Not long ago, I posed the question, “What can one person do?” In the face of all the evil in the world today (and recognizing, of course, that evil comes in many different forms), what affect could I possibly have?
This has been eating at me for a while now. It’s to the point where I don’t want to meditate, I won’t study and I only read the feature stories in my Buddhist magazines (I just read about how Rivers Cuomo of Weezer was celibate for three years before getting married in June. He’s also a serious Vipassana practitioner preparing to do a 30-day meditation retreat).
I have come to realize that a lot of my mental unrest has to do with suffering. Not my suffering, per se; rather, I think it sucks that suffering is the most basic component of life. For that fact, it really, really sucks. Can you even imagine a world without suffering? I do, every single day.
The more I think about it, I see a disconnect between my desire to live in a suffering-free world and my motivation for working to that end. But that’s another story for another day.
Nevertheless, the question still stands: What can one person do? In his book “Being Peace,” Thich Nhat Hanh answers the question.
I like to use the example of a small boat crossing the Gulf of Siam. In Vietnam, there are many people, called boat people, who leave the country in small boats. Often the boats are caught in rough seas or storms, the people may panic, and boats can sink. But if even one person aboard can remain calm, lucid, knowing what to do and what not to do, he or she can help the boat survive. His or her expression – face, voice – communicates clarity and calmness, and people have trust in that person. They will listen to what he or she says. One such person can save the lives of many.
Our world is something like a small boat. Compared with the cosmos, our planet is a very small boat. We are about to panic because our situation is no better than the situation of the small boat in the sea. You know that we have more than 50,000 nuclear weapons. Humankind has become a very dangerous species. We need people who can sit still and be able to smile, who can walk peacefully. We need people like that in order to save us. Mahayana Buddhism says that you are that person, that each of you is that person.
So there you have it. It’s not a magic bullet. I have to recognize and fully embrace the fact that there is no magic bullet. What there is, however, is me. And you. And millions of other people who realize that one person can make a difference.
The “difference” may not always be obvious, or what I want it to be, but it’s a difference. In PR parlance, it “moves the needle.” And in a world like ours, nudging the needle even one-billionth of one inch is a pretty big deal.