Buddhist training can help people. Or perhaps I should say, “Buddhist training can help people who are ready for the kind of help that it offers.”
What does one have to do to be “ready?” I do not pretend to know the full answer to this question, but I can identify a simple fact that provides a partial answer.
This is the fact that one has to know that one is suffering. I use the word “know,” but I think a better word is “accept:” one has to accept that one is suffering.
What is the difference between knowing that one is suffering and accepting that one is suffering? One can know that one is suffering and one can think that the suffering will eventually go away, either more or less magically disappearing, or vanishing because one has found some external way to remove it. But accepting that one is suffering means that one comes to a deeply intuitive understanding that the root cause of one’s suffering lies within oneself, not in external circumstances, and that, therefore, neither magic nor any amount of manipulation of external conditions will deal with the root cause of suffering.
Moreover, this deeply intuitive understanding does not stop here, for somehow it includes the quiet assurance that, just as the root of suffering lies within oneself, so there is a Source of help that can be found within oneself. The real meaning of meditation is that it is the act of taking refuge in that Source of help.
The dawning of this acceptance within human consciousness is a deep mystery. For me, it is one of the many proofs that all beings possess the Buddha Nature: the Source of help within us leads us to the intuitive understanding that the root of all suffering lies within ourselves and that, because it lies within ourselves and not in the outside world, it is within our power to find and deal with the cause of suffering.—Here “within our power” must be understood to mean that our own power of will can be turned in the direction of following the guidance of the Buddha Nature: then the process of spiritual conversion can truly begin.
So if the cause of suffering lies within ourselves, and if the Source of help also lies within, then each human being is born with a complete enlightenment kit: we have suffering, the cause of suffering, and the Buddha Nature—the elements that, together, constitute our potential for enlightenment. Zen training gives us a way to actualize that potential.
Note that suffering itself is an element of our enlightenment kit. While the worldly attitude toward suffering is to hate and fear it, and to do anything that might eradicate it, the truly religious mind recognizes that suffering serves an essential spiritual purpose. We do not have to enjoy suffering, yet we can still bow to it in our heart and recognize that it plays its essential role in the enlightening process.
Like suffering itself, the cause of suffering is something that we would prefer to avoid having to face and deal with. Yet at the heart of the ugliest greed, the most violent hatred, the slipperiest, most convoluted delusion is to be found a pearl of pure intention that long ago by accident got oriented in the wrong direction. Therefore there is no substantial, enduring evil within ourselves or within any being.
This pearl of pure intention is entirely of the Buddha Nature Itself. Therefore, as we are being drawn through our suffering back to the cause of suffering, we are in fact being drawn back toward the Immaculacy of the Buddha Nature.
One can study the whole of the physical universe, from the very tiny to the incomprehensibly vast, and still be utterly unaware of the spiritual purpose that imbues the whole of existence. But one can discover that purpose in an instant simply by allowing body and mind to quieten naturally while one takes refuge in the Buddha Nature in pure meditation.
On June 30 the meditation group, together with family, held a memorial service for Kay Olson. Kay died peacefully at home on June 12, after years of living with muscular dystrophy, the last 12 years on a ventilator. Her commitment to Buddhist training, and enthusiasm for it, despite major physical difficulties was an inspiration to all of us. She will be missed.