February 2020 Message
“Bodhi Day Talks”
by Jr. YBA Students - 12/8/19
When I was younger, I wanted to be a gardener when I grew up. I enjoyed watching plants grow, spending time outside, and admiring the beauty of nature around me. I have long ago lost my green thumb, but in a world threatened by the perils of climate change, it is more important than ever to be mindful of the impact our actions have on the Earth. As I have immersed myself in the world of environmentalism, I have observed how it is interconnected to some of the fundamental ideas of Buddhism.
I joined my school’s environmental club in my sophomore year, driven by our student body’s inability to sort trash. Even though we have adopted a zero-waste, two-stream system where recycling and waste are sorted off-campus, it seemed to me that students either didn’t know how to sort their trash or simply didn’t care. What I thought would be a fairly easy problem to solve turned out to be much more complex than I could have ever imagined. As I started small by gently admonishing my friends who threw their trash into the wrong bins, I was presented with questions I didn’t know the answers to. Are milk cartons, which are made of food-soiled paper but covered with a lining, compostable? If someone threw away ice cream into the recycling/trash bin and it melted onto clean paper, would that paper no longer be recyclable?
As a society, we have made it very easy for people to choose the wrong options. It’s incredibly convenient to buy single-use plastics then toss them into the trash can, from which they are whisked away by garbage trucks. We don’t have to stop and think about what effect our consumption of plastic has on the environment. The problem is that people do not question the standards society sets. The problem is that we are not paying for the impacts our actions have on the environment, which will no doubt catch up to us later, and we fail to educate ourselves about them. This leads to the interconnectedness of everything on Earth. The actions we choose to take now impact the world around us in the present and in the future. Going back to the plastic example, our excessive plastic usage has trickled down into natural ecosystems. In fact, over 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals die yearly from ingesting plastic. And microplastic permeation doesn’t end at sea life - people who regularly eat seafood ingest up to eleven thousand tiny pieces of plastic each year. This is a cycle in which we end up poisoning the world around us and also ourselves.
I don’t mean to scare you, well, maybe a little. Our temple has already made great strides in committing to lessening our environmental impact. From reducing single use waste from temple lunches to correctly sorting trash at Obon, our small efforts around the year amount to a lot.
One of our duties as Buddhists is to be kind to the things around us, as well as ourselves. I encourage every one of you to be mindful of the impact your actions have on the environment and on our collective future. We each have the power to make better decisions and lessen our environmental footprint. Change starts with the individual, it starts with us.
Hi guys! So as you know my name Is Cassidy Burns and I just got into my first year of high school over at Prospect. Now some of you may sadly know my older brother, Conner, 4 years ahead of me and just went off to college this past September. Think of it like this, the embodiment of evil has finally moved and I couldn’t be more excited.
For once you can lie on the couch without having a pillow thrown at your face, or be in the car without him taking up five miles of the leg room. Can’t forget the best part, at hotels you get one big bed to yourself instead of waking up freezing because he pulled every inch of blanket onto his side.
It’s only been about 2 months since he’s left and I’ve already done the dishes and taken out the trash more times than I can count. And yet still there’s been times when I’ll come home and wait for a good 5 minutes for him to reply by screaming hello. When I make some ramen and walk into his room to ask he wants some only to see an empty bed I can’t help but feel a little sad.
Having an empty house, it can almost be unsettling. I’m one of those people that’ll turn on music just so that it’s not quiet but when Conner was home I never had to as he’d already make the house more lively. Without him here, days have gone a little slower and as much as I hate to admit it, I miss having him around.
Though he’s annoyed me and no doubt has gotten on my nerves, I still laugh my hardest around him or scream to the music we’re blasting in the car until my voice dies out. I’d never noticed until he was gone how much of a difference he had made on my life until he was gone and I was an only child.
Now I’ve noticed this has actually happened a lot of times. Maybe you had a great teacher last year and realize how much they actually helped you get through the school day. Or your sport season ends and you don’t know what to do with the free time. You never notice something (Or in my case someone) until it's gone. That’s the sad truth that you’ve gotten so used to something you don’t appreciate it as much as you should. Buddhism has taught me that even the small things in life can change you or just make your day better. Now of course I’d never say this all to his face, his ego would grow to the size of the temple, but I’ll forever be more grateful of the time I spend with him.
One of the most important lessons in Buddhism is impermanence, nothing will last forever. The Buddha once said, “The world is afflicted by death and decay. But the wise do not grieve, having realized the nature of the world.” Growing up Buddhist, I never really paid much thought to this idea until February 26, 2019. On this date, one of my closest friends, Kirk, passed away because of a car crash at age 17. We had been good friends since first grade, so hearing this devastating news was heartbreaking.
Walking into school the next morning, I could not speak and could not stop crying. It didn’t feel real. The school had a blanket of sadness like never before. Our entire school felt the effects of Kirk’s passing. I ended up leaving school early to meet with some of his other close friends to talk about old memories we had with Kirk. With so many people grieving and feeling the same way I was, gave me the support I needed. There were counselors provided and safe spaces to just escape. The school also held a candlelight vigil for him, and I made a little shrine for him to put in my room.
Experiencing a loss of someone so close to me shifted my priorities. All of a sudden, my top priority was not homework and school. I found myself slacking on classwork and homework. I stopped studying because I felt that it was less important, therefore my grades slipped and my attention span decreased. My top priority became spending time with friends and loved ones. This change in priorities helped me come to a realization that loss is one of the hardest things to go through, yet it is one of the only sure things in life. Little did I know, spending time and talking to my friends would help me heal.
I now know that I need to make life more meaningful. Knowing this, I slowly refocused on school as a pathway to making my future purposeful.
Last night as I was googling how to write a Dharma message, an article suggested that I talk about my everyday life. Which right now consists of college apps upon college apps upon college apps. Some people channel their stress productively, while others dye their hair a crazy color and call it a day. However, I’ll admit at first I underestimated just how much this process would be consuming my life. What these colleges are really asking for is for me to tell a story. Specifically My story condensed into a few hundred words.
As a book nerd, typically telling a story would follow the Hero’s Journey or the three act structure. The protagonist, or hero, would receive an initial call to action followed by the trials and tribulations of their quest, until they finally achieve or don’t achieve what they set out to accomplish. For example, imagine there’s this prince who’s surrounded by riches and beauty all his life. Until one day he sees beyond the walls of his palace where people are suffering, calling him to go on a quest to learn why they suffer. Sound familiar?
If I were to write my essay in this format, my call to action would be the need to apply to college, then the struggles of writing these essays, and finally my big revelation which I am sharing here today which is that a person’s life doesn’t follow this structure. We’re not characters who go through just one journey. Over the course of our lives we will experience the hero’s journey countless times with every hardship we face, purely due to the truth that is “life is suffering” and nothing stays the same. Ever.
Whether it be dealing with the inevitable change that comes with growing up, or grieving and accepting loss, the only way we break out of our suffering is through achieving enlightenment. Which as I talked about last year, is somewhat of an unattainable goal. I believe we encounter brief moments of enlightenment in the small everyday acts of kindness and compassion, however going through this cycle of suffering only allows us to learn more about ourselves. This three act structure is how we make decisions in our life every day, reflecting the causes and conditions of how we got to where we are today. I believe it’s important to reflect on our journeys throughout our lives and strive towards enlightenment with every choice we make.