Editorial: In the Fire of Samsara

Featured in Mountain Record 31.1, Fall 2012


The headlines roll in day after day—the bloodshed in Syria, cholera in Haiti, the devastating floods and crop-scorching heat brought on by global warming. The details vary, but from the beginning, the news of the day has always echoed the Buddha’s original teaching: our world is steeped in suffering. On a planet designed to function in perfect harmony, we human beings find ourselves surrounded in suffering of our own making. Taking in the current state of the world, it can seem as though we are in the midst of a moral crisis—but has this realm of samsara ever been otherwise? This issue of the Mountain Record takes up the theme of Morality in the World, the second in our three-part series on morality. In the previous issue, we looked at spiritual teachings on morality; in these pages we throw open the doors of the teaching hall and step out into the swirling world filled with questions: How do such teachings function in the complexity of the world? How does a moral lens help us understand the pain we see around us? Most importantly, how can morality help our world heal and move toward peace? Throughout this issue, the authors featured point to the truth of selflessness—this, it seems, is the source of any deeply moral response. Rather than following our impulse to turn away from difficulties, to separate or isolate ourselves, a truly ethical response requires that we muster our courage and practice intimacy—that we be, as Daido Roshi puts it, “willing to enter the fray.” This can mean rolling up our sleeves and taking action, as Rita Gross suggests in her call to Buddhists to advocate for gender equity. It can also mean turning inward to clarify our own heart and mind, as Ryushin Sensei teaches. There is bold action, like the late Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai’s efforts to green Kenya, and the ordinary sphere of our daily life, which Shugen Sensei points to as the place of “miraculous activity.” The pieces in this issue are not easy to read—Edward Tick on training soldiers for war, Wendell Berry on our greed-based economy, Alice Lok Cahana on her Holocaust childhood—but even as they present a challenge to our hearts and minds, the other side is present. Our humanity gives rise to pain and suffering, but it also contains our capacity to effect change, to let go of our self-centeredness, to discover and offer true peace. I hear Daido Roshi’s voice coming off the page, insistent and challenging, “The fire is always the place of practice.” It’s up to each one of us to grapple with how to be in this burning world, to discover how to manifest peace in the midst of conflict. Sometimes the path is clear, other times we may struggle to find our way. But for every moment of suffering, a moment of peace is possible. The teachings are this simple, and also this profound.

Danica Shoan Ankele, MRO
Mountain Record, Editor