Hopeless?

In When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chödrön writes,

Turning your mind toward the dharma does not bring security or confirmation. Turning your mind toward the dharma does not bring any ground to stand on. In fact, when your mind turns toward the dharma, you fearlessly acknowledge impermanence and change and begin to get the knack of hopelessness…

It describes an experience of complete hopelessness, of completely giving up hope…

Suffering begins to dissolve when we can question the belief or the hope that there’s anywhere to hide.

This brings us close to what has become for me a key issue in practice and in experience. Chödrön goes on to point out that this sense of hopelessness, of “nowhere to turn” and no one to turn to, lies at the heart of non-theism. There is no cosmic babysitter, she explains: “In a non-theistic state of mind, abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning.”

Now, there is a decided attraction in such a point of view. For all the relinquishment of the sense of “a solid, separate self” it is fatally easy, down this road, to see oneself as some kind of Raymond Chandler anti-hero, hat pulled low, collar turned to the rainy night, face starkly outlined by the light of a match held in cupped hands. “There’s no hope now, baby. And y’know, that’s okay…” The End.

The Buddhist opposite, I guess, is shinjin. Here the practitioner is giving up not hope, but self-reliance. She abandons her self to the tariki, the “other-power” of Amida Buddha inherent in the nembutsu, the core practice of Pureland Buddhism. As Jeff Wilson points out,

The nembutsu that we say, that others can hear, is only the tip of the shinjin iceberg; the nembutsu we recite is only the most visible sign of the working of Other Power within the shadowy ego-self. That inner working of shinjin may show through as nembutsu, but it can also show through in a hug, a gift, a kind word, laughter.

Nembutsu is a vital avenue for expressing our faith, but it need not be taken for the whole iceberg. There’s really no limit to the possibilities of expression of the trusting heart….

Humility and trust go hand in hand, forming the second part of the true trusting mind. Shinjin is another name for this development of humility-entrusting.

Jeff Wilson, Buddhism of the Heart: Reflections on Shin Buddhism and Inner Togetherness

The issue of humility is one, of course, with which I had continually to struggle during my long years as a Christian contemplative. My practice was always the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” – a prayer repeated in very much the same manner as the nembutsu, formally for regular periods each day, and spontaneously from time to time for the rest of the day – and night, too, given the way it tends to pop up whenever one turns over in the night, or half-wakes to look at the clock.

The Nembutsu and the Jesus Prayer are both ways of abandonment: not of the abandonment of hope so much as the abandonment of self-will, of giving up not hope but self-reliance, of giving up oneself into the continuum of something not other but utterly interpenetrating. Jean Pierre de Caussade puts it solidly (in Christian terms of course) in his title Abandonment to Divine Providence or The Sacrament of the Present Moment. The fall out of self is the fall into now, into the ground of being, that isness that is always now and in which all beings rest.

The more I go on, the more fundamental this abandonment seems to be for me. However threadbare devotional practice can be, however compromised and compromising the religions we humans build around our moments of clarity and truth, there is no way past the frailty and limitation of the self, its littleness and its bombu imperfection. All its struggles for self-validation will sooner or later have to be given up in death anyway. To let it dissolve in light is no loss, but limitless grace.

3 thoughts on “Hopeless?

  1. Pingback: Hopeless? | Silent Assemblies

  2. Pingback: Hope against hope | An Open Ground

  3. Pingback: Hope against hope – A Long Restlessness

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