“All we have to do is choose between pleasant sense contacts and the end of dukkha. That one choice determines our lives.”
—Ayya Khema, Be an Island, pg. 29.
The central idea of Buddhism is that human beings are driven by ego which tends to be dissatisfied, or when satisfied, fears change, which always comes. But, we can always choose to be satisfied, to walk our path and accept what comes our way. It’s wanting things our way that creates karma, or things we’re going to have to learn to accept by bumping into it in life more often. The The Five Daily Recollections help us to keep in mind the facts of life. We are going to grow old, get ill, die, lose people we love, lose things we own, and the wanting the world to be different than it is creates karma for us to encounter more of each.
Mick Jagger can’t get no satisfaction because the world around him is always trying to get him interested in possessing new things, keeping things as they are or joining some team. But, no one is selling contentment or peace. There’s no money to be made in either.
- I am subject to old age.
- I am subject to illness.
- I am subject to death.
- I must be parted and separated from everyone and everything dear and agreeable to me.
- I am the owner of my karma.
From Catholicism, I learned the value of ritual, religious practice and the power of story to shape our understanding of the world. Years after hearing a homily from one Sunday, I still think of the need to leave a series of empty tombs. The resurrection applies not to some afterlife, it applies to this one, where we have to awaken new life within us, walk away from the old and to write new chapters to our stories.
From Quakerism, I learned of the testimonies I remember as PIES, i.e., peace, integrity, equality and simplicity. The need to be still and listen to the man of the heart and mind, which Quakers call the “Light Within”. This Light is in every sentient being. Knowing this we are called to peace, to follow the voice of our own hearts and to know others are following theirs. Simplicity is to cut through the desire for material things, which can cut us off from this voice within. You cannot serve both God and Mammon.
From Buddhism, I learned that the world is full of dissatisfaction. We assert ourselves against the world in ego delusion. We are dissatisfied, because we do not have what we want or are afraid to lose what we have. The living world is always changing and the best life is to live in each moment, experiencing it all without forming attachments to things as they are, things as they will be or to possessions, no matter how trivial.
When you ask, “What God do you worship?” Is there any better response than, “Life, love and laughter.” The Temple of LiLoLa is in our hearts. It is up to us to throw the doors open.
I was reading another one of those end of year life hack articles yesterday, about how changing one word can change your attitude toward obligations. The crux: instead of saying, “I have to wake up to go to work at 0600,” you change it to get, “I get to wake up to go to work at 0600.”
This simple substitution changes your attitude toward what you are doing. It is now phrased in terms of an opportunity. It makes you wonder what kind of changes would happen by reframing traditional ideas in a positive fashion.
Instead of a Ten Commandments of “Thou shall not kill” you could reframe it in a positive, “Thou shall be peaceful and help all living beings flourish.” The words we use create our worldview.
This is an important point. Our attitudes, our opinions, our ways of looking at the world are created whole cloth in our minds. They don’t exist out there in the world. They exist only in our minds. Ideas are exchanged between minds through symbols. It is our acceptance of them that gives them the appearance of being real.
In Buddhism, this is the fundamental problem of life. The mind creates fictions. We believe that we are our thoughts and emotions. We are dissatisfied with the world. We wish it to be other than it is or worry that a satisfactory situation will change (as it always does). We want to be more powerful, famous, rich, beautiful, taller, more intelligent, stronger, thinner, etc. All of which are ego delusion that assumes that the way we view the world is how the world really is and that you would be better off if you got what you wanted (even though you most likely would just want something else).
While it would be nice to be able to take the world as it comes and live in the moment as an enlightened Buddha, very few of us are there yet. In the meantime, we free to find meaning in life, even in situations of terrible suffering such as in the concentration camp Victor Frankl lived in.
In comfortable circumstances, why choose suffering? You get to choose to look at the world any way that you want. Why not start the New Year by improving your worldview and your outlook? Why not start by taking an accounting of what is really needed, how much we have and being grateful for so much abundance?
“Once there was a fish and a turtle who were friends. They had been living in the same lake together for some time. One day the turtle decided to visit the land surrounding the lake. She had a good look around and came back to tell her friend the fish of the wonders she had seen. The fish was very interested and asked the turtle what it was like on land. The turtle answered that it was very beautiful. The fish then wanted to know whether it had been transparent, cool, rippling, shiny, smooth, good for gliding, buoyant, and wet. When the turtle said it had none of these attributes, the fish said, ‘What can be beautiful about it then?'”
—Ayya Khema, “Being Nobody, Going Nowhere.” Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1987. Pg. 146.
“A king went riding in the forest and encountered a mango tree laden with fruit. He said to his servants, ‘Go back in the evening and collect the mangoes,’ because he wanted them for the royal dining table. The servants went back to the forest but returned to the palace empty-handed. ‘Sorry, your Majesty,’ they told the king, ‘the mangoes were all gone, there was not a single mango left on the tree.’ The king thought the servants had been too lazy to go back to the forest, so he rode out to see for himself. What he saw instead of a beautiful mango tree laden with fruit was a pitiful, bedraggled tree. Someone had broken all the branches to take the fruit. As the king rode a little further, he came across another mango tree, beautiful in all its green splendor, but without a single fruit. Nobody had wanted to go near it. It bore no fruit, so it was left in peace. The king went back to his palace, gave his royal crown and scepter to his ministers, and said, ‘You may now have the kingdom, I am going to live in a hut in the forest.'”
—Traditional Buddhist story retold in Ayya Khema. Be An Island: The Buddhist Practice of Inner Peace. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1999. Pg. 63.
Quakers have a traditional saying, “There’s no fruit without the root.” This story suggests a corollary, “Too much fruit kills the root.”