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What's Wrong with Me?!
Tough title, I know, but we don't become better people by congratulating ourselves on our good points. Would you be reading this book if you were content to let yourself simply stay the way you were? As Buddha might tell you, you've got to keep changing. Even the deepest pool stagnates without action.
This section of the book concentrates on our typical human faults. But thankfully, Buddha does not merely chronicle our many failings, he lays out their origins and gives us clues for their eradication. I mean that literally: "eradication" means pulling up roots. Our faults are like weeds—if we really want to get rid of them we can't just take off their tops, we have to rip them out by their very roots. Taking out the root of suffering: this is what Buddha strove to embody and teach.
Each of you reading this book should find at least a couple of these questions and problems that cut right to the quick. Those are the ones you need to read again, to take to heart, to live with. What's wrong with you then becomes your spiritual path. Your anger, boredom, frustration—these become your teachers.
What would Buddha do if someone hates him?
Not by hate is hate defeated; hate is quenched by love.
In these few words Buddha teaches what might be the greatest spiritual law. The Roman poet Virgil wrote "love conquers all." I believe there are things love is not well-suited to conquer, but love is perfectly suited to conquer hate. Why? Because it is so hard for hate to combat. Violence, revenge, sometimes even civil disobedience, add to the tremendous energy embodied in hatred. Love, on the other hand, takes the energy of hate and redirects it, as a martial artist might—only here the arts are not of war but of love. As the song tells us, "Only love can conquer hate."
Love confronts hate in the one way hate cannot comprehend, with something beyond itself—with compassion. Hate cannot go beyond itself. It draws its strength from the self's defense of self. Love lives to go beyond itself, drawing its strength from that very act. Love can thus comprehend hate, integrating it into something larger. Slowly hate is defeated, as a grain of salt dissolves into the sweetness of a pond.
What would Buddha do when a friend lets him down?
One should not pry into the faults of others, what they've
Buddha was sure right about this. How do I know? As country singer Hank Williams used to say, we better not mind other people's business 'cause it's all we can do just to mind our own. Hey, when you get Buddha and Hank agreeing on something, well, it just has to be true. Anyway, I believe I'm safe in saying we can all testify to the truth of the advice. Living mindfully is not easy; it requires constant attention—that's the whole point. It's all we can do. Dwelling on others' failure just messes us up.
This doesn't mean we should ignore evil when we encounter it. Remember, we are all in this together: Buddha taught that we're not separate selves at all. So we should take responsibility for evil, not by decrying the deeds of others, but by overcoming them with better ones of our own. To do that we need to pay attention, especially when our deeds are not so pretty.
What would Buddha do when he gets sick?
He should see the body as marked by impermanence,
Of course "he" in this passage is the bodhisattva, the wisdom-being we all should strive to embody. But what if that body is ailing? Yes, even Buddhas get blisters. When we face such troubles, or troubles much greater, we confront the basic lesson of life: all we see, all we touch, even our very selves are, in the end, ephemeral. Our bodies are never perfect, never free of disease, and though they stand faithful for so long, they will betray us in the end. We should treat our illness as part of life, part of our bodies.
We should not give in to disease—of course not. We should battle it for the sake of this world. But the sutra teaches us not to exhaust ourselves with avoiding all disease. We are obsessed with health in the West: we seem to think we're entitled to it. We're not. Some people drain all the life from their years in order to postpone their deaths. They may live longer, but why? In the end they too will pass away.
What would Buddha do about dieting?
Buddha, having emaciated himself for no reason in cruel
It may seem odd to compare the two, but Buddha's striving for awakening and the modern-day compulsion to fit in that leads people to starve themselves in the name of beauty are not so far apart. Before becoming awakened, Buddha spent six years starving himself, trying to fit in with the other renunciants and break away from the impurities—the grossness—of his body. Finally after all those years he realized his self-punishment was only making him weak and confused. Remember, this was Buddha! Imagine how confused a modern teenager or dieter might be.
Let's acknowledge that self-abuse takes enormous discipline and strength and see it as a measure of our greatness of spirit. Then let's remind ourselves and our loved ones that this is the wrong way to express such greatness. Buddha was awakened soon after he began again to eat and to love his body. We must embrace and support our bodies, with all their faults; then with that renewed strength we can embrace and support each other.
What would Buddha do about lying?
In certain cases a bodhisattva may kill, steal, commit
It is hard to imagine Buddha killing, stealing, having sex or doing drugs. Still, given highly unusual circumstances, there, are stories of Buddha doing these things, at least during his many lives as a bodhisattva, before he became fully Buddha. Of course he always did these things with the intention of saving others from ignorance and death.
In contrast, it is impossible for Buddha to lie. Buddha cannot lie, even if lying would seem to help others. Why? Because he is too in touch with reality. Lies contradict reality and blind people to the truth. Even when they help in the short run, they harm in the long run. A bodhisattva cannot do this and neither should we. Stay the course; remember, though truth may be hard at first, it is easier in the long run. As Mark Twain said, "It is easier to tell the truth: you don't have to remember anything."
What would Buddha do when facing a crisis?
Throw away your pitiful apathy and act boldly in this
Wake up! shouts Buddha. You have the power to act, and the responsibility. The wise person shows her resolve to do her best in any circumstance. Buddha spoke these words in the teeth of a terrible storm that threatened the lives of everyone aboard his ship. Despite the danger and the need for action, the crew was apathetic. Why was this? It seems absurd.
It may be absurd to become passive in the face of danger, but it often happens, and for a variety of reasons. We doubt ourselves. We don't trust our crew. We give up hope. This is a natural tendency, and some of us live our entire lives this way. How sad, because what is the worst that can happen? Failure through inaction—that is the worst. Buddha encourages us to awaken to reality and to act. That in itself is success.
What would Buddha do when feeling frustrated?
Don't be so inconsiderate and loudly drag the furniture
When frustrated, I become rude. I'm too cunning to be nasty to humans, but boy do I take it out on long-suffering objects! When I get this way I'm likely to knock something over or piss someone off and this just makes things worse. Does this remind you of anyone?
We need to heed this Buddha wisdom. It is good to direct our frustration away from people, but this is not enough. People will still feel it and can even be injured by it (driving angry is as bad as driving drunk). Instead, we have to stop the feelings of frustration. We need to question our impatience, get to its root. Why are we putting ourselves first, right now? Do we have a genuine need to take the first place? Usually, the answer is no. If the frustration remains but we overcome it, we can then give ourselves credit for our deference.
What would Buddha do about road rage?
Those who can control their rising anger as a driver
Anger afflicts us now, perhaps even more than at the time of Buddha In the privacy of our cars we unleash our rage. We have reasons to this, and we feel safe there, but we must remember our cars are huge and deadly weapons, and other people's cars are weapons aimed at us.
Look again at what Buddha said. He reminds you that real control does not lie in your smooth shifting or the way you weave through traffic. Real control lies in the mind, steering yourself away from anger. We should drive our lives like our cars. And we should drive our cars we control. I have heard it said the best way to test a spiritual teacher is go on a drive with the teacher at the wheel. Then you'll see the real self come out; then you'll see either control ... or a teacher you don't want.
What would Buddha do when a friend hits him up for favors?
Misers certainly do not go to heaven. Fools don't like
Oh yes, make no mistake, Buddha does believe in heavens and hells. It's just that you simply live another lifetime there and then move on. Still, I imagine time passes slowly in hell. It is nice to think we might avoid that by doing something in this world. One thing to do is be generous.
We are fools to dislike generosity because only fools see the act of giving as separate from the rest of their lives. Sometimes the rewards of giving are distant in time (we don't get thanks or attention or a reciprocal present). Sometimes the rewards are distant in emotion (we give coldly but dutifully). But always the reward is there, because nothing is separate.
We might also remember that a gift is never deserved; if it were deserved it would be a payment. Do we wish to pay our family and friends? Of course not—so just give happily, and be happy when you too receive a gift you do not deserve.
What would Buddha do when criticized?
Look upon one who tells you your faults as giving you
Buddha knows who we should be hanging with: not sycophants, sometimes not even those who love us and let us slide. A real critic is a blessing. A person like that shows us how we really are. This is a rare opportunity and we shouldn't miss out. Right.
The trick is to be open. There's nothing like criticism to bring out the monkey mind of the defensive self. The monkey mind will chatter back in the nastiest way. And you should see the things it throws. Buddha challenges us not to be this way. Are you ready for critique? How about this: Why are you reading this book when you could be donating blood?
What would Buddha do when bored?
If you find one thing boring,
Boredom lies in our character, not in the world. "If you're bored," I've heard it said, "you're boring." Think about this.
When you're bored, you tend to bore others. Conversely, when you're bored, it is because you are boring: you are the one who engages in the act of boring. It's not the world that is boring you, it is you who are boring the world. This is Buddha's meaning.
So, when you are boring, stop doing it. Look inside and ask yourself, "Why am I draining the life from this moment?" Answering this question restores you and the world to life. Boredom becomes impossible.
What would Buddha do when fearing personal failure?
Am I strong enough to save the world? ... Remembering
It is hard to think of Buddha as having doubts, especially after his awakening, but Buddha was just a person and all persons, even enlightened ones, have doubts. He thought about the enormity of his goal—saving the world and all living things!—and asked himself, "Do I really have the strength to accomplish this?" He found the answer was yes, and he followed his duty. (Interestingly, the Sanskrit word for "duty," dharma, also means "teaching" and "truth.")
When we face the greatest challenges, even when we know we are right—especially when we know we are right—we may feel acutely conscious of the greatness of our aspiration and the smallness of our ability. Like Buddha, we must draw on everything we know, find our resolution and, like him, throw ourselves into our dharma.
Our dharma may not compare to Buddha's in scale, but it remains our duty, and if we let it teach us it will become our truth.
Excerpted from What Would Buddha Do? by Franz Aubrey Metcalf Copyright ©2002 by Franz Aubrey Metcalf. Excerpted by permission.
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