Tales of Courage

Tonight let us dedicate the merit of our sit to the memory of Jane Elioseff, a founding organizer of the Insight Meditation Houston sangha.  Jane died on Friday, June 29.

Before guiding you in metta practice, I want to tell three stories about courage.   Last night Mark and I saw The Lady, a movie about the remarkable bravery of Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Burma’s opposition political party, the National League for Democracy.  Until her release last year, dictatorial generals held her under house arrest for 15 years, refusing to authorize visas for her terminally ill British husband or their two sons to visit her.  It wasn’t until June of 2012 that she received in person the Nobel Peace Prize that she was awarded in 1991.

Although the film barely refers to her Theravada Buddhist formation, Aung San Suu’s meditation practice has been key to cultivating courage and insight during her prolonged, enforced isolation.  Maintaining that her greatest struggle has been to develop [quote] “more and more awareness, not only day to day but moment to moment,” she acknowledges that achieving “purity of mind” requires life-long discipline.  Regular metta (loving kindness) practice has helped Aung San Suu to perceive the fear underlying the violence of the Burmese junta and to repeatedly offer opportunities for peaceful dialogue.  To illustrate that metta practice is not passive, she points to the story about the Buddha risking his own safety to stand between two warring parties, in order to protect them from harming one another.  The combination of Vipassana and metta practice has helped Aung San Suu become an inspiration for millions of people.

Far less famous but with similar courage, one of the members of our sangha, Thuyet Nyugen, has been applying the same practices during his recovery from painful herniated disks in his back. When I spoke to him last week by phone, he reported that he has been bedridden in such severe pain that he couldn’t sit to use his computer.  Thuyet just celebrated being able to walk very slowly down the street to the seventh house from his home.  In his meditation practice, he has been bringing awareness to subtle changes in the intensity of pain, and he sends metta to himself and to all who are experiencing pain.  Thuyet misses our Monday night meditation classes and hopes to join us again in August, when he plans to give a Dharma talk about what he has learned during his recuperation.

The third story of courage has to do with Jane Elioseff, who was a dedicated member of Insight Meditation Houston sangha since its inception.  She died after a long struggle with severe, chronic illness and leg amputation.  When Mark and I first moved to Houston, we visited her home, where she has graciously hosted meditation sits for years.   Confined to her bedroom, Jane breathed with an oxygen mask and lay on a mattress on the floor.  Determined to use her own version of a house arrest as practice towards freeing her mind, she used Vipassana meditation to be aware of every breath.  She was grateful for the smallest gestures of kindness from her friends and caregivers.  Until very recently, Jane was still reading newly issued books and writing reviews for publication.   Her courage and her generosity to the sangha were so strong that it is hard to believe that Jane has let go of life.

As we practice Metta tonight, let us include these three courageous people in our prayers.