‘Thank-you Cruel Adversity’ Dharma Glimpse

by Gretchen Seiyo Sensei

This summer and fall I’ve encountered cruel adversity. Due to a severe arthritis flare I’ve been dealing with pain, physical therapy, fatigue and confronting the inescapable reality of aging. 

We cannot help but encounter negatives in life; all those things we’d rather not experience. And even the most perfect life will ultimately end. For most of us there will be suffering along the way. Naturally we prefer the positives; the happy times and accomplishments. But we do not really have a choice except in how we respond. 

Recently I was reading Dharma Breeze by Nobuo Haneda. In one of the essays he contrasts human wisdom with the wisdom of Amida Buddha. The Bodhisattva who became Amida vowed to discover meaning in all things that exist in the world. His wisdom is called the “wisdom that transforms the negative into the positive.”

Dr Haneda notes that in having attachment to only positive values, we will see only superficial meaning in the events of our lives. However all things we encounter have deeper and undiscovered truths. 

The wisdom of Amida Buddha is to seek and discover new meaning in things that are usually rejected as meaningless by human wisdom; things like illness and loss, change and sorrow. It doesn’t discount or gloss over unpleasant events. This isn’t the cliché of all things happen for a reason. Or the karmic you get what you deserve. Neither of those makes a lot of sense to me. But it is possible for the limitless light of Amida’s wisdom to replace our dualistic thinking of good and bad, for such wisdom sees the totality of our lives as meaningful.   

This equanimity isn’t about having blinders on to the world or our lives. I can’t ignore the pain in my knee or back and it will keep coming. As you would expect I’m not happy about that. Someday worse events will come. I have the same fears about that as everyone else. Intellectually I know there is nothing to be done; it is the condition of all life. But that isn’t comforting.  

However when I finished reading this essay I had a fresh thought – one that up to this time had escaped personal formulation. The negatives which we cannot ignore or successfully compartmentalize (and we try so hard) – these too are life; this too is being fully alive. A simple phrase but as I repeated it to myself I felt something open. Of all the terrible things that might happen or will happen, they occur only because I am alive. Both the lovely and the unfortunate; all belong to this miraculous existence. 

Christopher Sensei is teaching this every time he urges us to say Come As You Are to the totality of our lives. Perhaps I need to hear something over and over before it finally sinks in. Every Sunday for months now you’ve heard me say thank-you cruel adversity. I cannot tell you I have liked or properly understood this. What I had was hope that someday this familiar phrase would feel true. For me this teaching on the wisdom of Amida is a start. 

Love and beauty, pain and age; all of it – this too is life. This too is being fully alive.

Namu Amida Butsu