It was a quarter to five, and I had an appointment with my new friend Lucy. "At five o'clock in the same place," I had told her, so I began to prepare for my daily walk. I put on tennis shoes and opened the window to check the weather, seeing if I needed a jacket. It was a little cool and breezy but not enough for a jacket. I went downstairs, and while I was locking the front door, I found her there waiting for me. We greeted each other and began to walk.
The route I take is a four-mile path through a neighborhood that is filled with lovely trees and lawns. Many people stroll the sidewalks not just to exercise their legs but, I think, to soothe their eyes.
She asked, "Are you ready to keep on going with yesterday's explanation?" When I nodded, she said, "I've spent all night thinking about our conversation. I understand that my life doesn't have a purpose; but what can I do about it? I want to free myself from all this suffering and anguish; but I don't know how to do it and I don't think I've even got the strength to do it. My family is falling apart."
"Well", I replied, "as I said yesterday, there are four truths of which you have to be conscious. This is not optional. It is essential. Life is suffering. The cause of suffering is craving, anger and ignorance. To end the suffering completely, you must remove desire, anger, and ignorance. And finally, freedom from suffering is possible through the practice of the Middle Way, the Eightfold Path. The comprehension of these truths leads us to the practice which can remove all this agony… the Middle Way.
"This 'Middle Way' has a method - I call it 'The Chan Method' - and it also has a goal, which is to reach the pinnacle of the mountain, the path's destination. In other words, we become able to experience life spontaneously, without being obedient to all the information that comes from the ego's interpretations and commands. We talked about that ego yesterday. It is the cause of our distress. This is the goal. This is the peak of the mountain."
I looked at her eyes and saw she was crying. I knew why. I had also gone through the same experience. Once upon a time I was in the same situation.
We kept on walking, and I continued, "The first step on the Way is called the 'Correct Understanding.' It is to understand why we do things the way we do, and why we are the way we are. We begin putting our thoughts in order. We call this 'the housecleaning' or what I like to call ' the mental recount.' You have to be objective and to see your situation - not from your personal point of view, but as it is. It is to question yourself about what the problem really is, without being dishonest with yourself. You have to face your circumstances and sit in judgment of the good, evil, or foolishness of any notions you may have.
"In chapter eleven of the Seventh World of Chan Buddhism, Rev. Ming Zhen Shakya says, 'Zen requires us to rid ourselves of the comfortable but mistaken idea that when we act in ways that are considered good, it is our ego who has acted so meritoriously, who has earned, through the determined display of various virtues, all the honor due it; and when we act in ways that are considered evil, it is somebody else who is to blame. Such an attitude, we know, is childish and immature - but at what point do we cease being children.'"
"But", she protested, "I'm doing everything right! Everything!"
"Are you sure?" I replied.
"You asked me to clarify what I explained to you yesterday, and to assist you in getting out of what you've called 'the hell' you're living now, and so I'm repeating to you again that the first step is to absolutely understand that life is bitter and painful and that this truth can not be accepted with faith, but recognized… not read in a book, but witnessed directly… not rationalized by the mind, but totally verified by experience. We have to understand that our life is bitter and painful. We have to want to change it, to be free of the pain. This is the first condition: to be an aspirant for liberation, the freedom offered by the Buddha."
She looked at me and said, "I am an aspirant. I want to be free of this trouble. Yes! What is the next step?"
"Well", I replied, "after you understand what I've just said, the second step, which is called 'Right Thought or Purpose,' consists in having an intention or a purpose of getting out of the hole we've put ourselves in due to our confusion and ignorance. Can we do it? Yes, we can. Then we ask ourselves how we're going to proceed. We must be willing to pay any price - of possessions, of self-negation, and of effort to reach that goal. Can you imagine it! The freedom from suffering! The great goal! And this is the Third Noble Truth that we talked about before, the Truth that if we stop wanting things in order to feel important and successful or because we want other people's approval and admiration; and if we stop judging everything and everyone, venting our anger and ill-will towards them, as if this will make us seem superior; and if we cease being blind to our own motivations - of being ignorant of ourselves, then we'll find that all the suffering simply disappears. We're free!"
We had stopped. She was in front of me standing up and looking at my eyes. I didn't know what to say to those eyes that were staring at me… I smiled, we laughed and then we embraced each other. There were no tears anymore on her eyes, but hope.
We kept walking in silence, breathing the fresh air of the evening. Neither of us said a word.
After awhile she said, "It's getting chilly. I'd better go home now."
I said, 'before you go home I want to give you something to think about. Do you know what the word 'tolerance' means?"
She was startled. "It's to accept the burden of others!"
"Tolerance", I said, "is recognition and respect for the opinions, beliefs, or actions of others. I would like you to think about this and also on something else that I'm going to tell you now. Please don't answer me now; we will talk about it next time we meet."
Then I repeated what the Great Master of Zen Buddhism, Hui-Neng, the Sixth Patriarch Chan, had said, "Those who practice perfection of forbearance do not see anyone's faults, regarding enemy and friend as equal, none being right and none being wrong. When injured by others, they accept it gladly, even being more respectful. Those who behave in this way can accomplish perfection of forbearance."
Somebody said - I don't remember who it was right now, "If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you will have complete peace." That is the answer…
We had come to the end of the journey and were standing in front of her house. She expressed her gratitude and reminded me that we had another appointment to walk again the next day, "to learn more," she specified. I replied that it would be a pleasure.
When I left her house I felt in peace, this Divine Peace that cannot be described… Then I remembered the saying of No Ajahn Chah, "Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on the hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it." And I was sure of that!
I went home and began to do the dishes.