On Sunday I co-led the service at our Unitarian Universalist Church. The topic was the heart sutra. I worked on this reflection more than I've ever worked on one. It went through many revisions. Here is the one I read on Sunday. I ended it with an acapella version of Que Sera, Sera.
I was raised with buddhist principles. My mother, especially, embraced buddhism and introduced these ideas to me at early age. I learned that god is infinite love, that we are all one, that meditation calms the mind. That’s about all I was ready to hear.
When I was in college at NYU, the Dalai Lama came to do a lecture series at the Beacon theater. My parents bought us all tickets and flew up to attend the lecture with me. In the lecture, his holiness started teaching us about attachment. Attachment to self or belongings. He said that we should try not to form attachments, that we would be happier and on a better path if we were not constantly trying to strive for possesions or attachments. He warned us against greed and lust.
I hated this. I was an 18 year old girl and there were lots of things I wanted. I was very interested in attaching myself to things and striving for achievements and accolades. I was building myself and had no interest in letting go of any of it. I wanted to be enlightened and happy, but I was conflicted because I didn’t want to follow the path that the dalai lama was describing.
In the years that followed I continued to try and follow a buddhist path. I attended buddhist services in college and went to see the Dalai Lama speak three more times. I read books. My husband began to study buddhism with me and we tried to bring it into our home as a guiding philosophy. But mostly, I matured. As I grew up, gained perspective and lived life, I became more able to see the beauty and wisdom in the path, though it still took a backseat in my daily life.
Two years ago, my whole family flew to hear the Dalai Lama give a two day lecture series on the heart sutra. The Heart sutra is probably the most popular scripture in Mahayana Buddhism. It literally translates into “The Heart of the Perfection of Transcendent Wisdom". I assumed this scripture would be about love. Then I found out it is about emptiness. It is about the lack of attachment. Attachment again!
In my lessons I learned that the root of all suffering comes from self cherishing. We ARE all one, but there is a soul or self. That self must quit loving itself so much and let go. Afflictions are rooted in the grasping of things. If we have wisdom of emptiness, we can go beyond.
I had a problem with this. I felt all this emptiness to be a bit nihilistic. This was the problem I had had as a young adult. I did not want to be without attachment. My children belonged to me! We were attached! I didn’t want to let go.
But, this time I was ready to listen. To listen with an open heart and that is all that is required in buddhism. You aren’t expected to blindly believe or to dissect, but rather just to hold it in your heart. The not dissecting and analyzing is hard for me as a person and as a Unitarian Universalist. But I decided to embrace my buddhist philosophy and try. So I did. And by the end of the second day, I realized that Emptiness is not nihilistic. It IS about love. It’s about eradicating grasping for our self and being empty SO THAT we can all be connected. We do not stand on our own. We do not define ourself. You are me and I am you. If I could let go of focusing on myself and focus on others, I would feel better. Understanding this emptiness of self and connection to others could bring me infinite compassion. This was a lesson I could get behind. Michael and I left the lessons committed to trying to follow this path.
It’s not easy. I don’t always do it. I tend to be controlling. It seems to get worse every year. I want to control what goes on around me because I have so much fear. I want permanent existence for the ones I love and for myself. (I realize that this is totally impossible). I am so afraid of losing the things I love. I feel the need to micromanage everything in my life so that nothing can go wrong. I often find myself clutching all that I have so tightly that it hurts.
What I love about buddhism and the heart sutra is that it reminds me to let go. Writing this reflection has come at a time when I really needed to be reminded. I’ve been walking around with a lump in my throat and a pain in my chest the last week or so because I am so overwhelmed with all that I am trying to hold on to and control.
I want to be compassionate and be free of suffering. I am so tired. I am tired of maintaining all these perceptions and objectifications. It affects my sleep and my health and my relationships. I know that if I can let go of ego (that’s a big one, ego) and self then there is a possibility of change and illumination in my life. I don’t have to blindly believe or dissect.
I can just hold it my heart.
This is what I am trying to do. This is what I need today. This is what I need right now. I need that daily reminder because I have not been doing that at all and when I finally stop, and try to let it go and just breathe, I almost immediately break into tears, because there is just SO MUCH that I am holding on to. Taking a moment to breath and reframe and let go is not going to immediately fix my life, but it is a small gesture that I can do and it makes things better.
Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment.