This week I was severely in need of a reminder that true happiness is not the asbsence of suffering, but the opportunity to reduce suffering in the world. My personal belief system is from the Christian tradition, and when I find overlap between my story and interpretations of the human condition from other faiths and philosophies I am always centered by it.
Salvation, enlightenment, all of the work associated with getting oneself to whatever that point is can sometimes seem like a crushingly difficult process. Then there are moments of relief, when the weight of the world goes away and only the simplicity of life shows through the murk.
I hope you enjoy this writing from The Goat Rope. I connected with the idea that being human, in all of its complications and hardships and beauty, is a privilege we would do well to fully appreciate even in hard times.
(I’m also glad to have the heads up that a love of red wine will keep me from ever attaining certain levels of Buddhist progression….good to know before I get to far down the path to Enlightenment.)
Too optimistic to be happy by Rick Wilson
According to Buddhist tradition, being born as a human is a rare privilege. Other states of being may be more or less pleasant but the human state is said to be the only one in which one can attain enlightenment. It is even rarer and more fortunate to be a human and be exposed however briefly to the Buddha and his teaching.
By those standards, I guess I’m pretty lucky. Due to a traveling grandfather who died before I was born, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know about Buddha or at least recognize his image, thanks to a statue and a prayer wheel he brought back from China in the 1920s. Learning about Buddhist teachings came later, partially through my study of martial arts.
For the record, I’m not a card-carrying Buddhist but more like a Buddhist sympathizer. Seated meditation drives me nuts and I’m way too fond of wine to sign on to the Fifth Precept. But I’ve been struck over and over again by the practicality of some Buddhist teachings to working for social justice–and not going crazy in the process.
Here’s one to start with: life is suffering. Some people seem to have this magical idea that if only this or that could be made to happen or stopped from happening then everything would be just peachy. If the desired state does not come about, they can make themselves pretty miserable. Paradoxically, they are too optimistic–in the sense of thinking everything can be fixed–to be happy.
Buddhism isn’t pessimistic but it is realistic. Things aren’t all bad all the time but living and suffering are intertwined. Such a view is entirely compatible with happiness, strange as that may seem. We can do things to increase or decrease the amount of suffering in the world but not eliminate it. That insight makes me grateful for little victories and for all the things that aren’t terrible at any given moment.
Here’s a suggestion: try to make it a practice to notice it when you don’t have a toothache.
Art image credit: Garden Fountains