Our spiritual journeys have been shaped profoundly by the examples of the Buddha and St. Francis of Assisi. Their lives speak to the universal human experiences of suffering and awakening that transcend traditions. We find ourselves drawn to their counter-cultural embrace of the difficult, their humble solidarity with those who suffer, and their transformations sparked by great love and great pain.

Like the Buddha, we have witnessed the pervasive realities of aging, sickness, death, and the human struggle all around us. The privileges and comforts we may have been born into could not shield us forever from these “passing signs” that shatter the illusion of a perfect, permanent existence. And like him, we realized that turning a blind eye to the tragedies of this world was unsustainable. A profound spiritual hunger arose to find meaning and peace amidst the relentless reminders of impermanence.

The Buddha’s journey resonates with our own experiences of upending our inherited societal narratives and assumptions. Just as he was groomed for a life of power and status only to renounce it, we have had to let go of deeply conditioned desires for wealth, success, control – the siren songs of ego that promised but could never deliver true freedom. His realization of the Four Noble Truths struck a chord: that suffering is inherent to human existence, arising from our habitual cravings and aversions, but that there is a path out of this cycle through the development of wisdom, ethical conduct and meditation.

Like St. Francis, many of us experienced pivotal confrontations with suffering – personal traumas, social injustices, moral crises – that became catalysts for our awakenings. We witnessed how Francis’s own conversion was born out of disillusionment with violence, privilege and moral bankruptcy despite his family’s status. Seeing his solidarity with the poor, the ill, the outcast, we were called to re-examine our own relationship to those who suffer, to those we had been taught to ignore, oppress or fear.

Francis’s path of “descent” – renouncing wealth and ego, embracing poverty and humility – became a template for our own journeys of ego-transcendence. Just as he stripped himself naked to shed his attachment to possessions and status, we had to vulnerably shed the personas and false selves we had spent lifetimes constructing. His example gave us permission to stop idolizing power, productivity and problem-solving as societal values had insisted, and instead cultivate a “tragic sense of life” that allowed space for grief, weakness, and apparent “failure.”

The image of trees took on new resonance for us after learning their symbolic importance for the Buddha and St. Francis. Like them, we have found refuge in forests, shelters of silence and integration where we could witness the cyclical beauty of arising and passing away. Sitting under boughs that had born witness to generations of human joy and suffering inspired us to also become grounded presences, holding paradoxes of life and death without flinching. In our fast-paced, human-centered worlds, trees became teachers of patient, non-judging awareness.

As we contemplated the Buddha’s emphasis on the “middle way” between extreme asceticism and indulgence, we were prompted to interrogate our own tendencies. Were we fueling our spiritual impoverishment through cravings for pleasure, possessions or perpetual busyness and distraction? Or were we caught in judgment, self-denial and toxic aversions? The path of balance became increasingly clear – to neither compulsively avoid nor cling to our experiences, but to meet each moment, each feeling, with radical acceptance and openness.

Both the Buddha and St. Francis opened our eyes to how easily we can rush to “fix” suffering or cover over wounds, glossing over the very experiences that catalyze profound healing and transformation. The Japanese art of Kintsugi, repairing broken ceramics with veins of gold, became a poignant metaphor. We learned to let our hearts “stay shattered” for a while rather than hurrying to ornament the cracks. Grief needed to be fully metabolized; the “fire” needed to leave its mark on us before any re-integration could occur.

In the rawness of our broken places, beauty and resilience had space to blossom. Sitting with the anguish of the world’s suffering became a powerful alchemical practice. Rather than turning away from the charnel grounds of human experience, we intentionally turned towards them through practices like hospice work, prison dharma, and activism. Like bodhisattvas, we vowed to go towards the most difficult, darkest edges of existence. Our tears flowed more freely as our analytical minds relinquished their grasping at false control. Anger grew supple into compassion.

The spiritual fruits of this labor ripened gradually. Bearing conscious witness to the extreme experiences of dying, violence, oppression, and trauma became a fire that forged us into stronger presences. Our fear softened into a courageous empathy. Our spiritual bypassing, our adolescent quests for bliss and enlightenment fantasies, matured into a fierce love for this flawed, unstable world. We stopped asking the egocentric question “What’s in it for me?” but devoted ourselves to the bodhisattva’s vow of “May I be of benefit.”

Like the Buddha and St. Francis before us, we came to embrace the world exactly as it was – horrific beauty and breathtaking anguish woven inextricably. Our inner freedom blossomed not in spite of life’s fragilities and uncertainties but because we stopped craving certainty. We stopped treating impermanence as a personal failing or something to transcend, but opened ourselves to its radical teachings in each moment. Our spiritual practice was a training to stay present no matter what arises – prajna and upaya in the throes of birth, death, injustice, passion, even mundane routines.

With this freedom came engagement. When the Buddha awakened under the Bodhi tree, he did not remain there but arose to offer his insights to a suffering world. His teachings emerged not from escapist philosophy but the grit of real human lives being transformed through practice. St. Francis too turned his realization outward, rejecting the privilege of monastery life and taking his radical Way into the streets, forests, and frontlines of society’s blindspots. For who were we if not them? We were the 99% they served as much as the 1% we hailed from.

Barriers dissolved between the personal and systemic, secular and spiritual, inner and outer work. We could not be free while others were oppressed. Our liberation was bound to the liberation of all beings and systems. This fired us up not just for our own individual pursuit of awakening, but a collective spiritual activism aimed at transforming the very roots of suffering. With open hearts, we gave ourselves over to movements for social and environmental justice, applying eternal truths about interconnection to our civic efforts.

The Buddha’s discovery of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path crystalized for us into non-dual praxis. Gone were dogmas separating meditation from daily life. The eight factors became an applied radiance, with each right view, thought, action, and concentration extending into every relationship, decision, and effort. St. Francis’ vow to wed himself to “Lady Poverty” evolved into a radical divestment from spiritually bankrupt systems leeching the planet. Together, their examples showed us the possibility and necessity of an engaged, earthly, and embodied enlightenment.

In these times of unprecedented collective trauma, when existential panic threatens to boil over into reactivity, we take refuge in their timeless teachings on impermanence, equanimity, and fearless compassion. As the Buddha witnessed the inevitability of aging, sickness and death, and St. Francis the futility of war and greed, so too must we bear witness without flinching to the world’s great unraveling.

And yet where some see only apocalypse, we perceive the contractions of a new birth. The desecration and alienation we experience in our bodily divorces from the natural world are wake-up calls to re-discover lives of sacred relationship and reverence. The bitter disillusionments with corrupt societal systems and false masters are sparking mass spiritual longings to co-create more holistic and beautiful ways of living. Even our undoing of long-cherished identities and belief systems becomes a portal into vaster freedom.

We hold both the unfathomable destruction and rousing potential of this pivotal juncture, embodying the Buddha’s “middle way” between reactive despair or toxic positivity. There is no need to absorb the collective grief alone – the loving awareness radiating from awakened ones like him and St. Francis becomes our refuge. They modeled how to transform suffering into wisdom, transcending denial and overwhelm. With gentle acceptance, we feel the world’s anguish in our bones, knowing it is not ours to “fix” but to lovingly uphold with tender mindfulness.

Like the sycamore tree Wendell Berry honored, this moment is indeed scarred by “lightning burns” and the “accidents” of humanity’s heedless harm. Yet in allowing the wounds to be just as they are, without rushing closure, we may yet become like that tree – “risen to a strange perfection in the warp and bending of its long growth…having gathered all accidents into its purpose.” Our shattered hearts, not despite their fractures but through them, are alchemizing into a new kind of wisdom vessel.

When the familiar falls away, we encounter the Mystery ever-present. As our false senses of security erode, we awaken to the truth that life was never graspable or controllable to begin with. There is only this eternal unfolding that our small selves cannot fully comprehend, but which our spirits can surrender into with awe. The Buddha and St. Francis catalyzed in us this radical trust – not belief in any story, but a wholehearted embrace of the Great Unknowing and Great Undefended Loving at the core of existence.

And so we join their timeless lineages not as believers but actualized beings. Gone are our idolatries of saviors, saints or sacred texts separate from us. The revelations of buddhas and mystics we honor as our own luminous natures mirrored back to us. We do not place them on pedestals, for their words and lives call us to claim our own deepest authenticity.

When we walk in their footsteps, letting our hearts shatter, embracing the fires of this world, turning with compassion rather than fleeing – this is the path of the living Buddha, the Universal Christ. It is the path of the Bodhisattva warrior renouncing ego for radical presence. We do this work not to achieve any transcendent reward after death, but to give birth to what longs to be realized here and now: the full maturation of our luminous humanity.

In this holographic Dharma we behold our siblings in all beings – the fearless warriors, wounded healers, and seers of every time and tradition who died for Love. The trees, the rivers, the sunlight streaming through the stained glass of our ancestral awakenings. We become a unique confluence, a new flowing of this ancient stream, its currents rushing through us to water the world with this one sacred gift – the liberated life, in all its beautiful, terrible, resplendent majesty.

May our shattered, sycamore hearts continue opening to receive and embody this infinite grace. May we have the courage to bloom anyway, scars and all, offering our trembling flowers to a world stretched upon the Cross of its own transfiguration.


The stories of the Buddha and St. Francis of Assisi reveal striking parallels in their journeys of spiritual awakening sparked by encounters with human suffering. Both renounced privileged upbringings to pursue enlightenment, intentionally seeking out difficult situations amidst contexts of violence and societal tensions. Their realizations centered on impermanence, the ubiquity of suffering, and the need to let go of ego, possessions, and superiority to find solidarity with those who suffer. Trees held symbolic significance, representing integration and marking significant moments. The value of not rushing to “fix” or gloss over wounds was emphasized through poetry, allowing space for grief and brokenness. Compassionate presence with the suffering and dying was explored – attending deeply without attachment to outcomes and drawing from contemplative practices of silence and non-judgment. While countercultural in embracing suffering shunned by society, their paths of “descent” opened them to profound wisdom and love. Their examples inspire engaging suffering not just spiritually but pragmatically, finding beauty in brokenness and developing the strength to transform personal and socio-political realities. The enduring relevance of the Buddha’s Eightfold Path and St. Francis’ solidarity with the poor offers guidance for confronting the great challenges of the present era.


1. The story of the Buddha’s life is narrated, including his privileged upbringing, encountering the four passing signs (old age, sickness, death, and a wandering ascetic), renouncing his princehood to seek enlightenment, practicing extreme austerities, and finally attaining awakening under the Bodhi tree after following the Middle Way.

2. The Buddha’s awakening included realizations about the impermanent and conditioned nature of reality, the truth of suffering and its causes, the possibility of cessation, and the Eightfold Path as a pragmatic way out of suffering.

3. The story of St. Francis of Assisi’s life is recounted, highlighting his wealthy background, confrontations with suffering (war, poverty, illness), spiritual conversion, renunciation of wealth, and embracing of poverty and solidarity with the poor.

4. St. Francis’ path is described as one of “descent” – letting go of ego, possessions, and superiority to align with those who suffer, contrasted with society’s focus on utility, problem-solving, and avoiding tragedy.

5. The value of staying with brokenness and not rushing to “fix” suffering is emphasized, using examples like the Japanese art of Kintsugi and poetry about finding beauty in brokenness.

6. Compassionate presence with those suffering, especially the dying, is discussed – attending deeply without attachment to outcomes, allowing each person’s unique process, and drawing from contemplative practice.

7. The intersection of Buddhism and Franciscan spirituality is noted in their shared valuing of solidarity with suffering, impermanence, non-attachment, and transformation through profound realizations sparked by great love and great suffering.

8. The symbolism of trees is explored, representing integration, connection between heaven and earth, and being present at significant moments in the Buddha’s and St. Francis’ lives.

9. The importance of not rushing to “fix” or gloss over wounds and suffering is emphasized through poetry, allowing space for grief and brokenness to unfold.

10. The countercultural nature of embracing suffering is highlighted, contrasted with societal norms of avoiding pain, seeking utility, and viewing suffering as weakness.

11. The transformative power of intentionally seeking out difficult situations, as exemplified by the Buddha and St. Francis, is explored as a path to developing compassion, strength and realization.

12. The role of contemplative practices like silence, presence, and non-judgment is discussed as a means to cultivate the capacity to sit with suffering without fear or aversion.

13. The intersection of spiritual awakening and pragmatic engagement with socio-political realities is noted, with the Buddha’s and St. Francis’ realizations occurring amidst contexts of violence, injustice and societal tensions.

14. The enduring relevance of the Buddha’s and St. Francis’ examples is affirmed, with their stories offering wisdom for confronting the challenges and sufferings of the present era.