November 30, 2017

The Purpose of Life, according to the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama is no dummy.

Here is a guy who is described as so present and so focused he has been seen fully taking in the majesty of a desert sunset with tears in his eyes and then walking three more feet and noticing the intricacies of a small flower just beginning to bud, wondering aloud as to the name and species of the plant.

However, when it comes to the American population he has, at times, been completely at a loss.

When he was asked by one of his American students what his opinion on self-loathing was, you could’ve heard a pin drop in the crowded room as the Holy One confided with one of a dozen translators and aides, attempting to get a bead on the linguistic oxymoron of self-hatred.

Or, at least to him, it was an oxymoron. He hadn’t spent enough time in the United States to grasp his own naiveté. “What is this…this…self-loathing?” he finally stammered in embarrassment and frustration.

Well, he’s at it again.

On his web site he has the audacity to state:

“I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering. Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affect this.”

Who does this guy think he is making such a sweeping generalization? The man obviously wastes way too much time in quiet meditation and not nearly enough time on Facebook. There you will find the nuts and bolts of the American psyche. And believe me, it’s not that easy.

Even the Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön is aware of this. In a recent seminar at The Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, she was quoted as saying, “We as a Western species are so peculiar. A lot of people have trouble with the word ‘happiness’. A Japanese teacher, a Tibetan teacher, a Southeast Asian teacher would never dream that someone would have trouble with the simple statement that all beings want to be happy. But believe me, I’ve heard a lot of arguments…”

The room was rumbling with the knowing laughter you’d expect from most Western people being faced with their own ridiculousness.

It’s no coincidence that I am writing this on the American retail holiday known as Black Friday.

Here, millions of Americans curse, punch, and stab each other—and recently have taken to setting the stores they are shopping in on fire—all in the name of celebrating the birth of Christ, a day set aside each year to embrace feelings of love, charity, and goodwill toward others. That is, of course, unless they are trying to get the same 55-inch HD TV that you want. In this case, it becomes a Roman gladiator holiday and all bets are off.

But, as Pema re-phrased the question to, “Is there anyone in the room who is seeking a stressful, anxiety-ridden life?” she was able to hone in more accurately on her audience. Noting that the word “happy” was fraught with so many other connotations, she closed her preface at that point, and began her talk.

Americans seem quite a bit more interested in getting a fix than in the whole-hearted joy of Buddha nature.

Whether the fix is drugs, food, sex, Facebook, television, text messages, video games, or porn—any combination of these—depends entirely on the individual. That is, of course, until they reach middle age and begin to focus on getting “fixed.”

This they do by attending expensive seminars where they wrestle with the complex idea of happiness.

Author: Billy Manas
Image: CMichel/Flickr
Editor: Lieselle Davidson
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