Clair Brown

‘I take heart in the wisdom of engaged Buddhist teachers who know that ordinary hope, which is based on fear and desire for what we want in the future, only causes suffering. Instead, they recommend “wise hope,” as Roshi Joan Halifax calls it, or what Joanna Macy calls “active hope.” These are not based on fear or desire but on the bodhisattva path of relieving suffering and healing nature. “Wise hope,” Halifax tells us, “is not seeing things unrealistically but rather seeing things as they are, including the truth of suffering—both its existence and our capacity to transform it.” Macy’s “active hope” is about finding and making our own unique contribution in the collective transition she calls the Great Turning.

This kind of wise and active hope motivates us to get up off our meditation cushion and address suffering right now, to ask ourselves, “What is the right thing to do, regardless of the outcome?” during this time of chaos and crises. Climate science helps us answer this question. We know that nature is changing and the future of our climate is dynamic, even with the certainty of global warming. Yes, life for all beings on earth is being harmed, but human destruction of ecological systems is not linear and certainly not “all or nothing.”

Our activities can make a difference, locally as well as globally, even if we do not know how much and how quickly. Realism does not have to lead to hopelessness, but rather to acknowledging impermanence and acting with loving compassion without desiring specific outcomes.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

Sharon Salzberg

‘Sometimes change takes a long time. We’re not going to see immediate results, so we need to allow joy. We need a sense of community, so we don’t feel we’re struggling alone. There’s a lot of joy in community, as we feel supported in a common purpose.

And meditation is a tremendous tool. We can easily get exhausted and feel overwhelmed, but meditation is resilience training. We learn how to begin again and again in our efforts, and we discover inner strengths and a sense of connection to others.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

Kristin Neff

‘The goal of practice is simply, become a compassionate mess. So by definition, you’re going to be a mess, but can you hold that mess with kindness and friendliness?’ (Ten Percent Happier)

I was going through my pile of saved quotes on the morning of my talk…

Tara Brach

‘The starting place of all healing is embracing even the most painful and shameful parts of our inner experience. Compassion for ourselves naturally leads to caring about others and eventually unfolds into an unconditional and inclusive love for life we never imagined possible.’ (Trusting the Gold)

Sometimes these quotes seem to make very difficult things sound easier than they are, but the fundamental point stands.

Carlo Rovelli

‘Perhaps there is no need to make anything up about what lies behind quantum theory. Perhaps it really does reveal to us the deep structure of reality, where a property is no more than something that affects something else. Perhaps this is precisely what “properties” are: the effects of interactions. A good scientific theory, then, should not be about how things “are”, or what they “do”: it should be about how they affect one another.

The idea seems radical. It pushes us to rethink reality in terms of relations instead of objects, entities or substances. The possibility that this could be what quantum physics is telling us about nature was first suggested a quarter of a century ago. For a while it remained largely unnoticed, then several major philosophers picked it up and began to discuss it. Nowadays interest in the idea, called the Relational Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, is steadily growing. It is a possible solution to the puzzle of quantum theory: what quantum phenomena are is evidence that all properties are relational.

There is a strikingly similar definition of existence at the root of the western philosophical tradition. Plato’s The Sophist contains the following phrase: “Anything which possesses any sort of power to affect another, or to be affected by another, if only for a single moment, however trifling the cause and however slight the effect, has real existence; and I hold that the definition of being is simply action. [δύναμιςδύναμις]” And in the eastern tradition, the Buddhist philosopher Nāgārjuna’s central notion of “emptiness” (śūnyatā) tells us that nothing has independent existence: anything that exists, exists thanks to, as a function of, or according to the perspective of, something else.

So maybe this is not such a radical idea after all. We all know that a chemical substance is defined by how it reacts, a biological species is defined according to the niche it occupies in the biosphere, and what defines us as human beings is our relationships. Think of a simple object such as a blue teacup. Its being blue is not a property of the cup alone: colours happen in our brain as a result of the structure of the receptors in the retina of our eyes and as a consequence of the interactions between daylight and the cup’s surface. Its being “a teacup” refers to its potential function as a drinking vessel: for an alien who doesn’t know about drinking tea, the very notion of a teacup is meaningless. What is more, its stability as an object depends on the timescale in which we consider it: take a longer view and it is just a fleeting aggregation of atoms. And are these atoms themselves independent elements of reality? No they are not, as quantum theory shows: they are defined by their physical interactions with the rest of the world.

So quantum physics may just be the realisation that this ubiquitous relational structure of reality continues all the way down to the elementary physical level. Reality is not a collection of things, it’s a network of processes.’ (from the Guardian)

Those of you who have been reading here for a long time will prehaps remember that I have a soft spot for quantum physics, and a firm belief that Buddha had a good sense of it. This article was lovely to read yesterday (insofar as my slightly foggy brain allowed), and it went on to propose that relationship is everything. Which I think we all know.

Sharon Salzberg

‘I think the reason the way out of paradox eludes us is because it’s really very simple – which is just to return to the moment instead of trying to resolve it on a more conceptual or psychological level. Return that energy to being in the moment, again and again and again.’ (Meetings With Remarkable Women)

Dale S. Wright

‘The feeling of reverence is an internal and silent celebration of being itself. The sensibilities that accompany it are awe and respect rather than fear and separation. Joyful reverence celebrates our being embedded within the whole of reality in a clarity of mind that overcomes fear.’ (The Six Perfections)

This passage follows right after the last one I posted, and this section also has an observation that some religious thinking promotes fear as part of a resistance to change. I think we can be clear about how Buddhism is the former rather than the latter.

Toni Packer

‘The way I verbalize it to people is that Mu is the expression of no-knowing. This is the most satisfactory way of putting it. Because it’s not a mantra, it’s not a word. It’s not-knowing. Mu is just the top of this whole vast not-knowing. And that’s dark. Whatever comes up, like fear, is also Mu, because you don’t know what it is. You leave aside all your psychoanalytic and other knowledge about what fear is, and face it directly, in the Mu. Facing – not “I” face “that” – but the fear, whatever it is, the churning intestines and the queasy stomach and the constricted throat and the whole thing: let all of that merge into this not-knowing.’ (Meetings With Remarkable Women)

This was another book that I had given to my mother. Some of the content feels a little dated, and thankfully women are more to the fore in many areas of Buddhism in the west than they were in the eighties, but the stories and each teacher’s approach were all well worth revisiting. I offered this one to Rebecca at Hebden Bridge as she embarks on her new life a priest.

La Sarmiento

‘I mean, BIPOC all count, right? When we go into a room, we count. If there are four people of color and everybody else is white, then we’re always trying to get the context, to figure out how safe does it feel to be here? But white people don’t do that. They’ll be in a room and just take up the space and not notice dynamics or consider who’s there. In my experience, dominant culture folks don’t like being uncomfortable. To me, if you’re on this path to be comfortable, I think you’re on the wrong path, because this path is super uncomfortable if you’re actually practicing it. It’s confronting our conditioning, our habitual tendencies, our ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. And if we’re not willing to be humbled or listen deeply to how others experience life, then what are we doing together?’ (from Lion’s Roar)

And if reading this makes you feel uncomfortable, then sit with that feeling.

Dale S. Wright

‘An authentic sense of reverence derives from a simple recognition of the truth. We are, in truth, dependent beings. We are, in fact, miniscule within the vast scope of the universe. Reverence is an open and honest response to the depth and magnitude of rality. When we allow ourselves to come under the sway of this feeling, awe and wonder open our minds.’ (The Six Perfections)