Today we published a Buddhistdoor View advocating a “pastoral” perspective on the world. In the editorial we mean “pastoral” in its broadest, oldest possible sense: the act of listening and bearing witness, beyond even its common religious connotations, modern psychotherapeutic applications, or activist implications. This is the space of the shepherd: ever guiding yet ever open. It is a space that knows where to move the flock, yet ensures that its members are comfortable and have plenty of grazing ground. Pastoral care is not just a professional accreditation; it is a way of seeing people and treating the world that brings together all kinds of Buddhist values: mindfulness, compassion, insight, and skilful means.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of presence, and the things that extend, almost unnoticeably in our everyday lives, from presence: thinking, speaking and acting. I think these four principles are guiding lights to what is, if we’re to be honest, an extremely difficult practice: to be present for the world and sentient beings. It’s easy to pay a compliment or to provide a word of comfort. Having coffee with someone and just paying attention to what is said and unsaid, without preparing a calibrated response, is in itself pastoral. On a more emotionally taxing level we have probably experienced, every now and then, listening to a good friend vent over severe frustrations or anxieties in life, or comforting someone in a moment of grieving.
Looking back, it is not surprising that developing pastoral presence isn’t just something that one can do effortlessly, at least not initially. It must be “brought out from within,” through a balance between accumulating knowledge and relational skills but also, in an almost Daoist manner, “un-learning” or uncovering one’s inherent presence, something that can’t be faked or artificial. Imagine, then trying to be present for the world in such a way: effortlessly, constantly, helpfully available. It’s no small ask.
Still, I remain convinced that this is the mode of relating to the world that we should do our best to embody. The world needs more who see themselves as pastoral caregivers: those who, in their multitude and diversity of inclinations and backgrounds, care for the world spiritually and believe in the need for healing. I believe that this is what we all need as this New Year dawns—as we begin another rotation around our neighborhood star. With this pastoral foundation, with this presence of mindfulness, insight, compassion, and skilful means, the paths we take this year will surely be of true, spiritual benefit to all beings we encounter, and to the Earth itself.
I wish you a very Happy New Year and the best of health and happiness this 2019.