I was reading an article that rebuked people for their “buffet Buddhism”. Which was interesting in light of the fact that the Dalai Lama himself recommends the buffet approach for Westerners.
The article consistently and exclusively referred to Buddhism as a religion. It linked Buddhism with the belief in a specific form of reincarnation without pointing out the fact that reincarnation was a belief in Siddhartha’s culture long before he came up with his 8-fold path.
I’m not a Buddhist in any religious sense, but the Buddha’s 4 Noble Truths make sense to me. As does the 8-fold path. And none of this dictates having faith (or not) in any deity or clearly constructed model for what is out there/in here.
I understand Buddhism as a philosophical/ethical praxis. Though I don’t claim to be an expert in any sense, the story goes: when the monks asked Siddhartha to appoint a successor, the old man responded that a successor wasn’t necessary: the dharma and the sangha were enough. This fits my guru-averse and anti-authoritarian mind.
The first Noble Truth is that life is suffering.
When I first came to understand this, as I understand it now, it came as a great relief. Coming from a Christian background, I believed that suffering was either punishment for a misdeed, or these kind of randomly given opportunities to accumulate “points” that I could trade for benefits after I die – like my grandmother’s green stamp collection – only the Green Stamp store was in Heaven, and had a bigger toy section.
I no longer believe that.
I believe that there’s no purpose in suffering. It just is. And because it just is, it is neither fair/unfair, earned/undeserved, nor is it a down-payment for rewards of any sort down the line. I don’t even believe suffering is an indicator of/method for accrued wisdom.
There is a meme – or a thousand or so – going around the internet that reminds people not to be envious of someone else’s success because “you don’t know what they went through to achieve it”. I used to think this way. I used to deal with my frustration over the rude woman at the supermarket by reminding myself that maybe she just left the doctor’s office and has a diagnosis of cancer. I told myself this was a compassionate approach for dealing with difficult people. But it isn’t really. It’s actually projecting suffering onto another person – willing them pain (even if it is in their past) to justify their “right” to some behavior I don’t like, or to some success that I envy.
That is not compassion, it’s a kind of retroactive vengeance.
Now I just try very hard to let go of envy.
I try to imagine that the rude woman at the grocery store with her designer bag and the expensive (and I have to admit, attractive) nip&tucks, has had a life of easy wins, a supportive family, and loyal friends. I try then to find compassion for her, and to not feel anger. I try to create a perspective that leaves out my ego, my judgement, my comparisons, and my own sense of hard-earned (but absent) entitlements… and it is hard. It is really hard. But I do it because –
Oh, man. It is just so much easier to give her an imaginary cancer diagnosis.
I’m going back for a second helping of meditation today.