Jack Kornfield’s recently published book, No Time Like the Present, contains insights relevant to our Dharma practice. Tonight is the third in a series of Dharma talks that present highlights from each chapter. Chapter three is titled “Trusting the Loving Universe” and begins with a quotation by Pablo Neruda: “You can pick all the flowers, but you can’t stop the spring.”
Jack reminds us that we are not the small self that our worried minds believe us to be. Like nature, we are life renewing itself over and over again.
Jack’s venerable teacher Ajahn Chah used to say, “If you hold on to any expectation, you miss the wisdom [about its impermanence]. Be the One Who Knows, the witness to it all. This is how trust grows.” During hard times, we must shift from our small body of fear to a connection with what is vast and sacred. Then we connect with trust in the greatness of the human spirit.
Jack tells the story of a Norwegian pastor who worked secretly underground during WWII to save Jews, gays, and Gypsies who were threatened by the Nazis. He was sent to Gestapo headquarters, where a German interrogation officer placed a Luger pistol on the desk between them. Without hesitation, the pastor placed his Bible next to the gun. The officer demanded, “Why did you do that?” The pastor replied, “You put your weapon on the table, and so have I.” With trust in the rightness of his choices, the minister withstood the long interrogation, and undaunted, returned to his church and his dangerous work.
Reflect upon how it would feel to live with a sense that somehow things will work out—perhaps not the way you think they should, but in some surprising way. Rumi counsels: “Pretend the universe is rigged in your favor.”
Last spring, my Zen teacher Koshin informed me that he had decided to stop flying to Houston once a month to teach Clinical Pastoral Education classes. For two years, I had benefited from being able to bicycle from home to the McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics at UT Medical School for classes. I was disappointed to relinquish my vision of launching a pioneering, local Buddhist chaplaincy training. Since last September, I have been flying monthly to NY to continue in the 3rd year of the 4-year program. Although my health has suffered from such a rigorous schedule, I now see my aging parents on a regular basis. I just received a sweet thank-you letter from my 92-year-old mother for treating her to a massage and facial for her birthday last week. I realize that, as usual, the universe is unfolding as it should.
Our western culture cultivates the belief that we are in control of life. If we eat a healthy diet, watch the weather channel for storm predictions, and pass through airport security, we are under the impression that all will be well.
Last week, between a Zen sesshin retreat and chaplaincy classes, I welcomed Mark to NY. On Martin Luther King Day, we visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum. With hundreds of others, we maintained respectful silence during three hours of watching films and listening to oral histories of how that fatal day irrevocably changed the course of human history. Once again, I was struck not only by the horror of terrorists intentionally murdering so many innocent victims, but also by countless acts of heroism and compassion on behalf of strangers who were suffering.
Howard Zinn, author of the People’s History of the United States, writes,
I keep encountering young people who, in spite of all the evidence of terrible things happening, also give hope. There are hundreds of thousands working for the good everywhere…. To be hopeful in hard times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, [and] kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. The future is an infinite succession of present [moments], and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.
After enduring the pain of broken trust, it may take time for faith in life to be restored. Part of that process is to move beyond our own wounding to recall that everyone has experienced moments of betrayal—at home, at work, in politics or in love. Over time, we develop a wise trust, while protecting body, heart and possessions. We learn to use discernment and to distinguish who and what is worthy of trust. Most importantly, we build trust in ourselves. Our suffering does not have to define us.
Rumi’s tomb inscription reads:
Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of life,
Though you have broken your vow a hundred times,
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Whether it is others who break their vows or we who have broken ours, we can carry on, not with despair, but with deeper trust.
As Jack says, “Human incarnation is mysterious because it ends. Death will come to you and wipe the slate, no matter who you are, no matter how small or great your accomplishments.”
“The graveyards are full of indispensible men,” noted French general Charles de Gaulle. How do we live with the fact of death as the final mystery? Fear can paralyze us, or we can turn towards mortality, bowing to its presence and living freely.
As we age, we can choose to resist or to be gracious. If we age without trust, we will contract and suffer. With trust, the heart is free to love and enjoy each day, to dance with life.
Like my beloved teacher, Jack, I want to serve the world and live in it with trust, love, and full presence until I die. The invitation to live with a trusting heart leads to freedom.
PRACTICE: BE INSPIRED BY TRUST (adapted from p. 57)
Sit comfortably with closed eyes.
Breathe gently and naturally.
Bring to mind a person who inspires you with a wise trust in the universe. Take inspiration from someone who lives with ongoing trust and a positive spirit even in hard times.
Reflect upon what it is like when a person lives with trust instead of anxiety. How does trust affect the body’s posture and movements? Sense the uplifting effect that a trusting person has on others.
Now envision yourself becoming more trusting. Picture moving through your day with confidence and trust, relaxed and present.
Remember the times when you have felt your own healthy sense of trust, confidence, strength, and fearless love.
This trust is within you. Wise trust is not naïve. It sees clearly that some people are not trustworthy, but this recognition does not destroy the overall spirit of trust.
Trust in yourself and in life itself.
Invite your trust to grow.
Trust is the gateway to happiness.