Samsara is already broken

Samsara is the wandering-in-circles world. When people say, “the world is going crazy”, we are talking about samsara. It is the human world, which is driven by the hub of the Wheel of Life and Death, the three poisons: greed, hatred, and ignorance. This wheel turns round and round endlessly. As far back as we know, the historic world has been crazy. This is what Buddha means in the first noble truth when he says the human world has suffering in it. Another translation of suffering or dukkha that I like is dissatisfaction. In our ordinary heads, we are always dissatisfied.

This is why I say samsara is already broken. Samsara is a view that sources from the idea that things are solid and that appearance is everything. Its nature is to be broken, corrupt or ultimately dissatisfying. Samsara is the world of form, self and story and that story always end in a tragedy — we die. In our ordinary minds, we perceive this death as an annihilation of a self that was actually never solid in the first place.

Years ago, when I studied Pema Chodron for the first time and she was teaching Tonglen and the Lojong slogans, she said something that really broke me open and stayed with me. Her sound byte was: “Unrequited love is the heart of the world.” She called it our ‘soft spot.’ The Rolling Stones sang, “you can’t always get what you want.” This “soft spot” is very important to spiritual life. To see the world through the eyes of our ‘soft spot’.

We can learn to stay with our “soft spot” instead of running away. Katagiri Roshi’s first words to me were, “You can’t escape pain.” Our brokenness, through the many losses in life, can open us to our tenderness and vulnerability. From that point, we can cultivate compassion for the human condition. This brokenness becomes the source of our practice. We go beneath the story and narrative of life and touch in on the “original mind”, the mystery of life, present in everything and including everything, giving us a new 360 degree perspective. If we can interrupt our linear, historic thinking, we can hold a different view altogether.

One mindfulness practice I have is to say “samsara, samsara” in the back of my mind in a soft and loving voice when things are hard and difficult in the surface of my life. I can remind myself that this is samsara right now. The story I’m upset about, the story I want to fix is already broken and cannot be fixed.

One of our impermanence verses is:

Birth will end in death
Youth will end in old age
Wealth will end in loss
Meeting will end in separation
All things in cyclic existence
Are transient and impermanent.

In order to handle these difficult experiences of life, I have to dig deep down into a place in myself that can see each moment with equanimity. I have to accept my soft spot and use it to cultivate wisdom and compassion and to respond to the broken world and myself as wisely and lovingly as I can. We dig deep down and find what Katagiri Roshi called “universal perspective”. It is a place that goes beyond self into the boundlessness of bodhi-mind. With this huge perspective, I can find peace even in the midst of the unrequietedness of life. With our spiritual awareness, we can see the complete within the incomplete.