Wednesday, February 3, 2010

It's Actually Not That Bad, You Know

The biggest challenge that a Buddhist practitioner can encounter in his or her daily practice is the irresistible urge to minimize the grave urgency of the situation. This urge to minimize is ingrained in each and every human being. Without indulging in the bed time story which promises that things are actually not bad, and that everything's going to be fine pretty soon, most people cannot go to sleep.

Same is in everyday life -- we seem to need some sort of reassurance, a sedative of sorts that will help us buy into the pretense that there actually isn't that much suffering that pervades our lives.

This sentiment is the absolute worst enemy of the effective Buddhist practice. Minimizing the danger in which we find ourselves as we wander around the world of samsara is not going to do any good to our practice. The only way our practice will ever pick up and start bringing forth some fruition is if we accept, in all seriousness, the horrendous dangers in which we find ourselves today, as we're buzzing around with our daily concerns and activities.

Buddhist practice is not about admiring the teachings of the Buddha and other realized Buddhist masters. There is a huge, unbridgeable difference between a person who satisfies his intellectual and emotional curiosity by studying the Buddhist teachings, and a person who takes those teachings to heart, internalizes them, and applies them in their daily life, moment-by-moment. Only the latter practice can bring you closer to the liberation.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that, for ordinary humans, suffering is present at two levels: direct suffering, and suffering caused by envy and jealousy.

The direct suffering is characterized by the undeniable nature of such phenomena as being born, growing old, getting sick, and dying. There is pain, physical, psychological and so on, that is accompanying these activities in human life.

The suffering caused by jealousy seems easier to control. For example, if your income gets taxed by the government, you will suffer financial loss, because part of your income will be taken away from you for the taxation purposes. You will, however, assuage that pain and suffering by placating yourself with the argument that others get also taxed under the same law, which therefore means that it's not really all that bad.

However, if you were the only person whose income got taxed, while all the other people got away for free, the pain and the suffering caused by that jealousy would be absolutely unbearable to you. The pain of inequality and the suffering caused by being ostracized is indeed something that most people cannot deal with.

It is precisely because of that mechanism, whereby we find suffering caused by jealousy to be much worse than the direct suffering, that the suffering caused by growing old and dying does not make us too worried, because, hey, everyone else is also subjected to that same suffering.

Thanks to that faulty logic, we sedate ourselves into thinking that life is not actually all that bad, and that things are perfectly fine as they are.

But that's a very perilous way to look at things. The logic is faulty, because it does not really solve anything. Look at it this way: if you have to go to hell and endure the relentless suffering there, will it help to know that your friends will also be there, enduring the same tortures? Of course it wouldn't help, and so the urgent message here is to abandon such foolish ways and to come to our senses and realize the precarious situation we're in.

It is only then that we can step on the true path of Buddhist liberation and realization.

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