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Dark Night of the World

August 20, 2013

Q: I can’t help being concerned about the state of the world. It seems very difficult, almost impossible to be recognized as an enlightened person or to have a discussion about Dhamma without falling into conflict. How should we deal with this?

The Arahant: With great caution. Darkness reigns in the external world now. That’s just the way it is. Don’t worry so much about the world, but concentrate on attaining and maintaining your own enlightenment. Every evening, the sun sets and appears to be swallowed up by the earth. Then darkness predominates, and the only light remaining is within. Similarly, this is a time of darkness; we are surrounded by ignorance and vicious lies. You should return to your inner light, maintain it, and quietly nourish yourself with it.

It is not yet time for the dawn. Just as surely as night has come, the dawn is coming in its time; but there is still much darkness remaining. In these nights of the world, full of darkness, deception and insanity, maintaining an attitude of detachment is most important. If we fight against the darkness when it is ascendant, we will be defeated and suffer great misfortune. If we react negatively to the lack of visible progress, we can lose our hard-earned detachment and enlightenment. Giving in to despair would extinguish our inner light and block the aid of the Dhamma. If we try to teach or persuade others to return to the light now, we will exhaust ourselves in vain.

Now vicious, oppressive egotists occupy the highest positions; wise, honest and humble people are ignored. In unfavorable times like this, we should disengage from the external world, retreat to the safety of the ancient Dhamma and cultivate inner perseverance. Do not focus on or interact with the negativity; that would only strengthen its grip on you and corrupt you. Step aside from taking any position in the world; yield, let go and allow people and events to pass without attachment. Give your full attention to your inner light, your devotion to what is right, and let the Dhamma speak and act through you.

“These two qualities have a share in clear knowing. Which two? Tranquillity (samatha) & insight (vipassana). When tranquillity is developed, what purpose does it serve? The mind is developed. And when the mind is developed, what purpose does it serve? Passion is abandoned. When insight is developed, what purpose does it serve? Discernment is developed. And when discernment is developed, what purpose does it serve? Ignorance is abandoned.

“Defiled by passion, the mind is not released. Defiled by ignorance, discernment does not develop. Thus from the fading of passion is there awareness-release. From the fading of ignorance is there discernment-release.” — Vijja-bhagiya Sutta (AN 2.30)

In these times progress may seem slow, but actually this is the time when we can make the greatest progress. Remember that much of the work of the Dhamma is hidden; it acts in silence and works through tranquillity. We enable and assist it by remaining detached, accepting, and reserved in the face of negativity, letting the darkness play itself out until it inevitably destroys itself.

Q: Barring some extraordinary occurrence, I don’t see how the world situation could get any worse.

The Arahant: It won’t get much worse; the darkness has reached a climax. The light of the dawn has already begun to reach up from beneath the earth. If you hold firm to acceptance, balance and correctness, you will emerge successful. This success will come by waiting for the proper time. When it is time for the dawn, the darkness will pass of its own accord.

While we wait, cultivate a state of grace. Keep the strength of simplicity and self-knowledge within; outside, manifest the beauty of acceptance and gentleness. Cultivate this quality of grace in your way of being and especially in your relationships. Grace gives you the power to dissolve all obstructions in your dealings with others. Use this time of waiting to train your thoughts and actions in grace.

Be patient. Human nature wants to use force to get what we want. Ego encourages us to act aggressively, to speak boldly, to intimidate our way through difficult situations. But that is false power. Temporary victories can momentarily satisfy the ego, but they are illusory because they leave others resentful, leading to revenge. Genuine power and lasting progress come from a completely different kind of strength.

Inner strength is characterized by steadfast devotion to humility, simplicity, equanimity and acceptance. Gradually let go of the vain, bullying energy of the ego and accept the quiet guidance of the Dhamma. Acquire the substance and depth of character that make lasting good fortune possible.

Relinquish self-important maneuvering. Quiet the urge to precipitate action. Instead, return to stillness and contemplate the inherent wisdom of the principles of the Buddha. By practicing quiet strength within and gentle acceptance without, you acquire grace that dissolves all barriers to progress. Then when external conditions improve, success will come automatically.

This is to be done by one skilled in aims
who wants to break through to the state of peace:
Be capable, upright, & straightforward,
easy to instruct, gentle, & not conceited,
content & easy to support,
with few duties, living lightly,
with peaceful faculties, masterful,
modest, & no greed for supporters.

Do not do the slightest thing
that the wise would later censure.

Think: Happy, at rest,
may all beings be happy at heart.
Whatever beings there may be,
weak or strong, without exception,
long, large, middling, short, subtle, blatant,
seen & unseen, near & far, born & seeking birth:

May all beings be happy at heart.
Let no one deceive another
or despise anyone anywhere,
or through anger or irritation
wish for another to suffer.

As a mother would risk her life
to protect her child, her only child,
even so should one cultivate a limitless heart
with regard to all beings.

With good will for the entire cosmos,
cultivate a limitless heart:
Above, below, & all around,
unobstructed, without enmity or hate.
Whether standing, walking,
sitting, or lying down,
as long as one is alert,
one should be resolved on this mindfulness.

This is called a sublime abiding here & now.
Not taken with views,
but virtuous & consummate in vision,
having subdued desire for sensual pleasures,
one never again will lie in the womb.” — Karaniya Metta Sutta (SN 1.8)

From → Q&A

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