Sylvia Boorstein was once being interviewed by a magazine writer and he was asking her what she thought of the new “salad religions,” where people take the parts of various religions that appeal to them and live by that. One of the things she said was that if you were just doing it alone, you wouldn’t know that “you were deluding yourself and that nothing was happening.”
Then he asked, “What’s supposed to happen?’
And she responds, “What’s supposed to happen? What’s supposed to happen is that our vision becomes transformed. We begin to see, with increasing clarity, how much confusion and suffering there is in our own minds and hearts, and we also see the ways in which our own personal suffering creates suffering in the world. That part is heartbreaking. And totally daunting. But that’s not all. We also get to see the extraordinariness of life, how amazing it is that life exists and continually re-creates itself in an incredible, spectacular, mind-boggling, lawful way. When we see clearly, our awe and our thanksgiving for the very fact that life is happening makes it impossible to do anything other than address the pain in the world, to try to heal it, to hope never to add one single extra drop of pain or suffering to it. As our understanding increases, our hearts become more responsive. We become the compassionate people we were meant to be. That’s the whole point of practice. That’s what’s supposed to happen.
“The Buddha called what he taught “good medicine.” It’s medicine with two active ingredients. One ingredient is a set of lifestyle choices–how we act, how we speak, how we work, how we manage our relationships–that produces a contented heart. The other is a program of practices for paying attention that develop the direct, personal experience of the end of suffering, the liberating awareness of the changing nature of all experience, the absolute trust in the interconnectedness of everything in creation that makes every single act important and means that each of us makes a difference.”
By combining these two ingredients and following the simple directions the Buddha offered, we can actually experience the transformation she describes. Maybe not all at once — like a flash of lightening — maybe gradually, over time, our vision clears, our hearts and minds open, and we begin to experience our interconnectedness and experience how every act of kindness makes a difference in the world.