The prerequisite to harmony, bedrock of a supportive, happy community, requires trust among its members. And for our own personal life to feel fulfilling and peaceful depends on us keeping harmonious relationships with everyone we meet – longtime friends, relatives, and work colleagues, as well as in brief, casual engagements with strangers.
However, as we know, the relationship trust of everyday life can be fluid and subject to change. When it breaks down, due to an innocent misunderstanding, disregard of a promised commitment, or even the extreme of calculated betrayal, peace between individuals and within communities becomes elusive, difficult to keep in place. It is here in this division that suffering begins.
When an acquaintance, friend or relative does or says something contrary to an agreement – when an expectation based on trust is shattered – we feel disappointment and pain. In such a situation, we are justified in modifying the relationship in order to avoid a repeat of the harmful experience. At the same time, in order to maintain our own emotional and spiritual well-being, we should neither allow the relationship to end entirely, nor permit our attitude to degrade to hardened anger, even though personal trust has been threatened. Our priority must be to preserve integrity and a caring heart. How can we do that when we feel a visceral need to dislike and stay away from someone who has hurt us?
Our practice encourages us to avoid becoming overwhelmed and resentful of the daily actions of others. Rather, to trust the universal true nature shared by all sentient beings. Buddhist teachings encourage us to emphasize this ever-present, intangible reality, even while we negotiate the transient, sometimes troublesome personal relationships of everyday life.
When seeking for guidance in our lives, we naturally look to the learned and the articulate, respected individuals whose words are intended to provide knowledge and wisdom. Yet deep inspiration that remains with us for a lifetime most often comes from the quiet, thoughtful actions of ordinary people.
Suzuki-roshi was well-educated, thoroughly trained in Buddhist teachings and, as we learn from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, articulate in his own way. But his intuitive, spontaneous responses remain indelible. He was once asked if he paid attention to his students to see if they were following the Buddhist precepts. He responded:
“I don’t pay attention to whether you’re following the precepts or not. I just notice how you are with one another.”
The award-winning 2019 film Honeyland, part documentary, part dramatization, provides similar unforgettable inspiration in its portrayal of the life of Hatidze, a beekeeper living hand-to-mouth with her 85-year-old ailing mother in a long-ago deserted village in Macedonia.
In the film’s opening scenes, we see her walking treacherous, narrow mountain trails to collect honeycombs from the hives of her swarms. We are touched by her steady, deliberate pace and upright posture, hinting at the resiliency and dignity to be later revealed in her struggles and single-minded sense of purpose. She takes care of her bees with the same affection that she does her dying mother. Removing cones of honey from the hives swarming with thousands of anxious bees, she does so without gloves or head covering. The bees do not sting her as she silently sings to them: half for you, half for me. It is a moving and remarkable show of trust, as if they share a hidden knowledge.
Later in the film, an itinerant family arrives in the empty village, complete with noisy truck and trailer, seven boisterous and ill-mannered children and a herd of cattle. When the father tries to harvest honey, the bees are not so kind to him. He screams: “The #@&?!!*?% are stinging me!”
Even though Hatidze’s quiet life has been disturbed by the new arrivals, she does not complain. In spite of the disorder and trouble they bring, she welcomes their company. She reaches out, playing and dancing with the children and teaching the family her traditional approach to beekeeping. When spring passes, the nomadic family moves on. Hatidze’s mother dies.
At the end of the film, alone with her bees and her cat, without prospects for a more secure life, she sits quietly at peace, secure in her innate trust of what is real and what nature has provided. We see the Bodhisattva, contented caretaker of the natural world.
Abbot of Kannon Do