June 10, 2023 - Great Disappointment

We had a lovely and insightful Dharma talk this morning titled “Practicing with disappointment”. The fertile soil of hope and disappointment raised all sorts of wonderful questions.

There is some talk in Buddhism about abandoning hope altogether, that only when we abandon hope can we be free of ego attachment. If we abandon hope we’ll be free of disappointment too. I think this is a pretty sad state and not whole-hearted practice.

Chogyam Trungpa (as quoted in the talk) talks about allowing ourselves to be completely disappointed, letting in the sharp edges of disappointment without resistance and taking the disappointment as a teacher, a friend. But just what is this disappointment pointing to? Is it pointing to hope? What if I could rely on both completely?

The other side of disappointment is hope, maybe in fact it is our hopes and dreams that create disappointment in the first place. We desire something, and come up with all kinds of stories about how much better our life will be when we get it. The second noble truth is sometimes talked about in this way, those foolish enough to hope for a better life deserve all the disappointment they get! Be where you are, and happy with what you have! Isn’t this what we’re taught in Soto Zen too?

But what about these Bodhisattvas who’ve made the completely foolish vow to save all beings, themselves included. What a stupendously hopeful way to live, the audacity! In our tradition of Soto Zen, each of us make this vow and formalize it by sewing a Rokasu and receiving the precepts. It takes a long time to sew one, and the final ceremony is pretty serious. It’s a big deal.

So we’re really tied to this foolish, hopeful vow, and (it would seem) destined be perpetually disappointed by the suffering of the world and all beings. What gives? This is the Mahayana path, opening our hearts completely to the world, making space for hope, for disappointment, and the totally crazy act of just being ourselves as we are, living life as it is. If we’ve made the decision to take disappointment as friend, then we must take hope as a friend too, since they’re inseparable. What is life without hopes and dreams? We know deep down that we may be disappointed, but we do it anyway. Why? Maybe because it’s fun, but that’s only part of the story.

What is this disappointment pointing to? Actually this disappointment is one of the three marks of existence, 1) disappointment (suffering), 2) impermanence, and 3) emptiness. So we could say that disappointment is pointing directly at life, directly at mind and our true self. This is the real gift of disappointment. The object of my seeking is not at all what I hoped it would be in the end, why is this? Is it because this object won’t last? Probably. But just who is it that is obtaining this ultimately unsatisfying object? Could it be that the reason nothing will ever satisfy me is that in reality there is no one here to satisfy? How wonderful! And disappointment points to directly at this truth, how wonderful!

Where there is seeking there is hope, where this hope there is disappointment, where there is disappointment there is a great space, and from this great empty space Buddha nature and life itself springs eternal. Could disappointment itself be enlightenment?