"Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without." ~ Buddha
The Wisdom of Balance
Posted on October 18, 2018
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest in Kyoto Japan
Recently while walking through the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in Kyoto, Japan, I was able to study the delicate balance among water, soil, plants, and animals. One of the lessons taught in the Bamboo Grove is that man can change this balance of nature for the good by stabilizing it at new levels and by adding new harmonious elements, as when he stores the water of ephemeral streams to create green oases. Or he can throw it out of balance by selfish or ignorant use of resources, so as to set in motion a vicious chain of destruction, as when he slashes a forest and launches a whole new cycle of soil erosion. I believe that each of us finds the greatest use and greatest satisfaction in a life which respects and kindles the spark of the divine that is found in the conscience of every other human being and which nourishes the harmonious growth of individual human beings.
The greatest art in spiritual life is finding balance. The entire teachings of the Buddha are summed up in his encouragement to find and travel the middle path…..to seek neither the extremes of mortification and aversion for life, nor the extreme of indulgence, losing ourselves in pleasure-seeking. The balance between these two is the path of awakening and freedom. The path of balance is to be with what is true in life and to love that, to be committed to the truth on every level of our being.
The deepest joy we can find in life comes from within our own being and not from the circumstances around us. To find deep joy, which is radically different from being busy, distracted, or entertained, always takes a balance of heart. As one meditation teacher put it, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”We cannot control or stop the changing circumstances in our lives, but we can learn to balance amid them and to bring balance to them. Learning that poise and balance is the greatest skill in spiritual life: knowing when energy and resolution is needed and when it is time to soften and surrender; knowing when we need greater faith or greater inquiry; listening to the rhythms of our own heart as it tells us it is time to seek greater solitude and simplicity or a time for service, to make our care and love visible. There is no formula for this responsiveness. We must simply learn to listen with and open heart to what is ever in this moment, this day, this life.
A great mystic once said, “Of what avail is the open eye if the heart is blind?” True wisdom never divorces us from the travails and sorrows of the world but teaches us to live with greater integrity and compassion in the midst of them. Wisdom reveals to us that serenity is not some lofty peak we inhabit after transcending the world but is in learning how to respond to the challenges of this very life with great love. Wisdom is not an attainment but a way of being, a way of responding in which we neither resist the challenges life brings to us nor are overwhelmed by them. It is a question of balance. The visible expression of wisdom lies in the skillful means through which we manifest it. Integrity, forgiveness, and honesty are the responses of a living wisdom. They are the qualities that enable us to walk in the spirit of freedom and to learn the lesson of life.
We are witness to an age of endless conflict and destruction. Our planet suffers, human relationships break down, and individuals live in alienation. The wealth of ideas and formulas that have been produced have yet to bring about any meaningful shift in this cycle of pain. The pain of our world will not be changed by yet more ideas. What is needed is a profound change in the human heart. Let us not respond to the pain that surrounds us with righteousness, pious formulas, or withdrawal; let us learn how to respond with love and integrity. Let us not allow our lives to become a record of all the things we wish we had done, might have done or should have done.
The good life, the middle path, like the balance of all the complex elements of a river valley, is founded upon friendly adjustment. It changes slowly, but it leads always towards a more fruitful development of individual beings in service of each other. It embraces confidence in fellowship, tolerance in outlook, humility in service, and a constant search for the truth. To seek it in our own lives means imperfection and disappointment but never defeat. It means, I believe, putting ourselves in harmony with the divine order of love, with the great stream of forces that slowly are shaping…..in spite of man’s ignorance and selfishness…..an enrichment of the human spirit.