(Photo above by Tony Heally / Unsplash)
With an undefeated heart we can have an undefeated year.
It’s close to midnight and you’re doom scrolling again. Your thumb seems to have a mind of its own as you find another horrific image, another headline that makes you forever question: Will I ever be safe again? Why is it so hard for people to treat each other with respect and dignity? Can our planet survive?
Let’s stop our thumbs. Yes, life will never be the same as it was before 2020. But will our new normal be a change for the better or the worse? Buddhism teaches that if we have an undefeated heart, we can find the wisdom to create a new, better self during these times, as well as a new and better age.
Historically, times of great disruption are also equally great opportunities for change.
After all, historically times of great disruption are also equally great opportunities for change.
As the plague swept through Florence in the 14th century, it created serious instability in the ruling classes of the day who controlled each aspect of government, business and the arts. To keep commerce moving, the social elite had to fill vacancies in government and business management with ordinary laborers of the lower classes. This incredible social mobility led to widespread literacy and education, and eventually ushered in the Italian Renaissance.
Though the plague was a time of heartbreak, tragedy, pain and despair, Florentines forged a resilient spirit that allowed them to create monumental scientific and artistic breakthroughs.
What can we learn from this? To reclaim 2020, we need an undefeated heart.
Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda writes, “Unhappiness is not caused by adverse circumstances; it is caused by our own despair and negativity.”
It’s natural to attach our own doubts and negativity to setbacks we experience in life, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Losing a job does not mean we are a failure. Juggling credit cards to pay bills in a time of crisis does not mean we have to live in shame. Seeing human rights disregarded each day in our world doesn’t mean it always has to be this way.
Buddhism teaches we each have unlimited wisdom, courage and compassion. Each problem is an opportunity to prove to ourselves again the greatness of our own life. If we can detach our negativity and self-doubt from our setbacks, and instead take on each problem with the feeling that this is our chance to show the world what we’re made of—we can still live each day with joy and satisfaction.
Believing in ourselves is a muscle; Buddhist practice is how we work that muscle each day and make it strong.
Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the Buddhist name of our unlimited potential. To chant it each day is to train ourselves to see our own greatness and capability.
After all, we all know we can do great things, but do we believe it? Believing in ourselves is a muscle; Buddhist practice is how we work that muscle each day and make it strong.
This undefeated heart we forge through our Buddhist practice can help us open our eyes to the opportunities in our changing world.
Shakespeare wrote several iconic works, such as Macbeth and King Lear, in lockdown, while waiting out the 15th-century plague at his home in Stratford-upon-Avon. Sir Isaac Newton discovered his three laws of motion, which included the law of gravity, at home after Cambridge University shut its doors due to a 17th-century outbreak of the plague.
Can we use such time to tackle projects we forever dreamed of completing: a novel, a law degree, a course in Thai cooking?
Of course, 2020 is not just an opportunity to try our hand at painting. The horrific events we see in the news can give us an opportunity to have heart-to-heart talks with people around us about human rights and what a just world really could be like.
The events of our day have also shaken our friends to the core. It might cause the hurt or loneliness they’ve held inside for years to finally come to the surface. Reaching out to them, allowing them to open up to us, can create stronger friendships.
Whether it’s our friendships, our career or our world—2020 is not just to be survived. It’s an opportunity to thrive and a create a new, better age.