Excerpt from a feature by teacher Theodore Tsaousidis. Editor’s note: Theodore is a profoundly impactful meditation teacher, popular in Ontario, and always has precious insights. Although this excerpt is from 2011, we are publishing here with permission because it seems as fitting today, in these difficult times as it did back then. We ask the same questions he did in this important essay: “What is going to happen next to us and to our world?” and “Why do bad things happen?” These are questions that even predate the Buddha. In fact, Buddha taught the eightfold path as a “remedy” for this seemingly endless cycle of Samsara. [Theodore can be reached through Toronto Mindfulness Community or Endless Ground>>]
Reading Theodore’s words is a healing balm. May all beings benefit.
By Theodore Tsaousidis
The devastations we (Mother Earth and all in and on her) are now experiencing are grievous. Our hearts and souls ache. We suffer with our individual pain and we suffer when we see others in pain and misery. The witnessing and empathetic feeling of this pain is in reality our greatest inherent clue to who we are and our inner knowing. This is our innate humanness. This is the evidence of our intrinsic virtue and is our guide to response. This place of empathy for ourselves, other humans, and all nature is our greatest attribute. Feeling our own pain, feeling others pain is natural. So too, not to feel pain and shy away from empathy are also natural responses. This “shutting off” is the way that we have learned to protect ourselves from the magnitude, impermanence and uncertainty of our human experience.
What’s going to happen next?
We have witnessed and shared in many recent global tragedies and react with heartbreak and sorrow. We hear about global heating, dire prophecies and many hearts shudder with fear. Some ask, “Why do such terrible things happen?” “What is going to happen next to us and to our world?” “We may question our own existence, meaning and purpose.” The recent situations in our world from political and social unrest to natural disasters are grave indeed and difficult to bear.
We have to be cautious in how and why we try to answer such painful and knotty questions. In fact, the more we wrestle to make sense of this misery, the farther away we can get in our understanding. Ironically, if we truly want to understand, we have to give up the idea of understanding. When we let go of our desperate musings and ensuing anxieties, we can begin to see and hear a bit clearer. As our minds and ego settle a bit from the exhausting activity of trying to make sense of things, our inner listening and seeing will begin. We start to see traces of answers which have always been there in us and around us. The answers become clearer as we continue to shine the light toward our inherent “beingness” and as we face our despair and the despair of others.
The extent of suffering
The extent of our suffering, impasses and conflict is directly related to the power of our ego self and the stories we tell ourselves about our existence and our miseries. One does not need to understand in order to validate pain and suffering. Pain is pain and does not require understanding. Just to feel it is enough. What can we do as we witness human and natural devastation? First of all, we can begin to grasp that the so called “answers” to this question are not presented in order to end pain or suffering. They are also put forth to see possibilities of other answers at deeper levels; in other words, to move inward to authentic presence and consequently move outward in sincere service.
What can we do to help?
So what can we do right now to help those in need and to help ourselves? We can definitely give material help according to our means and ability. This is good. We can also send the merit power of our good and wholesome actions and ways we live in the world to those in need. We can pray and meditate to reduce the confusion and the tension in our bodies, thus reducing or even removing the tension, confusion and despair in our world. We can also right in this moment and in every conscious moment strive to be aware of how our actions, interactions and thoughts help or hinder our responses to such difficulties on earth. Further, we can educate ourselves about this precious and marvelous planet earth on which and with whom we live in order to cultivate deeper respect, gratitude and harmony.
Mother Earth has her own experiences and needs. The earth, animals, oceans, mountains, trees, and elements all wish to be happy. If we live with awareness, if we live with respect and gratitude, then when devastations occur in the world and in our own personal lives, we can respond with wisdom compassion and skillful means. This does not prevent problems or keep us from feeling our pain or the pain of others. However, it does allow us the capacity to bear it and in this action of compassion, be of assistance to ourselves, to others and our natural world. We are able then to respond in authenticity and grace.
Reactions to why suffering exists or why “bad” things happen has been many. To address this, I can only share from my human and earthly experience. To begin, we are human beings – alive, conscious and ever-changing. We exist in this marvelous body for short period of time only. Mother Earth is alive and conscious. I am not referring here to a human-centric view of consciousness but pointing to the fact that Planet Earth is a sentient entity that supports this human life and all other life. Indeed, we are made up of the stuff of this planet and the universe. We are air, earth, water, fire and consciousness crystallized in this human form.
Human beings think and reason
As human beings we have the ability to think and reason. We remember the past and project ideas and views into the future. This self-awareness and consciousness of our existence is a wondrous thing but it can also be misused and misunderstood – leading us to a path of disconnect and separation from our world and our universe. This marvelous ability of our species to think, reason, imagine and dream can erroneously remove us from experiencing the world with our being, to filtering the world with our mind. In so doing, we mentally disconnect our bodies from nature (Mother Earth) who is really our extended body. Without the elements and the earth we simply do not exist. Placing ourselves outside of the comings and goings of life in the natural world is the mind of duality and called ignorance. It is the mind of struggle and competition not the mind of understanding, cooperation and harmony. This filtered view and our detachment from the natural world is fueling our demise. The separation from nature and this ignorance puts us in grave danger because we act in unskillful and precarious ways. Thinking that we are separate from and above nature has led us to try to “subdue”, abuse, misuse Mother Earth and ultimately ourselves. We forget our interdependence and when disaster hits, we somehow take it personally and ask, “Why?” We think that it is nature vs man.
Oneness and generosity
When we recognize that we are a part of this vast existence and when we are intimately aware of our precious body/mind, we begin to see, hear, and behave in a more responsible and generous way. We are able to respond with increased wisdom, intuition, compassion in our own lives and with others. We also connect to our inner joy in spite of our uncertainties and challenges. This does not mean that if we live in harmony with our planet that we will not have difficult experiences in our lives, personally or globally. However, it does allow us to enter into and bear the pain of others with greater ease.
This short essay was written in response to the question “why bad things happen” in light of recent global crises.
My wish is that all beings be at ease and find peace in these difficult times.
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Author | Buddha Weekly
As our human condition has it, everyone must participate to a lesser or larger degree in the “hero’s journey”. Understanding this, Theodore Tsaousidis lectures and facilitates workshops/retreats in mindfulness and in healing traditional practices. His work is offering everyday tools to help with life’s inevitable valleys. These valleys will invariably include the struggles of emotional and physical pain, the darkness of despair and the longing for healing.
Theodore assists in exploring the questions, “How do I deal with everything that is going on in my life and in the world and still finds peace and fulfillment?” “If I cannot find peace, if I cannot be centered in the whole human condition, where and when am I going to find it? If not now, then when?”
The workshops are based on the new Mind/Body science, medical research, the work of Jon-Kabat Zinn and on Theodore’s over forty years of meditation practice. The Healing Retreats conducted are founded on the Tibetan Buddhist Practices of purification and empowerment.
Born in rural Greece, surrounded by mountains and valleys, Theodore was profoundly shaped by nature, elder mentors, and the tradition of village healers. He has been a student of Buddhism for the past three decades and continues to study under traditional teachers in Zen and in Tibetan healing teachings. He is also guided by his own experiences and healing.
Theodore offers meditation and healing workshops and retreats in the Owen Sound and Toronto areas. (Those who have participated in the workshops or retreats, may continue with a group or individual support as needed to discuss one’s process.
Theodore teaches at—
MEDICINE BUDDHA TORONTO
TORONTO MINDFULNESS COMMUNITY