Who ate the rest of my mint chocolate chip?
Sometimes I get a little pushback on the topic of Buddhism, particularly the subject of suffering. People say something like, “Gosh, all that talk about suffering! Aren’t you guys a bit over the top with all the suffering? That’s so negative.”
Yes, it’s true, the foundation of Buddha’s teaching is the Four Noble Truths, which usually are stated like this:
- Life contains suffering.
- The origin of suffering is attachment.
- The cessation of suffering is attainable.
- There’s an Eightfold Path to freedom.
Let me be clear. Buddhism doesn’t elevate, emphasize or worship suffering. Buddhism says, “Let’s just face the facts, people.” Despite our earnest attempts to conjure optimism, hope, abundance, luck, gratitude, aptitude, cleverness, perfect SATs, and triumphant superiority, there is nothing more universally human than having a problem.
To prove it, let’s take the word “suffering.” You might have a problem with it. Suffering sounds so big—Haitian earthquake, Tucson rampage, financial meltdown big—when the kind of suffering most of us encounter every day is so embarrassingly trivial we might not even recognize it as suffering. More like WHO ATE THE REST OF MY MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP.
There are other kinds of suffering too—like old age, sickness, death, Jersey Shore, and taxes—but we can’t really do much about those, can we? So the kind of suffering we start with is the kind that actually causes us and everyone around us the most problems, AS FOR INSTANCE WHEN SOMEONE WHO SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS (YOU) ATE THE REST OF MY MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP.
So I like to state the Four Noble Truths this way:
- Life is full of problems.
- It always seems like my problem starts with you but it really starts with me.
- It always seems like you should fix my problem but in the end it’s up to me.
- I’m going to the store, want anything?
Karen Maezen Miller is a Zen Buddhist priest and teacher at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles. She is the author of two books on spirituality in everyday life: Hand Wash Cold and Momma Zen . Karen also blogs regularly on KarenMaezenMiller.com Want to follow her on twitter ? Click here.
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