No Stealing Joy!

It’s so easy to lose sight of joy these days. Here’s Zen teacher Alan Senauke’s advice for keeping your Joyful Mind when fear and suffering threaten it.

Hozan Alan Senauke
11 July 2018
Photo by Conner Baker.

The flood of news, the message of “zero tolerance” — frightening, disturbing, carrying many of us to the shores of desperation — is hard to bear. An inner voice says: “This is not my country.” Another voice reminds me that this really is my country. And, in truth, the entire history of humankind is scarred by war, systemic discrimination, and violence. This is the most visible dimension of the Buddha’s First Noble Truth: that life is marked by suffering.

But as Thich Nhat Hanh writes in Being Peace, “Suffering is not enough.”:

…Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time.

In his Instructions for the Cook/Tenzo Kyokun, the 13th century Zen Master Dogen points to three minds essential to Buddhist practice: Joyful Mind, Parental Mind, and Big Mind. Dogen writes:

Joyful Mind is our spirit of happiness… We are fortunate to be born as human beings, and to prepare food we can offer to the Three Treasures. Is this not of great karmic significance? Therefore, we should be very happy.

If we are lucky, we encounter teachers who have this Joyful Mind, who turn toward the circumstances of life with a bright spirit. Although the seeds of joy are in each of us, our teachers nurtured the seeds attentively, allowing them to blossom. Because our teachers — those of today and ancient times — developed Joyful Mind, in time we begin to see that we can do it too.

It’s so easy to lose sight of joy these days. Grief and anger come in waves. But I try to remember what Dogen is saying. Our Joy arises with preparing food for the Three Treasures, serving all beings. Joy is an active principle, not a swamp of passivity. No one can steal it. Turning towards beings expresses joy. Separation, vilification, and fear express suffering and delusion. We have choices even though they are often hard to see. And remember the pseudo-Latin expression: “Illegitimi non carborundum.

Hozan Alan Senauke

Hozan Alan Senauke

Hozan Alan Senauke is vice-abbot of Berkeley Zen Center in California, where he lives with his family. As a socially engaged Buddhist activist, Alan has worked closely with Buddhist Peace Fellowship and the International Network of Engaged Buddhists since 1991. In 2007 he founded Clear View Project, developing Buddhist-based resources for relief and social change in Asia and the United States.