Sunday, December 13, 2009

A fistful of happiness

Scott over at the buddha is my dj has a very provocative and excellent post you should check out.

There was a passage in Scott’s post that really got me thinking. First, here is the passage:

“… that at the end of the day we’re going to have to live with uncertainty, we’re going to have to live with inadequate, crappy answers that make one or two people, if not happy, at least less irritable, and leave the rest of us more or less in a bummed out state of resignation. A state of, ‘Well, I guess that’s just how it is. And how it is sort of sucks.’”

I commented on Scott’s blog that what he was describing sounded like the First Noble Truth to me, that life is unsatisfactory. All around us are situations and events that we see as being beyond our control, and yet have either a direct or tangential impact on us.

But shortly afterward, I started to think more about this, and this line of thinking came to me. If I feel unhappy because of events or situations over which I have no direct control, but about which I feel deeply and which to a degree impact my life, and if I own my unhappiness, is the alternative to become indifferent? Do I lose my unhappiness by simply resigning myself to the perspective that there is nothing I can do, the world will wag on, so don’t let it bother me? Is apathy the result of The Four Noble Truths?

The short answer is obviously no; the entire point of the Buddha’s teaching is to show the way to a lasting happiness, one that isn’t predicated on conditions over which we have no control. But still, there is this subtle notion that if my reactions are my own, isn’t there a danger of acquiescing into a state of indifference?

And what of the converse? Suppose I opt to become deeply involved in some issue I feel strongly about, whether it might be the war in Afghanistan or same-sex marriage. How do I know when my political activities – my activism, let’s say – turn into an extension of my grasping and clinging to outside events, throwing me back into the whirlpool of samsara?

When I first began to consider this line of thinking, the Clint Eastwood movie “A Fistful of Dollars” came to mind. In the movie, Clint’s character finds himself between two very powerful opposing forces, and in this environment, Clint sees an opportunity to profit. Now let me apply this to the situation of same-sex marriage. The parallel I see with this is I am in the middle of two very powerful opposing forces: one of complete acquiescence and indifference to the world’s activities, and the other, complete submersion into the dynamics of socio-political gambits that grapple with a political and religious hegemony that will very likely crush me.

Wow, that was a mouthful. But is there a way to play the middle? After all, isn’t that what the Buddha did? He experienced the extremes of human existence; he was a prince living a life complete luxury and indulgence, a life he abandoned to live in extreme austerity and self-deprivation. He found the answer in the middle by taking just enough comfort as necessary and abandoning all other pleasures as superfluous.

At this time, all I have are questions. And for the time being, all I can do is attend to what is relevant to me in the present moment. After all, not all questions are worthy of attention. This sounds very self-centered, I know that. But the prospect of joining some political movement does not appeal to me at all.

1 comment:

  1. Having pondered the 20 plus years I spent working for gay rights. I have learned to step back, remain active and caring, but at the same time realizing that life happens on its own rhythm. That happiness does not have requirements of great food, nice wine, and marriage rights. In the process, I have opened more windows for fresh air flow in my mind.