proliferate and reinfections become common. Our past ways of living and socializing are gone and won’t be back. I see hundreds of people online who share a personal story as well, the loss of a beloved animal who brought joy during the early days of the shutdown but whose beautiful presence is no longer with us as the bad news grinds on and on.
Our nation continues to tear itself apart and our “Supreme” court has become a mere instrument of a party that no longer bothers to hide its autocratic ambitions. Passing and past are the days when decent people could feel a genuine pride in their country as its birthday approaches.
These days too, when I go to the grocery store, I think of the words Lakota warriors would sometimes say before battle: “Today is a good day to die.” (1) Sacramento had one of the 246 American mass shootings recorded as of June 5. I remember my relief in learning it was gang related – a “reasonable” motive, as opposed to some teen with a weapon of war who was having a sad.
So what do we do in response? I’m sure we all have ideas that come and go. “Talk to people with differing views,” is a “rational” response that crops up now and then, but the day a homeless man in the park, who survives on Social Security and Medicare, told me that Democrats are trying to ruin the country, I had nothing to say.
The other problem with “rational” responses is that they miss the subtle, or hidden, or archetypal forces in operation now, as they seem to have been during other times of collapsing empires.
One statement sticks in my mind. In the Winter, 2012 issue of Self-Realization Magazine, Paramahansa Yogananda was quoted as saying, “Your love must be greater than your pain.”
In a world that hungers for the quick-fix, this statement at first did not seem satisfying. but thoughts that simmer gain power. Yogananda was fully aware of the power of ideas to change the world. As a friend of Gandhi, he witnessed one of the 20th century’s most dramatic examples of the power of Truth and Compassion in action.
“Your love must be greater than your pain,” is a far more fertile idea to live with than the mass of what passes for news as it floods us every day.