Ask The Teachers: What is the Buddhist View of Hope?

Oren Jay Sofer, Sister Clear Grace, and Ayya Yeshe look at the meaning of hope in Buddhism and what it means in today’s world. 

Sister Clear Grace: In the Anguttara Nikaya 3:13, the Buddha teaches us that there are three kinds of people in the world: “The hopeful, the hopeless, and the one who has done away with hope.”

My very existence stands on the back of hope, a hope dependent upon a complicated reality of causes, conditions, and context. I am here today partially because of the seeds of hope for emancipation. Those before me tell of great songs sung to acquire hope, songs like “We Shall Overcome” and “A Change is Gonna Come.” They tell of political slogans, like King’s “I Have a Dream” and Obama’s “Yes We Can.” They tell of poetry, like Langston’s “I, Too” or Maya’s “Caged Bird.” They tell of Biblical passages once used to oppress, turning instead into paths of freedom, giving enslaved Africans a profound sense of hope of overcoming in the midst of suffering. This sort of transcendent hope can be a way of relating to suffering amidst continuity and change. In this way, hope sustains life or becoming, and offers a belief in the possibility of positive outcomes that help us develop intention in the face of obstacles.

Hope acquired through direct experience gives us insight into change.

In the wake of Covid-19 there is much to feel hopeless about: the senseless murders of Black bodies, xenophobia, classism, and racism. These realities are not to be denied and did not just arrive with the pandemic. For many, the virus has only re-exposed a divide or a type of social distancing that has been amongst us all along. The racial, economic, gender, citizenship status, and class disparities have exacerbated the very inequalities that Black, Indigenous, People of Color, elders, migrant workers, incarcerated, and detained people have always actively opposed in the hope of creating a better or more equitable future. As people rush to return to “normal,” many of us are concerned that our imperfect past will evolve into an imperfect new normal. We must take care that our hopes for a different now or a better future don’t lead us to fall into despair.

Hope acquired through direct experience gives us insight into change, rather than just the wanting of change. This wise hope can allow us to see things as they are—that nothing is inherently permanent or fixed. The Buddha directs us to a path that is wishless or without expectation. It is from this very space that we are then able to create and be the very hope that we wish to see.

Published by truemoonsofauthenticity

Our interests include applying the Buddha’s teachings to heal and transform the many ways in which we are embodied.

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