Tuesday, July 5, 2011


I found myself thinking about hope at the beginning of my hour-long sit in our Laguna Beach sangha this past Sunday. My mind was churning specifically around the great hope that Barack Obama managed to inspire in the course of his presidential campaign, and the way in which many of his supporters seem to have lost that hope. I was thinking further that the fulfillment of any hope is really the responsibility of the one who hopes, rather than of the one who inspires it, and that it is therefore unjust, if we have lost our hope, to heap all the blame on Obama's graying head.

When I brought this up in discussion after our sit, one of our sangha members made reference to a remark she had heard from Maya Angelou, to the effect that Obama has not abandoned us; but rather we have abandoned Obama. I think there is truth to that, but I have been unable to source the quotation online, and wonder if anyone can direct me to its origin?

In a more general way, I have become intrigued by the idea of hope, and what the Buddha might have had to say about it. "Metta" is perhaps a kind of hope: "I hope to find happiness, I hope that all living beings might find happiness..." But I see this as more of a wish, sent out as a kind of energy from the mind into the world out-there, a practical effort to make it happen--which is different, I think, from hope.

Hoping (!) to be more informed on this subject, I tried searching Access to Insight--without, I have to say, finding anything particularly useful. Should we think of hope as simply another delusion? From the Christian tradition in which I was raised, I recall the quotation from Paul's first "Epistle to the Corinthians": "And now abideth faith, hope and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." (King James version.) I could easily equate "charity" with "compassion," which is surely also the greatest value of the Buddha's teachings. So far, so good.

But "faith" and "hope" are something else entirely. I equate the former with "belief"--not a necessary value, as I understand the Buddhist practice. But what about the latter? If hope is the desire for a positive outcome, it needs to be realized through effort rather than simply experienced as a kind of aspiration. Good results come from "right effort", not just from good intentions. I cannot cling to an abstract "hope" that my mind creates, or that some other person might seem to be offering me. For it to be of value, I need to work it out, and work it through...

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