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October 2018 Musings

Blessed is the knowledge of emptiness.
- The Daily Recollection
 
It’s a beautiful day. The grass is wet but the sun feels hot under a clear blue sky; a brisk breeze ruffles the celadon waters of San Francisco Bay; the air hums with the sound of drums, bicycle bells, and barking dogs, the smoky smell of a picnic fire tantalizing the senses. Smiling people in colorful chitenge pants and skirts make their way to the amphitheater nestled under the soaring vermilion beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge. Precisely at noon, a microphone crackles and a familiar voice welcomes us to the Bridge Walk. “Collect your T-shirts, buy your raffle tickets, don’t miss out on those tasty veggie burritos!”  For almost sixteen years, Sangha has gathered, literally and virtually, at Chrissy Field to celebrate the work of the Africa Vulnerable Children Project.
 
It’s hard to believe we won’t do that again this year. This year we won’t have a “Bridge Walk” in the form it has always taken, but that doesn’t mean we have to forfeit a celebration! The recent launch of the 2018 Africa fundraising campaign is an invitation to Celebrate Courage, Generosity and Family.  But is it possible to celebrate without an occasion to celebrate?
 
Conditioned mind objectifies experience: I am excited about this; I am inspired by her writing; his approach disturbs me. Ego’s focus is content. Practice constantly challenges us to look beyond this conditioned obsession with content to live in process. Yes, that sunset is magnificent, but what registers wonder and awe at it? Yes, that exchange on the radio show was inspiring, but what perceives inspiration? Yes, gathering at Chrissy Field is celebratory, but what appreciates fun and oneness?
 
Why does Practice continually ask us to “locate,” via attention, the awareness that is aware? Could it be that a pre-requisite for a rendezvous with the Unconditional is a process rather than a content focus? This “Bridge Walk season without a Bridge Walk” might be a perfect opportunity to find out if it’s possible to be in wonder, awe, inspiration, connection and celebration without a sunset, a radio show or a party.
 
Good Wolf & Bad Wolf
“There is always a battle between the good wolf and the bad wolf,” says the old Cherokee woman.
“Which wolf will win?” asks the little boy.
“The one you feed,” replies the grandmother.
 
This incident was featured in the news:
Someone films a homeless man shaving on the train and posts the video online along with a rant that shames, judges and vilifies him. The post generates a storm of criticism and vitriolic hatred. Someone else investigates the “truth.” The actual story of the man on the train is heartbreaking. Word gets out about his true circumstances. A “go-fund-me” campaign is launched. An unbelievably large sum of money is raised in support of a maligned stranger on a train.
 
We always have a choice between compassion and cruelty, and it seems more often than not the choice is for cruelty. That’s not a statement of who we are as much as a statement of the extent to which we’re disconnected from our Authenticity. It requires a transformation of consciousness for compassion to be our first response in any moment. We have to train ourselves away from a perspective shaped by self-hate to an orientation that “sees goodness.”
 
That is the transformation that Living Compassion Africa helps make possible.
 
Living Compassion
 
I recently asked the Guide why the Africa Project was so important to our Practice. She responded with a parable from current events. A congressman, known for enacting extremely harsh punishments for transgressors of the law, is sent to jail. Suddenly he is having a direct experience of being subject to the very laws he helped put in place. Prison becomes his crucible of transformation.  He has the opportunity to see his fellow prisoners as people, to relate to their circumstances, their suffering, their humanity. Through this process of proximity, he discovers empathy and compassion, a perspective of non-separation from which kindness and generosity govern action.
 
Without something in our lives requiring us to step beyond our conditioned ego orientation, compelling us to be receptive to a radically different way of being than our own, we may be forever stuck in an “optical delusion of consciousness” that, as Einstein says, “restricts us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.” 
 
We engage with this community project in Kantolomba as a way of transcending some of the beliefs and assumptions that foster in us a sense of separation. Participating in the Africa Project, however one does it (donating, fundraising, volunteering, attending the Bridge Walk, following the blogs or reading the stories of life in this community) is a practice. It’s a practice of learning to be Living Compassion. It’s a practice that trains us to have compassion as our first response.

The Boddhisattva Is a Starfish
Many of us are familiar with the starfish story.
 
A storm…
A beach strewn with stranded starfish…
A little girl starts to throw them back into the sea.
Enter cynical bystander-- “There’s too many of them. You are never going to make a difference.”
A deflated little girl…
Suddenly she brightens.
She bends, picks up a starfish and throws it back. “It made a difference to that starfish,” she says.
The naysayer joins the little girl in her rescue operation.
 
Was the little girl there for the starfish or was the starfish there for her?
 
This year’s Bridge Walk campaign chronicles stories of a community’s bravery, willingness, determination and generosity. Not one community but two, the community in Kantolomba and the community of Sangha around the world. Or is it not two communities but one—all of us giving everything we can in pursuit of “transforming lives, ending suffering,” each working out our own salvation with diligence, together?
 
Are we there for the Project or is the Project there for us?
 
Practice
Check out the 2018 Bridge Walk campaign in support of the Africa Project today and have a direct experience of living compassion.

Gasshō,
Ashwini