In this webinar, Zen priest and teacher Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara offered a meditation and reflection on how we can understand and respond to the changes of the world today.
We began with a meditation practice, after which Enkyo O’Hara shared some words of wisdom on meditation—how it can help us reconnect with our true selves, be less hindered by our egos and fears, and discern how best to be of service to the world.
“We call meditation in Zen ‘seated mind.’ It’s really a ritual practice, a way to stop everyday thought and sync into a different reality—one that recognizes our interconnectedness, that remembers our humanity, that we are an element in the vast stream of all that has ever been and will ever be, that all of the ones around us today are part of that stream that is constantly flowing.”
Remembering the vastness of which we are a part can ground us and lead us to a clearer resolve about how to lead our lives. Clarity is desperately needed in times such as these in which our whole societal structure is being questioned. Racism, disregard for the earth, the plunging economy, and other challenges all demand that we face this moment with honesty and humility.
While change may feel accelerated in this time, Buddhism reminds us that everything is constantly in flux. This impermanence, or anicca, observes that nothing is fixed or unchanging. Even at this moment, even in our bodies, subtle changes are taking place. Old cells are dying and new cells are being born.
“Our relationship to change, how we respond to change, determines the tenor of our lives and our ability to relate to others with compassion and wisdom.”
Recognizing impermanence as well as the reality of suffering—or dukkha—can help us navigate the waters of change. Enkyo O’Hara shared a teaching from Zen Master Dogen that she has found helpful in this moment:
“When riding a boat, if one watches the shore, one may assume the shore is moving. But watching the boat directly, one knows that it is the boat that moves. Dogen is asking us: what is your point of reference? If it’s the boat, or the self, that is looking, then the self sees the shore the way we look at history, or politics, or racism in this country, or the pandemic. But when we realize that it is the boat that is moving, we ourselves are also actually moving. Then we realize that we are unfolding within the activity of the world.”
This teaching reminds us that it is not only the world that is changing, but that we are part of the world and we are changing, too. “Change is happening. We are all part of this change, this magnificent change, this frightening change. How can we serve? That’s what Dogen asks us, that what the bodhisattva asks us.”
The purpose of a bodhisattva is to carry people across the sea of suffering. The life of a bodhisattva recognizes that we are alive, and therefore, responsible. We must steady ourselves, stop and breathe, and be completely attuned to the present—meeting life moment by moment. In doing so, we are able to roll up our sleeves and see, what can I do right now? How can I serve today? “Yes, everything is changing around us,” Enkyo O’Hara affirms. “Yes, we ourselves are changing, and it is a grand opportunity to serve others.”
She also acknowledged that rage is a very powerful energy that can be harnessed to “row the boat across” the sea of suffering.
“Take a moment, take a breath, and allow the rage to turn into a powerful strength instead of something against the other. Turn it into giving and serving.”
Enkyo O’Hara ended with a simple verse:
“People are sick. How can I help?
People are caught in hatred. How can I help?
People are abused. How can I help?
Reaching out a hand, I am with you and we can row together.”
Visit the Village Zendo website for more teachings from Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara and others.
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Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara is a Soto Zen priest and Abbot of the Village Zendo in NYC, which she and her partner Barbara Joshin O’Hara founded in 1986. As a Zen teacher, she is well-known for her ability to connect Zen practice to contemporary life. She is the author of Most Intimate: A Zen Approach to Life’s Challenges.
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