It’s a Saturday afternoon in India and I am sitting in a health clinic waiting out the mandatory observation time after receiving the second dose of the covid vaccine. There are about 3 dozen other people here as well. I am in my own thoughts as I sit here with my breath. I am managing my pain, not from the shot but from a different health issue I am working through. The pain is intense. I am uncomfortable. I focus again on my breath. In my view I can see the nurse who is administering the vaccine doses, one after the other, in a seemingly endless line of people. I think about what the pandemic looks like through her eyes. Is she exhausted? Is she burned out like so many other health care workers I know? I say a silent prayer of gratitude for her. I realize that I have left my self-focused thoughts of pain when I saw that nurse. I began to think about all the other people in the room. Is anyone else in pain too? I looked around. There were two young men sitting behind me. There was an elderly couple in front of me. I looked at that old man and wondered; what does he worry about? Is he struggling with finances or health issues? There was a family by the wall, with young children and their grandmother too. What are their lives like? What is their reality? As I sat there, thinking about each person in the room, I wondered what life looks like through their eyes. What are they struggling with? What kind of suffering are they facing? I suddenly had a strong upsurge of love and compassion for this room of strangers and a strong desire that each and every one of them would have happiness and be free from suffering.
In the tradition of Mahayana Buddhism, practitioners aspire to relieve the suffering of ALL sentient beings. All of them. That is a lot. I sat in the health clinic, aware of intense pain in my body and realized that I don’t even have the wisdom or skills needed to relieve my OWN suffering. I thought about the people in the health clinic. No doubt they each had their own suffering too. This was just 36 people. I knew nothing of their suffering, so how could I begin to relieve it? How could I, one who cannot even relieve my own suffering, possibly reduce the suffering of others? Forget ALL sentient beings for a moment. This group of three dozen souls was already making me feel overwhelmed with the recognition that even for this small group of beings, I had no skills or ability to take away any of their burdens, let alone free them from suffering.
At this point you might imagine that I felt helpless and hopeless, but that is really not the case. What I felt initially was deep sadness, that even with a strong desire to help others, I had no wisdom or skill in that moment that could make even a small difference in the lives of anyone in that room. This deep sadness fueled a strong motivation in me. With the understanding that it is so difficult to relieve my own suffering, and seemingly impossible to relieve the suffering of others, I felt a wave of love come over me. This is what I can offer; Love. Maybe it won’t change much in the grand scheme of human suffering, but I knew that what I could offer to all sentient beings is love and compassion.
My husband sat beside me. Here is a man who understands my sensitive nature. A man who supports my growth and my aspirations. A man who loves me deeply. Such a deep love that thrived even while we were on opposite sides of this blue planet for so many years. A love that never stopped believing in us. What a gift! Tears of gratitude welled up in my eyes. Even if I lack the wisdom and skills to help people, I realized that there is no lack of love in my life. In that moment, the energy of love felt like a force strong enough to move mountains and light up the stars. I felt more convinced and motivated to become the most loving and compassionate person I could be for the benefit of all sentient beings. In my heart, I began visualizing the energy of love surrounding each person in that room. It also occurred to me that, for all I knew, someone else may be sitting in that room and sending love to ME and to everyone else. We don’t know the suffering in the lives of strangers we encounter, and we also don’t know the love that exists in their hearts.
A tap on my arm pulled me out of my thoughts as my husband signaled that it was time for us to go. On the way out, we paused in front of the nurse who had administered our vaccine. We joined our hands at our heart and bowed our heads to her as we said, “धन्यवाद" (dhanyavaad) Thank You.