The awareness of suffering as a necessary part of every interaction with the source of everything, the earth, must greatly increase. Environmental harm produces suffering. Because human activity will always be harmful, what harm we do must become ever more mindful and reverent and empathic and minimal.
Suffering is and has always been a spiritual matter but examples of how to elevate it to “the question” are few. Buddhism is like that. It is the religion that puts human suffering at the very centre of its religious mission with human behaviour taking adjacent status. The 4th or 5th century (BCE) religious leader who founded Buddhism claimed to teach only two things, cause of suffering and cause of alleviation of suffering. The term 'suffering' covers physical, emotional and situational harm, the alleviation of which connects in essential ways to behaviours that emphasize kindness and inclusiveness as antidotes to the 'poisons', namely greed, hatred and delusion.
Zen meditation is especially well suited for ordinary people who are keenly aware of suffering and keenly intent on alleviation. There is a collective revulsion at the vast suffering everywhere in our world and ever more present here in our communities. At the same time there is a growing collective fear that the trends bode ill. It is a virtual guarantee that if fear and revulsion are the fuel of growth, either personal or collective, then harm will ensue. We should know that by now, given the sixties.
The Zen style of meditation attempts to help us undo any residual harm that springs from vows, views or traumas that do not serve adulthood or maturity or personal happiness. It aspires to a vision of the possible fueled by the Bodhisattva [awake being] path. Meditation interacts with everyday life by cultivating awakening, a vision of the possible which involves alleviation of suffering. It is a vision of the possible in which both personal and collective suffering is continually countered by skillful behaviours and kind attitude.
We do meditation to help us stop doing harmful things. This category of things is entirely self-defined but takes form as we perceive harmful effects from behaving too greedily, too angrily, too selfishly, and so on. Even with obviously harmful behaviours it can be difficult to stop causing suffering. There are programs and techniques available to help us reprogram ourselves and our reflexes and they work under ideal conditions.
In meditation we step back from a prescriptive way to avoid harm in order to unmask our deeper wish and our true value. In Buddhist thought, harmful karma ensues not only from reflexive triggering but also from the interior realm of thoughts and imaginings. For meditators the meaning of 'step back from prescriptive way to avoid harm' is to take a metaphorical step onto zero ground, embodying zero or, if you prefer, emptiness. Our deeper wishes and truest value aspire to zero and can thrive there. Joining zero to body, we are intentionally aligned, listening, soft of face and belly, channelling breath. Just this is enough. So much suffering can be averted or avoided just by making this as an initial condition.
Wayne Codling is a former Zen monastic and a lineage holder in the Soto Zen tradition. He teaches Zen style meditation in various venues around Victoria. Wayne’s talks and some writings can be found on his blog http://sotozenvictoria.wordpress.com
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE