By Kathlene Biswas My husband and I seem to be caught in the American lifestyle of pursuing money and sinking deeper and deeper into a mire of work and debt. We know this is pointless, but we have not been able to make changes that will give us more time to simply chop wood and carry water. Like so many, we are confused by the violence of life in our city and are struggling to find a way to educate our children and break this cycle of suffering. We have placed the boys in private schools to remove them from the immediate threat of guns and gangs, but we are in much conflict about devoting our lives to seeking money to try and escape the reality around us. We have been trying for several years to sell our house and find work that will allow my husband to use his talents and not commute four hours per day, but nothing has enabled this and so we are trying to look deeply into why we are where we are. We work in our community organizations trying to create community and new hope, but for each step forward, we see more and more decay around us. We are truly blessed with each other and two wonderful boys, as well as many wonderful friends around the world.
And here we come to the Mindfulness Community. So many times when I have felt despair, I have played old tapes from Thay's retreats or the music collections of Betsy Rose or Rashani. When I hear the laughs and breaths of friends, the voice of Sister Chan Khong, I am once again a flower, brought back to marvel at the joy of the present moment. Unable to participate in this year's retreats, I was sad, yet I also felt I could be sure I would have what I needed just because they existed. I am amazed at my good fortune to have met Thay, Sister Chan Khong, and the Sangha in this life, and I sometimes wonder how such a simple fool could be so blessed. I know we will not lose each other.
I have been immersed in a struggle of fear and wanting to run away because I cannot see how we will find peace in this world with all its hatred and jealousy. I fear even more the nameless violence in our cities which is not motivated by politics, but has just risen out of the meaninglessness of our life-style in this country. Even the Buddhist flag cannot help when raised before a world that cannot recognize itself. We are left with only our own actions with which to bear the standard of peace, and I am sometimes overcome with doubt that we are up to the task. I have often wondered how Sister Chan Khong ever survived all the pain and suffering she witnessed in Vietnam. I have pondered Thay's poems and wondered how his heart could bear such pain, and thought I could never be so strong. I am deeply grateful to them and to all their associates who have worked so steadily to plant seeds of compassion in this world, and I am grateful for the seed in me, and hope that I can care for it lovingly.
Mother Theresa has said that we Americans should stay in our own cities and help the suffering before us rather than go to help lepers in India. She also said that the poor in America are the most deprived in all the world because there is no spiritual life here to help them. Bearing this in mind, I know that I am very selfish to want to run away, because right here is where social change is so desperately needed. And still, I long to be in a place where I don't hear gunshots every evening, or find myself at work in the hospital where we are repairing gunshot and stab wounds on a beautiful Fall morning. And then I read more of Learning True Love, and I am ashamed at how spoiled and weak I am.
I have turned to Sister Chan Khong before, when I was overwhelmed with fear about my youngest son and his unhappiness on a retreat. I wrote her a letter, asking for advice, and I practiced listening to my breath when I could not sleep because of anxiety. By the time she approached me to answer, I was able to just smile and know that there had been no need for words to help me. But how kind of her to be willing, when there are so many greater things which occupy her. As I read her book, I know that she is here with me, and I am so inspired. I know that I have a very large Sangha that supports me as I make my way. I am deeply grateful in the knowledge of the existence of this wonderful web throughout the world, and I am thankful for Thay's teaching and the Fourteen Precepts which so clearly help to bring us back to the present moment. I can only hope to be worthy to have met all these dear and honored teachers.
Kathlene Biswas lives in Baltimore, Maryland.