Thoughts on current conflicts by Her Holiness Shinso Ito
Recently we have been confronted with terrible, shocking images of violence, death, and warfare in the news. Sometimes the pain and suffering we see can feel utterly overwhelming and lead to feelings of helplessness or spiritual despair.
My heart aches at the news of tragic warfare spreading in various parts of the globe. Every report of people’s suffering and devastation brings tears to my eyes. As a spiritual leader, I vow to continue extending my prayers to all affected, both during the services at which I officiate, and throughout the day.
What can we as individuals do to preserve our spiritual practice and be of benefit to others in the face of such horrible suffering?
While it may sound counterintuitive, we can help build peace within ourselves by moving our hearts towards others, rather than retreating from their painful circumstances. In facing the suffering and conflict in the world, the Buddha encouraged what he called The Four Immeasurable States of Mind: loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity.
Loving kindness means thinking of others with warmth and affection and genuinely wishing them happiness. Compassion means being moved by the suffering of others and genuinely wishing that they be freed from it. Joy means feeling happiness when good things happen to others and being genuinely satisfied when they do. Finally, equanimity means applying all of these states equally to everyone without attachments or judgments—practicing genuine, positive regard for all living beings, regardless of what they may have done.
At the heart of practicing these four immeasurable states of mind is letting go of ourselves and placing our focus on others, because we are just one, whereas others are immeasurable. If we cultivate these attitudes and let go of dividing others into “friend” or “foe,” our reflections and minds become more clear, allowing us to break free from toxic cycles of thinking in which we are often trapped. Rather than wishing love, safety, and happiness to some, and retribution, punishment, and violence to others, we practice wishing for the health and happiness of all equally. We can begin by being genuinely kind to those around us, extending that same kind heart to everyone without limit.
As Shinnyo-en’s Founder Shinjo Ito shared: “Hate as a response to hate allows no room for true relief. The focus of our efforts must always lie in extending our prayers equally and in oneness to all spirits. Only by working for the well-being of others, equally and without distinction, can we move humanity forward.”
The Buddha perceived the reality of life in our world to be often harsh and difficult to face. He understood that the world is full of pain and suffering—it is unavoidable in life. But he also knew from experience that it is possible to find—and help others find—inner peace and happiness as well. Of course it may be hard to extend positive feelings to all, especially when we have seen violent attacks and reprisals. But we can acknowledge the challenge, pray that we will be able to go beyond our human limits and care even for people that we might disagree with. At least we can do our best to not harm them, even in our imagination. It’s okay to begin with the small step of recognizing that everyone is equally deserving of our kindness, compassion, and joy, and then gradually work on genuinely feeling those feelings for all beings.
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