The Buddhist Bus Ride Part II
Continued from The Buddhist Bus Ride I Originally posted November 2009
SEEING IS BELIEVING
According to one famous Christian saying, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter heaven." As per my limited experience with camels (one experience - not comfortable - because male) and kingdoms of God (no experiences - some discomfort - because mortal), I can't, in good conscience, confirm or deny this. I can say, though, that the rich can have beautiful babies. They also can have revelations.
The young and profoundly sheltered prince who would one day be Buddha had a revelation that came as a result of seeing a crippled old man in his court. The Buddha's father, the king, had tried to keep all bad things from his son's view. All disease, all aging sadness - he tried to protect his son from the dark, ugly side of the world. It was an accident then (or perhaps the Prince had left his court... I can't remember which) that the Prince saw this crippled, hobbling old man so close to death.
Upon seeing him, the prince realized that one day this old man would be him. From this, the revelation that would send the prince from his castle, to leave behind his riches:
We all grow old and die.
At its very core, then, the first of The Fourfold Noble Truths from "The Teaching of Buddha" begins:
The world is full of suffering. Birth is suffering, old age is suffering, sickness and death are sufferings. To meet a man whom one hates is suffering, to be separated from a beloved one is suffering, to be vainly struggling to satisfy one's needs is suffering...
The angry jerking manner in which most Toronto TTC bus drivers handle their buses is suffering. The callous manner in which they take off, lurching forward from stop before that elderly woman has taken her seat is suffering. The odd way in which we've all chosen to live in progressively busier and busier anthills is suffering.
This all begs the question, how does knowing of the pain, the suffering, help? What's the wisdom in that?
TRUER THAN TRUTH
"There is an old Jewish saying that I love," Isabelle Allende, the Chilean-American, says, opening her moving but also hilarious Ted talk called Tales of Passion. "What is truer than truth? Answer: The Story."
Well this Jewish-Canadian cannot conceive of a better way to approach even the most surface of understandings of Buddhist wisdom than with a parable.
It is ancient times and a mother has suffered the greatest tragedy a mother can - the loss of her child. In agony she pleads with the Buddha to do something. He contrives of a way to help her, saying that if she can procure one particular spice (he names a spice common to most any kitchen) from any home upon which death has not touched its door, then he can bring her child back to life.
The woman visits home upon home and of course, in every case, she learns that all the families have been touched by death. All have lost mothers, husbands, children.
At the story's end, the woman does not - cannot - get her child back of course - that is impossible. Instead, what the Buddha has taught her, what she has learned, is that she is not alone in her pain.
WHAT IF WE CAN'T
Whether we are dealing with the most horrific of human tragedy, or the most mundane of daily struggle, there is a Disney danger, I think, in always trying to escape our fates, our pains, our realities. Yet so much of the modern western lifestyle does exactly this. Buddhism suggests the opposite because we cannot cheat death, and sometimes, when the walk would just be too long, or a bike ride just not possible because it's frigid February, sometimes we can't get off the bus.
Which brings us to the impetus for this overlong series of posts. Some advice the Dalai Lama once gave of how to deal when in a crowded, uncomfortable situation, eg. a crowded bus. He recommended to look around, to actually see the people around you. You ever do that? Look at all the other sad souls on that bus, the misery plastered on their faces? You ever recognize that the misery on your face is the misery on everyone's face? That you are not alone in your misery is, however, only the first part.
The 14th Dalai Lama, who speaks of compassion above all else as the ultimate good, takes the advice a critical step further. What he has taught me to do on that bus, and only when I remember - and oh how easily we forget - is to step out from my own misery and not just look to the misery of those passengers around me, but to empathize with them and offer of my compassion in response. Offer of your kindness to relieve their pain.
Now let's be clear, out of ten bus rides I doubt I'm batting .200, but when I do step out from me and empathize with you, I no longer feel miserable.
WHAT CHOICE DO WE HAVE
I'm sure you'll agree that there are but two types of old men in the world: the grumpy old man and the sweet, gentle old man. And the same way all men believe they are Michael when they watch "The Godfather" because, as my brother-in-law, Roberto, so astutely once put it, "Nobody thinks they're Fredo," no one believes that they will grow up to be the grumpy old man either.
And yet, with each passing year I became more the old man wanting to snip and bark at dumb teenagers who yell on buses and throw garbage out windows, that aging man I am who seethes at how much worse the world has gotten, hell in the old hand basket... But when I can remember, I lately find myself voicing in my head that mind-altering Ghandi quote:
"Be the change you want to see in the world."
We assume this to mean ending global warming or AIDS in Africa, and God bless. But it can heal small too. When I remember to be compassionate for the crap a bus driver deals with or the suffering of my fellow commuters, I like to think I inch that much closer to the sweet, gentle old man and suffer that much less. I'm not suggesting Nirvana, just feeling a bit happier.