Duhkha and September 11”

by Ron  Epstein

Humboldt State University Student Forum,
Daoyuan Hall, City of Ten Thousand Buddhas,
Saturday, October 13, 2001

 Professor Epstein: DUHKHA! [‘suffering’] (Laughing) When I came home earlier this evening, I got a message that the topic for tonight was going to be ‘duhkha.’ The good thing about duhkha is that it is not ultimately real. Buddhism teaches that duhkha, however real it may seem in our lives right now, is not ultimately real. If we realize that, then we can overcome it, because we do not have to fight with it. The Buddha taught the Path to the overcoming of duhkha. And that Path contains within it a lot of wonderful methods. What does this have to do with September 11th and its aftermath? I was very moved by what Professor Jenkins had to say about his own experience and by his analysis of what all this has meant. I don’t have anything anywhere near so profound or so moving to say, nor was I as personally involved as he was, but I would still like to share a few things with you.

On the morning of September 11th, I was supposed to go to San Francisco State University, where I teach. After unsuccessfully trying to find out whether the school was open, I just got in my car and started driving down Highway 101, listening to the news on the radio. It took me more than an hour to wake up enough to realize that the news was rapidly destroying my personal mental equanimity and whatever minimal happiness I had managed to gather. I realized how destructive just listening to the same events over and over again on the radio was to my basic humanity. This is a pattern that I am sure all of you have noticed in yourselves and in others.  Professor Jenkins also mentioned it. And we all have to try very hard to counteract it. The way that I counteracted it was to recite the name of the Bodhisattva of Universal Compassion: “Namo Guanshiyin Pusa.” I don’t know whether anyone has yet talked with you about this Bodhisattva, whose image, with a thousand hands and a thousand eyes, is in the Buddha Hall. Mindfully reciting was very helpful to me, and it has continued to be very helpful to me. I try to be continually aware of the potential and actual negative effects of the media on my own mind, and try to avoid being sucked in by it. Wherever I am, I try to use the very, very simple Dharma of reciting “Namo Guanshiyin Pusa.”

This is one of the ways you can look at the Buddhadharma: duhkha is caused by our limiting ourselves by not only cutting ourselves off from the rest of humanity, indeed from all sentient beings, but also cutting ourselves off from the deepest and most valuable part of our own body-mind. The sincere and right practice of the Dharmas of great compassion can restore our interconnectedness and interdependency with all of life. They can open up the pathways to the pure, clear enlightened mind, which is at the heart of our being.

Rather than use the rest of my allotted time for speaking, I would like all of you to try out this dharma of reciting “Namo Guanshiyin Pusa.” Please try to contemplate or visualize the loving compassionate energy in the universe, pouring into you from every part of the universe, welling forth in the deepest part of your own heart. As that compassionate energy passes through your body-mind, try to consciously send it out to all of the sentient beings in the world. All of the sentient beings, not just the ones that you like, but also the ones you don’t like. Not only the ones you are close to, but also the ones you are afraid of. Let us all try this out and see how it works. Feel this energy of compassion welling forth from deep in your heart and consciously share it with the rest of the world. Now if Dharma Master Heng Lyu would be so compassionate to lead us in reciting “Namo Guanshiyin Pusa,” you can see whether this works for you and whether you find it useful.