What to Do with this World?
I recently heard a song that was popular in the 1990s, which made me quite nostalgic for that era. The ’90s weren’t perfect by any means. There was a whole list of problems in the world at that time. Since then, many things in many parts of the world are much improved. There was a lot of poverty during those days. Since then, hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty, and many more people have access to education and job opportunities. More people than ever now travel and communicate with each other from different parts of the planet. Shouldn’t we be happier about the state of the world? The truth is that many people are unhappy with the way things are in their lives and in the world in general, and they feel pessimistic about future. Some young people are so scared of a potentially catastrophic future that they do not want to bring a child into the world—they’re afraid of being responsible for inviting a soul into a world beset by endless predicaments.
Why was I feeling nostalgic for the ‘90s? Many people during that era believed that things were going to keep getting better for humanity; the world would unite to tackle common problems, people would come together as one human tribe, boundaries between nations and races would be transcended, scientific progress would turn the Earth into a utopian paradise where disease and poverty would be eradicated or radically lessened. People were also much calmer when our brains were not constantly bombarded by endless information and news cycles. Globalization was on the rise, sharing a vision that we were heading toward a society in which there would be no more wars.
Today, however, this is not what people are feeling. Insurmountable obstacles are appearing right in front of us: climate change is one of the biggest challenges humanity has ever faced, coupled with increasing political instability. Let us turn our attention to the United States as an example. It is a country that has many blessings: vast land with almost inexhaustible resources, and unparalleled economic and technological might. Yet over the last few years, things have started going downhill. The country is more divided than ever. The disparity between poor and rich is widening as the greed of corporations resembles that of a hungry ghost that never can feel its belly is full. Many Americans feel confused and nervous about the state of their own country. Such feelings have been acutely exacerbated with the unfortunate death of George Floyd from police brutality. So it is easy for people to react to what is happening these days with anger, despondency, and pessimism, and to close their hearts to the world and to humanity.
This is the time to invoke Avalokiteshvara within each of us. Avalokiteshvara is an archetypal deity who resides eternally in deep peace, yet at the same time never takes her or his gaze away from the world and its messiness. Avalokiteshvara responds to the ugliness of the world not with hatred nor despondency, but with love and trust. We must all learn to deal with the world’s suffering from a higher or even new level of consciousness. We should never give up our love for humanity and the trust in our inherent goodness, which will eventually help us take the right path, and overcome today’s struggles. This is a hard time to hold such a positive attitude. Yet that is only our hope. One form of Avalokiteshvara has one thousand eyes and one thousand arms, symbolizing the love that beholds everyone without exception and taking action in whatever way might benefit others. This is a powerful antidote to the inaction that often can be part of one’s spirituality when the ego is addicted to getting drunk with the bliss of false transcendence.
We must not forget the death of George Floyd. We should pray that he didn’t die in vain. This is our responsibility. If we wake up and recognize the amount of social injustice and violence in the world—in this context, the racism to which our black sisters and brothers have been subject for centuries—and take action to stop it, then we won’t have let George Floyd die in vain. The voice of Mara says in our heads, in the guise of insight: “Oh, I’m just another ordinary citizen; there is nothing I can do to change society.” Or: “I should be focusing on my spiritual practice, working on big topics like God or Emptiness instead of being bogged down in those social issues, which are mundane reality.” If we listen to such voices, we will drift into an ocean of denial, escapism, and spiritual bypassing. The ego is quite a complex phenomenon. It likes to identify with lofty ideals, such as the bodhisattva vow, and yet it resists attempts to embodying them, because the ego feels that it will die in the face of love when such ideals are embodied.
There are many things constantly reminding us to behold the goodness in the world. There is so much generosity and altruism everywhere. Most people are trying to do good to the best of their ability. Our goodness is the very force that has been sustaining our existence as a species. Deep down, people are longing for a world that blesses peace, kindness, and equality. We must trust that the world will continue evolving toward a higher consciousness and be patient with the process, which can sometimes be rough. Allow yourself to smile during times of confusion like this. Let the beautiful golden light of a sunset bring a smile to your face. Let a joke from your friend make you laugh uncontrollably as if every cell in your body is ecstatic. Then we can be like Avalokiteshvara, at peace while helping the world.
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