Dedicated to Smiling

I have meditated for years, and many meditations have ended with dedications. A dedication of merit sparks a gracious feeling within oneself, and I always found it to be a wonderful way to end a meditation—reflective, thankful, compassionate. I, however, had never questioned its purpose. Thursday’s class, however challenged my understanding of a dedication. Do dedications do anything? 

After attending Buddhist club on Thursday, I caught myself reflecting upon our dedication and rereading Chapter 10 of Śāntideva’s The Bodhicaryāvatā is filled with what can appear to be nonsense —i.e., dedications lacking apparent purpose. For instance,  

(35) May the ground in every place be smooth and level like the palm of a hand, free from grit and stones, and made of beryl.  

How can one justify the importance of a dedication like this? Is it possible? My science-based mind makes me want to say no. I do not believe a dedication does anything directly. My psychological-based mind, however, is inclined to say that they can indirectly affect oneself. A dedication forces one’s perspective toward the other. As mentioned in class, I feel like a dedication works like a forced smile. It is capable of slowly transforming one’s perspective, and oddly enough, I feel like a lot of people are partaking in a common forced smile during these days.  

As we focus our attention to loved ones, strangers, and people we pass in the grocery store, we are wishing them the best. In these times, our thoughts are extending outside of oneself, and I find the world to be filled with more selfless acts and thoughts than ever before.  

A dedication, like a forced smile or a forced change, can transform one’s perspective and cultivate selflessness.

The Happiness of the Other

As social isolation and quarantine persists, I believe people are realizing the importance of the other, whether that other is a family member, a friend, a loved one, a pet, a coworker, a babysitter, etc. The other in our lives has taken on a new form, and I believe we are beginning to reflect on how imperative it is that this other is happy. 

As I sit at home, I find myself most happy when I have the opportunity to connect with another being, whether that is my family over dinner, my friends over zoom, or any of my many attempts to communicate with my pets. I find that I laugh more when they smile, and I am more positive and light-hearted when they are happy. That is not to say that I am not happy alone, but I find myself most happy when another being is happy.

Being in quarantine doesn’t change the pride I feel when my friend is accepted into a graduate program or the excitement I have when it’s a friend’s birthday. Another’s happiness is directly connected to my own, and I believe in this egoistic society people are beginning to face this realization. 

While reading chapter 8 of Śāntideva’s work, I found a similar sentiment expressed in Verse 129. 

“All those who suffer in the world do so because of their desire for their own happiness. All those happy in the world are so because of their desire for the happiness of others.” (Verse 129)

Our happiness is dependent upon the happiness of others, and as we reside in this uncertain world, we are deeply  aware and concerned about the happiness and well-being of others (all of the health-care workers we don’t know, the grocery store clerk, the mail person, our family members, our friends, etc.). 

As the pandemic ensues and as it ends, we need to be sure to maintain this appreciation, this devotion to the other, for as expressed by Śāntideva, we will be happy as long as we continue to facilitate the well-being of the other.

Feeling Stuck, Feeling Wronged

One’s perspective of our world today carries a lot of weight—arguably, all the weight. As I sit in my room today (as I have done for the past twenty-five days), I feel troubled. I am beginning to become antsy. I want to go out and see the world, but I also want and need my world to heal. I know I am not alone in these feelings, but that doesn’t necessarily resolve my emotions. When reading Śāntideva’s sixth chapter of the Bodhicaryāvatāra, I found a new perspective and method to addressing my emotions.  

[106]    Beggars are easy to find in this world but those who will  

cause harm are not because if I do no wrong, no one  

wrongs me.  

I situate this verse within my own dilemma. Problems—like beggars—are easy to identify in my world (stuck inside, tired of house chores, etc.), but they do not necessarily cause harm. Rather, I situate them as the enemy. I become frustrated with them and arguably, attached to them. Therefore, I inflict the “wrong” upon myself. If I can begin to frame today’s events or even my frustrations in a more positive light, I will no longer be wronged. For instance, I should not resent the fact that I have been inside for 25 days; rather, I should value this experience. I am lucky to be able to be inside. I should be grateful for my situation. 

Furthermore, I should not identify these problems as obstacles (verse 104); rather, I should recognize each issue as an opportunity to better myself and arguably my situation. For example, I should look upon my room as my new sanctuary—perhaps, some spring cleaning is in order.  

As the current pandemic ensues within the US and the world, I need to be able to identify the origin of my frustrations and reconcile with the pain inflicted by my “wrong” perspective.  

A Change in Perspective

In The BodhicaryāvatāraŚāntideva discusses the importance of cultivating altruism now. He discusses that “everything is like an image in a dream. It is gone and not seen again” (17).  I feel as though people are embracing this sentiment in this time of uncertainty and quarantine. While the unfathomable fragility of human life is being brought to the forefront of the human mind, I am finding that humans are being forced and inclined to embrace the present. People are reflecting and cherishing each moment—no matter how mundane it is.  

Though, I, like Śāntideva, would not regard this new frame of mind as the end; one should not be complacent. Rather, people should act, and I believe they are. People are recognizing that they are just like those who are gone and those who have been touched by evil (17). 

People are acting and altruism is blossoming. I feel touched by the people who work on the frontlines of this pandemic—doctors, nurses, grocery store clerks, truck drivers, etc.— but I am also gracious to those who decide and who have committed to remaining in quarantine to protect our community. I see communities, establishments, countries, and people reevaluating their frame of thought and acting across the globe. Many are acting for one’s own health, but a multitude are acting for the sake and the health of others.  

In this pandemic, I believe that humanity is seeing the world—as Śāntideva describes— in a completely different way (17). On this note, I will provide the following excerpt by Kitty O’Meara. A friend shared this excerpt with me, and I find value in the perspective it presents. It describes how a change in perspective can incite altruism.

“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal. And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.” 
~Kitty O’Meara