On a recent trip to Virginia, to inaugurate the establishment of our most recent Affiliate Zen group, performing Initiation (Jukai) ceremonies for three members who form the basis of the new community, I had been thinking of Zen as what the world needs now. This recalls the popular song first released in 1965, sung by Jackie DeShannon. The lyrics begin:
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It's the only thing that there's just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No not just for some but for everyone.
As I settled into my room and turned on the television, suddenly this familiar melody began wafting through the room, as if someone was reading my mind. It was a much more recent version, but still had basically the same, somewhat insipid message. Turned out to be the theme this hotel ran throughout their corporate messaging. But this coincidence made me think that maybe I am on to something.
What the world needs now is not love, in my opinion, depending on what we mean by “love.” There are few instances of this term appearing in English translations of Buddhist texts. One that stands out for me is in what is usually referred to as the “Loving Kindness Sutra” or Metta Sutta, attributed to Buddha. Following the stanza which states the overall theme, “May all beings be happy,” it continues:
Let no one deceive another nor despise any being in any state
Let none by anger or hatred wish harm to another
Even as a mother at the risk of her life watches over and protects her only child
So with a boundless mind should one cherish all living things
suffusing love over the entire world above below and all around without limit
So let one cultivate an infinite good will toward the whole world
Well, good luck with that, you might say, though no one would object to the sentiment. It is survival of the fittest, after all; there have to be losers and winners. But the Buddha was not being sentimental. He was simply pointing out the interconnectedness of all beings, on both biological and social levels. But this teaching included all of sentient life within its embrace, not exclusively humanity. This may be the first ecological sermon ever preached (the back story is that so many followers had come together in this area that the trees of the forest were “unhappy”). He was also suggesting that all beings be happy with reality as it is.