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Look for the Buddhas

When bad things happen -- as they do with blinding regularity these days -- along with the  news of the latest atrocity, a quote from Fred Rogers comes up often on social media: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"

It's good advice. It takes our focus off the pain and suffering, the blame and sadness. It reminds us that while bad things happen, good things also happen. As the Zen saying goes, life contains 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. Maybe, these days, the number of sorrows seems larger, seems infinite. But that also raises the number of joys. They may be small joys -- wildflowers growing in a random spot, a sunset that stops you in your tracks, rocks on a beach, a kiss from a child, a smile from a stranger, strong coffee -- but they are there. Make your own list of what brings you joy. Please do. It's important to remember that those things, those people exist.

To put it in Buddhist terms, look for the bodhisattvas, the helpers, the ones who've vowed not to attain enlightenment until everyone can come with them. Look for Buddhas, the awakened beings.

You never know where there might  be a bodhisattva ... so just consider anyone who arouses bodhicitta in you as being a real Buddha, whether a deity, teacher, spiritual companion, or any else. -- Patrul Rinpoche

 Examples of bodhisattvas -- helpers -- and Buddhas, or awakened beings, don't exist only in texts and stories. They are all around. Do you know Naomi Shabib Nye's poem "Gate A-4"? It is a lovely story of how a tense, miserable four-hour flight delay became a veritable party, a event celebrating our shared condition.

Maybe that story resonates with me because I had my own experience of finding an unlikely bodhisattva during what turned out to be an overnight flight delay. There was one woman -- who I'd dismissed early on as an aging sweetheart of Sigma Chi due to her impeccable hair, matching outfit, and sorority luggage tag -- who kept the crowd from turning surly, who turned the energy in a positive direction. After the first announced delay, she learned the gate agents' names, and with each subsequent announcement, as people started to groan, she would loudly thank them, by name, for sharing the information they had. When the delay dragged on and the airline bought pizza for the passengers to share in the gate area, she pronounced it lovely. And when we were told we were being bused to a hotel an hour away and would fly out the next day, she made it seem like an adventure. Yes, it was frustrating and inconvenient. But her attitude kept the crowd from falling into the pit of despair, kept reminding us of our resiliency, our own choice to be miserable or cheerful. Sometimes that's what a situation needs -- an outlier to remind us there's another way to see things.

That's what the Buddhas do -- they help us to see our own enlightened nature, the joy of our interdependence. They remind us that everyone loves something, even if it's cookies (or tortillas). And we can build on that.

As Shahib Nye writes:

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, Thisis the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in thatgate—once the crying of confusion stopped—seemed apprehensive aboutany other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too.
This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

While the world seems dire, look around. Look for the buddhas. Be a buddha. Do what you can to help others see their true compassionate nature instead of condemning them and shutting them out.

 

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