How to Change the World and End Suffering

By: Adam Katzen
October 2, 2017

My heart is broken. Even as I sit down to write this I can feel the water well up in my eyes.

I’m not an emotional person. Historically speaking, I don’t do emotions (working on that). But right now I’m overcome.

This morning, like all of us, I woke up to the news of the Las Vegas massacre. So far, 59 human beings are dead. Over 500 more are injured. These are mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sisters and brother, sons and daughters, friends… human beings.

There is so much pain and suffering in the world. It’s everywhere, not just in Las Vegas.

Thousands in Puerto Rico don’t have clean water to drink or food to eat. Women across the globe are oppressed, persecuted and sold into slavery. Children lose limbs and lives every day in war torn countries. The list goes on and on. These aren’t headlines, they’re human beings.

When something like the Las Vegas shooting happens we can’t help but confront this suffering. And what do we do?

We scramble to find meaning, create stories, pass judgement. Launch into hate filled diatribes about gun control and terrorism, point fingers, find fault.

So why is this the world we live in? Actually, scratch that. It doesn’t matter. Let me ask a different question, what can we do to change it?

Every week I lead an Introduction to Meditation and Buddhism group. I want to take a minute to explain why I do that, and why I think it’s so important.

When I got into meditation and Buddhism it was for selfish reasons. I had tried for years to find happiness and contentment through external means. I tried everything, money, power, success, things, drugs and alcohol, people, exercise… none of it was sustainable.

The only thing that worked was to sit and breathe. Buddhist teachings resonated with me and served as a path to an experience where my discontent and suffering was reduced.

As I deepened my practice, a shift began to take place. I started to experience foreign feelings – empathy and compassion for other beings. I stopped caring so much about myself and started to care more about others.

It didn’t happen overnight, but I eventually decided to abandon the life I had been living to plant seeds of mindfulness in others. To expose other people to a path that I truly believe can end suffering.

See, Buddhism is not a dogma or doctrine. It is a method. It’s simply a path to reduce suffering in ourselves and others.

Every week I explain the practice of meditation as a way to create space. See, space contains all things. But space is not attached to or affected by those things.

The more space we have in our minds the more space there is for emotions, difficult people and situations, pain…  to exist without us having to take action. We no longer need to act on the craziness in our heads and cause suffering in ourselves and others.

But this is just a start.

As we practice, we begin to cultivate selflessness, compassion, understanding and loving kindness for all beings. That’s so important right now.

We live in a world full of hate and suffering. It’s everywhere. And it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, dissolution and powerlessness when tragedies like Las Vegas happen. But you’re not powerless.

If you want to change the world, it’s easy. Be kind, compassionate and loving to everyone you come across all day, every day.

You may think that’s naïve, that it’s futile in the face of such overwhelming odds… but it really can change the world. Let me explain what I mean.

A fundamental Buddhist teaching is kamma, or karma. Karma means action, it’s the law of cause and effect. It’s often misunderstood.

Many people think it means that if I do good things, good things will happen to me and if I do bad things, bad things will happen to me. That’s not exactly correct.

See, good and bad are dualistic assessments about our experience, not reality. A better measuring stick is if my actions contribute to suffering or reduce suffering.

The Buddha divided karma into two different categories, wholesome and unwholesome. Expanding on this idea, Thich Naht Hanh said we have wholesome and unwholesome seeds inside us.

We’re constantly watering.

The intention with which we take action, the actions we take, how we speak, what we consume, our livelihoods, how we think… all water these seeds. What grows is the garden we live this human experience in. Not just as individuals, but all beings. Because we’re all connected.

From a Buddhist perspective the idea of an individual self, separate from whole, exists only in our consciousness. We tend to view ourselves as waves on the ocean and fail to realize that we are all water (Thich Naht Hanh’s words, not mine).

From this perspective, how we operate in this in experience influences our community garden.

Cultivating mindfulness and compassion, being kind, generous, watering wholesome seeds… can make a difference.

That’s why we practice meditation and follow this path. Not just for ourselves, but to reduce suffering in the world. This is what it means to be a bhodisattva.

In fact, our ability to hear dharma and experience freedom from suffering right now is the result of the compassionate, continuous practice of each Buddha ancestor. So it will be in the future, if we practice today.

I believe that if everyone sat for 10 minutes a day, and practiced following this path, the world would be a very different place. It starts with each of us.

Zen Master Dogen said, “there is a simple way to become a Buddha. When you refrain from unwholesome actions, follow the path, are not attached to birth and death, are compassionate towards all sentient beings, respectful of seniors and kind to children, not excluding or desiring anything, with no thoughts or worries, you will be called a Buddha. Seek nothing else”

We all influence the garden we live in. What seeds are you watering? What can you do to change the world and reduce the rampant suffering of beings in it?

On this, the anniversary of Mahatma Ghandi’s birthday I think it’s important to remember that you do have the power to ‘be the change’ you wish to see in the world.

If you want things to change, begin by changing yourself. If you want to learn how to do that, join us on Monday evenings, 7pm at Sagely Willow for Introduction to Meditation and Buddhism.

Adam Katzen is just as unenlightened as the rest of us. He writes a little bit, has meditated for a while and studied Buddhism from time to time. Adam leads our Introduction to Meditation and Buddhism class Mondays at 7pm. Word on the street is he also helps grow businesses, build organizational cultures and coaches executives on mindful leadership. To get in touch you can email him at akatzen7@gmail.com.