And let it begin with me

Before I get started on the Gampopa Ornament of Precious Liberation class notes, here’s a short presentation I gave a couple of weeks ago at an interfaith prayer service in Richmond, Virginia. Organized by Chaplain David Curtis at Westminster Canterbury Retirement Community, the service’s theme was how peace can be lived in different areas of life: self, home, community, and the world. While Buddhism would have been a natural fit for peace within self, I addressed how it views the possibility of peace in the world.

I wanted to start by reading a short passage from “A Prayer for the Earth,” which is printed on the program for us to recite a little later:

“Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,

To be filled with awe and contemplation,

To recognize that we are profoundly united

With every creature, as we journey towards your infinite light.”

This prayer is written from a Christian point of view, but it also expresses a Buddhist view of the world and our relationship to it, that each of us is profoundly interconnected with everyone and everything that exists. There is no one and nothing in this world that we are not connected with. What we do, say, and think has an effect not only on ourself, our family, and our immediate community, but also on our state, our country, our hemisphere, and the other side of the world. This is one of the most fundamental teachings of the Buddha, who set out two and a half millenia ago to find a way to free the world from suffering. His message, like those of Jesus, Mohammed, and other great teachers, had such a powerful impact that it continues to resonate today.

I imagine everyone has heard of the Dalai Lama, who may be the most famous Buddhist in the world today. If you’ve heard of any other Buddhist teacher, it might be the Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, now in her 80s, who has written many books of practical spiritual advice enjoyed by Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. In a retreat earlier this year that I attended via livestream, she talked about the ripple effect that our actions, thoughts, and prayers have on the entire world — in the same way that a butterfly fluttering its wings in China is said to have the potential to affect the weather in North America, and vice versa. Each morning of the retreat, she began by asking the participants, “How’s your ripple effect today?” She encouraged us to be aware, beyond our emotional state at any given moment, of the ripple effect it might be having, and to set a conscious intention to cultivate a peaceful, compassionate mind as much as possible, so that our ripple effect going out into the world is also peaceful.

We all know what it’s like when an angry person walks into a room where other people are cheerfully chatting. It changes the dynamic of the whole room, even if no angry words are spoken. Imagine that individual anger, that negative energy, continuing to ripple out beyond the room, adding in some small increment to the collective anger of the whole, interconnected world. I think we already have so much anger in the world now that we probably don’t need to add any more.

What if each of us, as an individual, were to cultivate a peaceful state of mind? Might our peaceful ripple effect neutralize some of the the world’s collective anger? How many peaceful people would it take to begin to shift the whole dynamic?

Reflection:

In her book No Time to Lose, Pema Chodron describes a practice she frequently engages in as she goes about her day. She directs her attention to each individual she encounters or sees — in a car, on the sidewalk, on their phone, in their yard, shopping, etc. — and silently sends a simple wish for that person to be well and happy and to have peace in their life.

If you’d like to, we could take a moment, each of us, in the privacy of our own mind, to wish peace and happiness for everyone in this room. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, just a simple, quick, heartfelt wish for everyone around us to experience peace and happiness.

We could extend that wish to include everyone in the building. At Westminster Canterbury, that’s a lot of people who might experience the ripple effect of our peaceful wishes.

Then to everyone in the Richmond area. Everyone in the state of Virginia. Everyone in the United States, whatever they may be doing or experiencing in this moment, whatever their political views or spiritual path: may they have peace and happiness. Let’s include Canada and Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia. Let’s send a ripple effect of peace and compassion to everyone in the world in this moment, and not only all the people, but also all the animals on the land, birds in the sky, fish in the oceans.

In Buddhism, our mind is considered to be unlimited. We are connected in some way with every other person, every other being, throughout the world, and they are connected with us. If we cultivate a peaceful, compassionate state of mind, then through that unlimited interconnectedness, peace and compassion will automatically ripple out, like the flutter of a butterfly’s wings. And maybe there will be hope, for our children and grandchildren, and for their children and grandchildren, to experience a more peaceful world.

In closing, I’d like to quote another line from today’s program, from the song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth”:

“Let there be peace on earth / And let it begin with me.”

This is something we can really do.

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