Sunday, January 17, 2021

a post that isn't about blues

I spent a good part of this week-end listening to spiritual leaders on the internet (and the rest of the time cleaning up the basement) and it's a good moment to collect my thoughts, if only to remember it myself. It started with a zoom meeting of my Buddhist group where the theme was "turning poison into medicine" and confirms that old adage that you learn more from your failures than your victories. I took some exception that "facing difficulties is what life is all about," maybe because I've always thought I had a rather "charmed" life. Maybe I just choose to look at it that way. Some of my rich relatives might consider that my life was less than charmed because I don't have a new car or a big house. All I know is I've got wheels and a roof over my head and I am thankful for that. But I accept the idea that defeating obstacles "provides fuel for victory" and makes you a better/stronger person, but when confronted I will usually look for a way around the obstacle rather than confronting it head-on. And though I like the idea of "Never Give Up," it doesn't mean I won't retreat if my instinct tells me to. This Buddhism is still very focused on "win or lose," "don't accept defeat under any circumstances." One quote I could relate to was, "Unhappiness is not caused by adverse circumstances; it is caused by our own despair and negativity." The suffering or unhappiness is happening in our minds and it is a reaction to the events that are happening. A little suffering is inevitable but misery is optional. Happiness was the main topic of main topic of the Dalai Lama's zoom session with students of the Harvard School of Business. These annointed "future leaders" wanted to know how to be happy. The anwer was to have a life's purpose - and he was talking about caring for each other, though maybe some of those future CEOs were probably thinking of a life's purpose that was more about money and building a successful enterprise. Wealth was one of the Dalai Lama's tickets to happiness but it was the last item on the list and seemed it would not achieve the level of happiness/joy/bliss that results from a life that was focused on caring for others rather than selfish desires. One student asked why it seemed that so many "leaders" were unhappy people. DL did not really answer that question, nor did he give any direct answers to a lot of other questions from these earnest super-achievers. Rather, he kept redirecting the conversation to oneness, brotherhood, the fact that nationalism/racism is out-dated thinking. We are all one race - the human race. The current pandemic and the looming climate crisis should make it very clear that everybody on the planet is in the same boat and the time for taking sides is over. He even put in a pitch for religious harmony. In Buddhism alone there are more than 3000 sects and they don't all get along. Look how Suni Muslims hate Shia Muslims and to us non-Muslims, we can't even see the difference. Truth be told, I don't even see a lot of difference between the Jews and the Arabs - yet they are bitter enemies. Which brings me to the other topic that comes up everytime you hear Dalai Lama speak: Education. And I too believe it is the key to everything. Little kids play together with no regard to race or creed yet once they get into school, they are slowly sucked into an "us and them" thinking to one degree or another. If schools all over the world were purged of teachers and curricula that taught them they were better than others because of their race or creed or nationality and taught compassion and tolerance, then it would only take a generation to make the world a happy, peaceful place. You may say the parents have a lot to do with imprinting this faux-patriotism or holier-than-thou attitudes so maybe it would take a couple of generations...but wouldn't that be a beautiful thing. We could start by ridding all schools and houses of worship of all the really hard-core fundamentalist "influencers". What is gained by teaching hate? It's bad enough that the world will always have a certain ammount of disaffected, angry people - let them all get together and fight amongst themselves. Looking at the United States, I was thinking maybe we could corral all those Americans who are so full of rage and put them in one place - say Florida, and just make sure that all the teachers were not of that ilk and just wait a couple of generations. This morning (Sunday) I watched the Indian sage Sadhguru having a conversation with one of his followers and it was also about happiness. He's a pretty contemporary guru (drives a motorcycle and wears cowboy hats) but everything he says rings true. He spends a lot of time talking about the environment - and has a very active Foundation that plants trees and cleans up rivers in India. An animal lover asked if he was a vegetarian and his reponse was a story about a forest in India where if the elephants started eating the leaves of a certain tree, all the other trees of that species would begin to excrete a chemical which was toxic to the elephants and they would move on to some other feeding ground. He was saying that the trees/vegetables are just as alive as the animals. And you eat what you have to eat for nourishment but eating should not be a recreational activity. He was dismissive of one accolyte who referred to herself as a "foodie". Still he's all about enjoying life - "you can buy pleasure but you can't buy joy". And although he adheres to a lot of Indian tradition, he seems quite non-denominational. He quotes the Buddha, "Don't just accept my words, work to understand yourself." That kind of goes along with the Dalai Lama saying we should not be afraid to ask "why, why, why?"