Nguyen Khong in Dalat
By Elonne Stockton
In late November I travelled to Saigon, Vietnam to teach a workshop. As is always the case when teaching, I ended up on the receiving end, learning as much from the experience as I was giving.
After the workshop I made a short trip to a town called Dalat, about 5,000ft above sea level. One of the women who helped organize the event has an aunt who runs a Buddhist monastery/orphanage called Nguyen Khong in Dalat. And since the proceeds of the workshop I was teaching went towards helping pay the older girls’ school tuition, I was honored to be invited to visit them and thereby have the privilege of presenting the money to the orphanage in person.
Paul and Jutima had visited the girls a couple of years ago and were able to make a connection between the orphanage and Samahita that we all hope will continue. Now that I have been there, I am even more hopeful that more of us from Samahita will have to opportunity to visit again soon.
One of the young women I met, who was studying Buddhism, asked me, “Does Yoga also help you deal with suffering?” The question was especially powerful and moving coming from this strong soul, who had obviously been through a lot already. I could see how the Buddhism was helping her.
The question led into a conversation about some of the similarities between Yoga as a philosophical school of thought and Buddhism. We all come to realize through our own empirical experiences how practical both are as tools to help navigate our world of imbalance, a world that is filled with both infinite beauty and pain.
As we spoke, we began to discuss our common penchant for material goods. There is nothing wrong with having and enjoying things – in fact we even need to have certain things — but we must see things clearly for what they are, as impermanent. There is suffering in this world, and it comes from our misidentification with and dependency on those things that do not last, those things that are limited by time and space. There is a way out of suffering, and you find it in both Yoga and in Buddhism: by following the 8 Limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga, or in Buddhism the Eightfold Path.
Yoga and Buddhism are meant to help us overcome suffering and regain balance, find the middle path. But that is not an easy task when the world we are living in lacks steadiness and is completely imbalanced. This imbalance extends into every aspect of our society. Look at the world economy, the richest 1% of the global population own about 46% of the global wealth – so the richest 86 people own about as much as the bottom half of the world population.
The parentless little girls at the orphanage represent the deepest well of accumulated double-sided wretchedness brought on by the impermanence and inconstancy of life. There are an inestimable number of unwanted children in this world and on the flip side of that there are as many couples who have difficulty conceiving. And there are too few parentless children available to those couples who cannot conceive. That is to say, it is not that easy to adopt; the adoption process can be prohibitively long, complicated and expensive.
There are no easy solutions. Which is why finding ways to cope with the realities of life are critical to our survival. Whether one chooses the path of Buddhism, Yoga, a combination of the two or something else entirely, we find a way to live happily. We learn how to better navigate the uncertainties of life, the pleasure and the pain alike, with more evenness of mind.