Realizing our hopelessness makes us real | Worship
Contemplative Buddhist teachings inform us that we are always at a crossroads, moment by moment. We have the choice to open the wound further or to heal the wound. What we choose will impact one’s self, others, our planet, our global community and future generations to come.
This wise counsel does not just exist within the contemplative practices of Buddhism – we find this guidance in almost all faiths of the heart and mind.
A Cherokee story about two wolves serves as an excellent parable concerning the choices we make for peace or war within ourselves and with others. Some of you may have heard this teaching story.
One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave tells his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. The wise elder says, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson contemplated deeply about what he heard from his grandfather for a minute and then asked him, “Which wolf wins?”
The wise old Cherokee simply replies, “The one that you feed.”
Sitting in my quiet study many nights inquiring, reflecting and befriending my own inner demons, I would ask myself, “What is the one essential element that we must do in our lives to become liberated from our individual and collective denial? What must we do to diminish the walls of our alienation from one another and to liberate our global community and our corporate institutions within this constantly changing world that we live in?”
Recently, many of my clients, colleagues, spiritual communities, friends and family have expressed deep despair and shock over the election of our current president and his seeming inability to reflect maturity and wisdom in exercising his power – a person who appears to live in a self-generated land of fake news who seems to have a fascist ideology and disdains authentic news reporting and shuns those who do not inflate him.
However, perhaps we need a president like him to remind some of us that there is no hope. We have to give up our projection of hope, and at the same time realize how helpless we actually are.
Think about it. We have been conned by all sorts of mind trips we play on ourselves and on each other. We do this locally and internationally. We engage in destructive mind games.
We have been conned by many different types of spiritual suggestions. We’ve been conned by our own egos and our own ignorance. We’ve been conned into thinking there is hope by our delegated leaders.
Ask yourself, “What promises have been fulfilled? What wolf are we choosing to feed?”
This is the beauty of Buddhist psychology: no promises are made. There is no escape from our suffering, whether we are learning to decorate the walls of our prison cells or our 5,000-foot mansions or our beautifully constructed, soulless monoliths.
Complacency doesn’t get us off the crap pile. However, once we realize we can’t get off the mandala of suffering, once we accept what we are and where we are, our lives become real and authentic.
I know this is depressing news, but once we realize our hopelessness we have the potential for great liberation and freedom from our self-generated spiritual materialism. It is this spiritual materialism that is causing us to become deeply insulted by our “me-ness.”
It becomes very clear-cut when you realize that you are hopeless. When you realize that you’ve struck someone on their bike because you were in your self-insulated capsule driving along, riveted by your “self-phone,” maybe you will wake up and realize that you can’t find your way out of the crap hole that you are in. It is at this point that we have the potential to become real because we start to realize that all human beings and institutions are interdependent and everything co-exists.
We have a civic responsibility to become socially active. However, we have an equally important responsibility to do our internal work and to not deny the mind games we play. One without the other certainly puts us at risk of living in extremes.
Sal Barba has been a practicing Buddhist for over 40 years. He integrates Buddhist psychology into his profession as a licensed psychotherapist.