Hard to believe Buddhists are so peaceful, then, right?
(Please forgive me the delay in posting. A crazy weekend followed by a September bug of some sort caused me to lose time.)
I went up into the mountains last weekend, a lovely cabin outside of Radium, not, y'know, climbing a peak looking for a guru. I took some time to start a new book, Buddhism: A Beginner's Guide Book for True Self-Discovery and Living a Balanced and Peaceful Life, by Sam Siv. The title is nearly as long as the book, which tells the story of Siddhartha Gautama, the boy, the man who would become a buddha. And The Buddha.
The word buddha quite simply refers to a person who has attained bodhi, by which we mean wisdom, an ideal state of intellectual and ethical perfection which can be achieved by man through purely human means. Buddha literally means enlightened one in Sanskrit. In theory, then, any person can become a buddha, but it ain't easy. Having attained a certain level of enlightenment, a bodhisattva is a Buddhist who is on their way to becoming a Buddha. Siddhartha is not a deity. Despite teaching for forty-five years, he scarcely considered himself a teacher, because the truths he espoused were so obvious and universal. I’m not going to go into the Three Universal Truths to any great extent. They’re universal and you will probably just nod your head knowingly as you read them.
1. Nothing is lost in the universe.
2. Everything changes.
3. The law of cause and effect.
a. The Buddha said, "The kind of seed sown will produce that kind of fruit. Those who do good will reap good results. Those who do evil will reap evil results. If you carefully plant a good seed, you will joyfully gather good fruit."
Pretty simple, right? But Buddhism is just like watching a webinar. First, they entice you with something that really speaks to you. They’ve got you hooked in an hour. Next, they offer you something that sounds really good to you, “The Four Noble Truths.” Damn, I really want those! How much? You buy into those easily, and… In for a penny, in for a pound. “But, wait! There’s more!” Before you know it, they’ve sold you on The Eightfold Path. The commitment is pretty high – a lifetime’s worth – but the ROI is the ability to live in peace for the rest of eternity! Oh, that’s right. It’s not just until the end of this lifetime. Buddhists believe in reincarnation. You will keep being reincarnated (Samsara) until you escape the three poisons of Ignorance, Attachment, and Aversion.
Naturally, you will receive follow-up emails trying to sell you on The Eight Worldly Concerns, Kleshas, Karma, Tanha, and The Wheel of Life. There will always be more to learn. About yourself and about others. With each training you take on, you will be robbed of your petty grievances, anger, and attachment to stuff…
Nope! Not this time. That wasn’t me getting distracted away from the task at hand, just, uhh, giving a bit of background is all. *whistles innocently*
That said, let’s just reign it in from that area of non-distraction and get back to the point: Dukkha, from the Sanskrit, translates out as, ”Suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness, stress.” Many interpret it to mean, Life is suffering. Gautama Buddha would not be pleased to hear his teachings mangled like that. It’s not life as suffering; it’s life has suffering. Huge difference. The great thinker Xander Harris (in Season 5, Episode 14 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) says it succinctly. “I’m alive. I can tell because of the pain.”
Question: Has any dramatic change ever happened in your life without accompanying pain? Negative change, sure, that’s easy. But think about positive changes that have happened in your life. Pain is growth, at least a lesson of some sort. Think of the lowly caterpillar that has to completely dissolve to be reborn as a butterfly. What about a lobster? It is only the stresses of its life that crack its shell off, allowing the lobster to grow into the one-and-a-quarter to one-and-a-half pounder that many of us know and love. Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski explains it best.
Suffering is absolutely necessary for growth! Now, if you’re happy and comfortable staying where you are, great! But if you’re like many of us, looking to be the best, most satisfied version of yourself – so you can make a valuable contribution to making the world its best and most satisfied version of itself – you need to embrace a little discomfort.
One of the values that is guiding my life is, “Lean into pain.” Sounds horrible, right? Avoiding pain sounds much more palatable. Funny, I was talking to a client last week about my mother’s second knee replacement. My client, Dorothy, who’d had one done couldn’t comprehend Mum’s decision to put herself through that a second time. I explained to her that my mother had been bowlegged all of her life. While having her knee done was initially painful, she recovered beautifully. Any residual pain was bearable in comparison to what she had been living with. The problem she encountered was one of physics. See, her new knee wasn’t bowed. The surgery had straightened it up beautifully. She’s likely one of the only seniors around who has actually gotten taller. On one side, anyway. The other side of her body was in deep trouble. Mum’s other knee was no great shakes and her orthopod knew that it would need replacing eventually, but Mum called him out, insisting that if he didn’t also want to replace her hip, he’d better get to the knee sooner rather than later.
He did it sooner.
Western society continues to make our lives easier, doesn’t it? You have a headache? Take a Tylenol. Interested in the works of Wayne Dyer? Get the audiobook. Want to touch base with a friend? Send a text. Looking for an overview of quantum mechanics? Google! So simple, but so superficial. As a massage therapist, it was my job to get to the cause of your headache. Audiobooks make it very difficult to precisely capture a poignant statement, particularly while driving. Our reliance on audiobooks also explains how our collective ability to spell has tanked so badly in a generation. Finally, no one can fully wrap their heads around quantum mechanics. Google gives you just enough information to look foolish trying to explain it to others. And texting? Texting isn’t connection. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am off to meet a friend for coffee.
That was lovely. My friend and I have known each other for about ten years, since she was a young woman of seventy-nine. We hit it off immediately, both of us being a little twisted. Now, I’m not saying that engaging at a profound level is impossible over text – shout out, Orochi! – but it takes a level of commitment that can be overwhelming. In a one-hour coffee with my friend, I learned that her parents were alcoholics, her father a violent one, and that she herself is forty-eight years sober. There’s something about being able to look into each other’s eyes with love and compassion that engenders trust. We knew that our words were safe with each other.
Oh, and I got a huge hug. I don’t care how many emojis you use, that can never really translate into text. Remember, we need four hugs a day just to survive.
Can we say that making our individual lives easier has had a positive effect on our world? From an environmental standpoint, I’ve gotta say no. From horseless carriages to central heating to plastic everything, we are destroying our planet. We had one job! Worst Custodians Ever.
Meanwhile, we sit back, lazy and complacent, watching our mental health plummet. We work from home, drive the car to the gym where we workout (head down, music up), then go to the drive-through bank, the self-serve gas bar, and finally to the grocery store where we self-checkout. An entire day gone and you didn’t have to speak to a soul.
Soul. Connection. Human to human, soul to soul.
Or we can take to our screens, watch A Handmaid’s Tale, without recognising the irony, all while doing battle with strangers on Facebook.
By 2050 the world population is predicted to hit 9.7B. That’s on a planet that, by some accounts, can only support 10B. Thirty-one years and we’re gonna pretty much be full, folks. "If everyone agreed to become vegetarian, leaving little or nothing for livestock, the present 1.4 billion hectares of arable land (3.5 billion acres) would support about 10 billion people," cites Edward O. Wilson in that article.
"If everyone agreed to become vegetarian, leaving little or nothing for livestock, the present 1.4 billion hectares of arable land (3.5 billion acres) would support about 10 billion people."
Sorry, but that bore repeating.
I would also argue that our medical science has far outpaced our capacity to feed and water ourselves. It’s not a help that Canada wastes 35.5 million tonnes (78 trillion pounds!) of food annually. Roughly two-thirds of that is lost at the production level and one-third at the level of the consumer. That amounts to $49B worth of food, enough to feed every Canadian for five months. Maybe a more efficient system will help.
Or maybe Thanos had it right.
So, struggle. Learn. Grow. If we rest in our comfort for too much longer, we’ll continue to pay the price to the tech giants who just want to make our lives easier.
Leave the world better.
Huh. I’m not entirely sure how I went from superficial foray into Buddhism to environmental rant in fifteen hundred words, but there it is. Ultimately, I guess my point was that there’s no such thing as a life without suffering, but if we lean into it, we can learn a lot and grow not only for ourselves, but for our loved ones.
One summer when I was a teenager, maybe thirteen, my family rented a house on Lake Memphremagog in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. The house was a new build and the pathway down to the lake hadn’t yet been cleared. My two brothers and I went down for a swim one morning and I innocuously scratched the top of my left foot on an exposed root. Didn’t even hurt. I washed it off in the lake and proceeded to take a swim. After a while we called it, having grown weary of ducking under to avoid some very aggressive horseflies. They’re part of a dragonfly’s diet, you know. Hmm, I wonder if that’s when my affinity for dragonflies began…
But I digress. SURPRISE!! :D
Three days later, I had spiked a fever and my whole lower leg was hot and swollen. Things were not looking good for our hero… My parents took me to Magog General Hospital – the same hospital my mother’s mother had died in about a year and a half earlier – and got me tended to. The on-call physician took a needle thiiiiiiiiiiiis big and jammed it into the infection. Owie. My mother sat on the bed trying to block my view of what the nice man was doing, but, well, I’m an idiot that way and craned my head to see. It was pretty gross, not gonna lie. He scooped out green goopy grossness. Yeah, I have that exact same look on my face as I’m typing this, and I lived it! Once he was done with the digging, the doc stuffed cotton in the hole he’d excavated and wrapped several layers of bandage around the top and ball of my foot.
It wasn’t until later that I learned that if we’d waited another day, I would have lost my leg up to the hip.
So, don’t be afraid to dig deep, people. The cost of waiting could be much more than you want to spend. I don’t know what my life would be like now if I’d lost my leg, don’t know who I’d be. I don’t have a guardian angel named Clarence to show me, but, if I had to guess, I’d say that I wouldn’t still be alive. The mark that I would have left on this world – on my family, friends, clients, strangers – wouldn’t be the same. If a single pebble falls from the bank, the course of the river is changed forever. I know next to nothing about quantum mechanics, but I believe in the ripples we create, in the effects of a butterfly flapping her wings, and I know that I’m a positive force in this universe for the simple reason that I choose to be.
What do you want your legacy to be?