At Ease Amid Activity

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Maylie Scott, an ordained member of the Berkeley Zen Center, has been demonstrating for years against international arms traffic at the Concord Naval Weapons Station near Oakland, California. Sometimes she and fellow activists sit directly on the tracks used by supply trains bearing weapons. "I go out there and iust take a deep breath," she reports. "It's partly the place, and partly the people who are so dedicated to freeing themselves and our society from our various addictions." She has found that it is possible to be at ease amid activity, and to remain calm under fire.

Buddhists aspire to remain composed in times of extremity. Whether a crisis is localized or widespread, a single clear-headed person can significantly affect others and the situation. Because the world is so often in dire straits, it is said that "all Buddhas sit in the middle of fire." During the Vietnam War, the monk Thich Quang Duc demonstrated this teaching in the most literal way possible, immolating himself on a Saigon street to call attention to the suffering in his country. A number of other Buddhist monks and nuns chose the same course. In light of such sacrifices, an ancient definition of a bodhisattva loses its rhetorical air:

Like a fire, a bodhisattva's mind constantly blazes up into good works for others. At the same time, he always remains merged in the calm of the trances and formless attainments. Ratnagotravibhaga

Bodhisattvas are also in training to prepare for a future time of need. As the fires of greed and ignorance continue to rage across the landscape, many people and many other beings are already in crisis. A fifth of the world's population are desperately poor, and even in the United States a fifth of the children now live in poverty. Unimaginable calamities may lie ahead, whether caused by social, military, environmental, or other factors. Who will be ready when disaster strikes?

Recall a time when you stayed calm in a crisis. Did your calmness affect others?