I felt swallowed by suffering into the giant maw of a monstrous lion. Over the past few years I’ve lost almost everything but life, and even that was in question at times. In the midst of such suffering I learned to run towards the roar, the roaring of lions mute with fear and rage and cravings. I had to learn to do so or else the Grim Reaper would hug me with his scythe. I learned to run towards the quiet roar, the quiet ROAR of the Dharma, to stay present to the miracle of my life.
An unusual compression of numerous losses traumatized me more than I would like to admit. I even ended up semi-homeless for two months and staying with friends for a few more. I say “semi-homeless” because I lived out of a tent pitched back in the bushes behind three enormous woodpiles and a Native American sweat lodge with access to the facilities of a nearby house. All in the middle of urban North Seattle. In each moment I was awake I ran and sometimes stumbled towards that quiet roar, that quiet ROAR of the Dharma.
Madness and poverty seemed too close to comfort at times. I discovered calm stability, peace, and focus in the teachings and practices of the Buddha. In addition I experienced the power of focused prayer amid the earthy Christian shamanism of local Native American Church groups. The two dovetailed for me in a strange and smooth manner.
I immersed myself in meditation and in understanding the Dharma. As I understand it, the Dharma, also known in the original Pali language as Dhamma, is reality as it is. Dharma is consensual, everyday reality without opinions, judgments, philosophies, dogma, interpretations, stories, rituals, politics, religions, and metaphysics. The Dharma is not a vehicle for divine union although it often serves the spiritual and soulful awakening of many into connection with the divine.
Meditation practices in these cases serve to help meditators awaken into awareness. While aware one becomes mindful of one’s thoughts and feelings along with opinions, beliefs, and emotions. It helps one remove as many lenses of cultural conditioning as one is able by empowering one to simply stop and pause. In doing so one can thus see more clearly the nature of reality and of our common human suffering. Compassion arises with love and equanimity and the heart opens.
During a Sangha of American Theravada Buddhists here in Seattle this year, Rodney Smith, a former Buddhist monk, led our community in meditation and a dharma talk. He spoke of the ROAR of the Dharma, and referred to it as “the quiet ROAR of the Dharma.”
We sat and listened to this quiet roar of the Dharma. We investigated this quiet roar, this ROAR. ROAR is an acronym, and we dove in deep to inquire further. It was Tuesday, September 25, 2012.
Once, in Rodney Smith’s younger days as a novice Buddhist monk, a Tibetan monk grilled him on what advanced and arcane techniques had he mastered? A complex man who valued simplicity, Rodney replied, “I try to see things as they are.” The elder monk was stunned and perplexed.
I heard this echoed in a somewhat different way on the evening of November 1st when a young Buddhist teacher, Timber Hawkeye, passed through Seattle. He, too, was one who sought to strip dogma and rituals away from religion in his quest to honor the teachings of the Buddha unencumbered by culture and ritual.
Once Timber Hawkeye protested to one of his Buddhist teachers he didn’t “believe the Buddha intended for his teachings to get THIS complicated.” As he journeyed further upon his spiritual quest, he arrived at a simple yet pure distillation of the essence of the Buddha’s 40 years of teachings down into two words, “Be kind.”
And so day after day and night after night I continued to pay attention to the quiet roar of the Dharma. And be kind.
“Pay attention!” Mark Nilluka once admonished me. He was a Road Man, a minister who guided people down the Red Road, in the Native American Church, that I was blessed to spend some time with back in the woods near the Salish Sea this past February. “Know where you came from, know who you are, and know where you are going. Pay attention,” he would say. I last heard him speak in an all-night sit-up back in July before he was seriously injured in a diving accident at work. That lesson taught me it was also important what I paid attention to. “Pay attention…” and so I did as I listened to the quiet roar of Dhamma.
Roar. ROAR. R.O.A.R. roar…
As I understood Rodney Smith’s teachings, the quiet roar of the Dharma one awakens to is this:
R – for Relaxation instead of being uptight and edgy.
O – for Observation, for seeing what is so without judgment and opinions.
A – for Allowing things to be as they are and accepting what is so.
R – for Responding consciously instead of reacting unconsciously.
Relaxation is a conscious act. When one relaxes one is aware. Relaxation is not the same as being passive and lazy. When one is tensed up, fearful, defensive, on guard, triggered, there can be no relaxation and thus no mindfulness. A tense or lethargic person cannot observe and allow.
Observation sees what is so. An observing person is aware and conscious as he or she observes things as they are. The opposite of observation is opinionation and condemnation with all the judgment-laden divisions such arouse.
Allowing is the opposite of being unaware and mentally asleep. It is different from the muddiness of enmeshments and codependencies in relationships. Allowance is accepting what is so as what is so by letting things in without resistance. One can intentionally let go of hindrances and boundaries. There is no force, only the power of allowing. For me, it took years to finally understand that to allow for what is so and to accept things as they are is not the same thing as having to like something. I had collapsed allowing and acceptance with like, and they are different distinctions.
It finally became clear that for me to help make effective change I must first allow for what must be changed to first be so. If I push back or pull away in automatic reactivity it becomes unconscious force and thus destructive. The very issue and matter at hand I seek to change thus become more entrenched by my resistance and refusal to acknowledge its reality.
Responding to what is gives one choices of action. I can choose in what matter as how to respond. Wise action becomes what Rodney Smith calls an “activity of faith.” To respond to what is so is to be responsible.
ROAR – I relax so that I may observe what is so without opinions and judgments. In doing so I am aware. In my awareness I allow for what is so and accept things as they are. Then I am free to choose wise action as a responsible response to the events and issues before me in the present moment. I hear and listen to the quiet roar of life as it is, whether I like it or not, and respond accordingly. In doing so, suffering dissipates from one’s mind and heart. The Four Noble Truths of the Buddha regarding the nature of suffering, or in Pali, Dukkha, unfold with clarity of understanding with each roar of Dhamma.
Freedom from suffering lays in running towards each quiet roar. Michael Meade, mythologist, poet, and storyteller, loves to tell American audiences a particular story. This story is an old African folktale. As he tells his story while playing rhythms upon a drum, he invites those who listen to “run towards the roar.”
Upon the vast rolling grasslands of Africa prides of lions hunt herds of antelope and other herbivores. According to the old folk wisdom, the aging lions bereft of speed and sharp fangs hide in the tall grass to prepare an ambush. The younger, faster lions of sharper claw and fang hide in the grass upon the other side of the expanse. In wanders the herd, munching grass as they move mindlessly and oblivious across the plains. The lions are acutely awake and alert in their awareness.
As the herd passes a certain point, the old lions roar. And while feeble compared to the younger lions, they still roar mighty and monstrous roars. The trap is sprung. Terrified, the herd turns away from the roar and dashes in panic right into the line of young lions waiting in silent ambush. The pride of lions enjoys a bountiful feast afterwards.
As Michael Meade winds up his story, the elders of the tribe remind the young people that when frightened to run towards the roar, not away from it. And to do so requires awareness and presence, and yes, courage. Run to the roar. Face and embrace all you fear and push through it. After all, as Rodney Smith challenged us later that evening, what would we do differently in the same situation if we weren’t so scared?
So stop. And listen. Then run. Run towards the quiet roar of the Dharma. As things fall apart and our world seems about to end, stop and listen for that quiet ROAR and run to it with conscious intent. Recognize what your fears truly are…false evidence appearing real made up by our minds and embodied.
See the Dukkha bereft of any coverings. See suffering as what it is, and then choose what next to do if anything. You may sit still in meditation yes, and still run mindfully to the roar of Dhamma.
In doing so, you may find, as I did, your heart opening in peace and with love and compassion. In doing so, you may continue to find, as I still do, it is an ongoing practice as ceaseless in living one’s life as waves upon a beach.
William Dudley Bass
Tuesday 27 November 2012
Copyright © 2012, 2016 by William Dudley Bass. All Rights Reserved until we Humans establish Wise Stewardship of and for our Earth and Solarian Commons. Thank you.