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.

Flower Garland Discourse: The Ten Great Aspirations of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva

Body, speech and mind, purified, in oneness,

I bow deeply to touch limitless Buddhas

of the past, present, and future

throughout all worlds in the Ten Directions.

The power of Samantabhadra’s vow

enables me to be present everywhere.

Where there is a Buddha, I am there.

As Buddhas are countless, so too am I.

In a particle of dust are countless Buddhas,

all of them present with their own assembly.

The strength of my faith penetrates deeply

into every atom of all Dharma realms.

I aspire to use the Great Ocean of Sound,

giving rise to words of wonderful effect

that praise the Buddha’s oceans of virtues,

in the past, present, and future.

I bring these beautiful offerings:

garlands of the most beautiful flowers,

incense, music, perfumes, and parasols,

all to adorn the Tathagatas and their lands.

Bringing food, robes, and fragrant flowers,

torches, sandalwood, sitting mats,

the finest adornments here in abundance—

an offering to the Tathagatas.

Inspired by Samantabhadra’s vow,

I bring my heart, wide with deep understanding,

with loving faith in the Buddhas of the Three Times,

as an offering to the Tathagatas everywhere.

From beginningless time I have acted unskillfully

with craving, hatred, and ignorance

in actions of body, speech, and mind.

Determined now to begin anew, I repent.

I rejoice in every virtuous action

by anyone, in any direction,

by students and by those who need learn no more,

of Buddhas and bodhisattvas.

All beings who are Lamps for the world

and those who have just attained enlightenment,

I beg that you will think lovingly of us,

turning the Wheel of the Dharma for all.

With sincerity, I make a humble request

of the Buddhas and those who are about to enter nirvana:

remain with us here, throughout the Three Times,

for the benefit and the welfare of all.

I humbly make offerings inviting all Buddhas

to stay with us and guide all beings to the other shore.

All the merit of joyous praise and repenting

I offer to the Path of Awakening.

This merit is transferred to the Three Jewels,

to their nature and form in the Dharma realms.

The Two Truths are perfectly woven together

into the Samadhi Seal.

The ocean of merit is measureless.

I vow to transfer it and not hold anything for myself.

If any human, out of discrimination and prejudice,

tries to do harm to the Noble Teaching

with their words and their actions,

may their obstacles be fully removed.

In each moment, wisdom envelops the Dharma realms,

welcoming all to the place of non-regression.

Space and living beings are without limit,

the same with afflictions and results of past actions.

These four are fully and truly immeasurable.

So, too, is my offering of merit.

Avatamsaka Sutra 36,

Taisho Revised Tripitaka 279

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