The older I get, the more I think the Buddhists got it right – life is a cyclical pattern of pain, sorrow and disappointment with intermittent episodes of happiness thrown in to remind us just how rare happiness actually is. I’ve noticed that in my professional and personal life how many people let me down and how frustrating life can get; people don’t harbor good feelings towards you or you go to the supermarket and they’re all out of a particular item you want or you’re paying more for something due to “hidden charges.”
Life is basically an uncertain adventure fraught with danger, pain and frustration, but once in a while you experience brief periods of elation and happiness. Translation: you get laid.
Still, philosophers and mystics have for millennia pondered the deep mysteries of existence and all of them are about as effective as guessing where the light switch is in a dark room. Nobody really knows; it’s all just a hunch and we’re improvising. The more truthful doctrines are ones acknowledging that life doesn’t always go our way. You may meet someone you think is a diamond in the rough, but they turn out to just be just smartly polished glass.
An anecdote to such disappointment should be the realization that life isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. If you fall in love, you’re going to eventually lose that person. How, when and why are variables, but love doesn’t last forever.
Neither do humans. We’re all going to die. It’s inevitable. Only the factors change, whether it’s through extreme old age, cancer or being struck by the Number 7 bus from Parsippany.
The problem is, we carry on as if none of these factors exist, blithely plodding along life unaware that around any corner we might be killed by a pack of wolverines or, for some unexplainable reason, might spontaneously combust.
Which brings me back to the point that the Buddhists might have gotten it all right when they say there is Dukkaha, or sorrow and suffering in life caused by desire. This is explained in the Four Noble Truths, which make more sense than any televangelist on Sunday morning. Essentially:
1. Life means suffering
2. The causes of suffering are attachment, anger and ignorance
3. Suffering can end
4. Ending suffering comes following the Noble Eightfold Path
Though the Noble Eightfold Path sounds like something L. Ron Hubbard thought up in his basement lair, it really is quite simple:
1. Right view – seeing things through and understanding things for as they are
2. Right intention – a commitment to self-improvement and resisting desires
3. Right speech – honesty, openness and rejection of lies
4. Right action – don’t harm living beings, don’t steal, don’t kill and don’t fuck everything that moves
5. Right livelihood – make money honestly and not in a way that hurts others
6. Right effort – abandon unwholesome thoughts and strive for perfection
7. Right mindfulness – View things with a clear consciousness and not with muddled perceptions
8. Right concentration – Inner discipline through meditation
In other words, don’t go through life a selfish, greedy bastard. Other people share the Earth with you. Billions of them, in fact. So instead of adopting this Darwinian “the strongest shall survive”, be kind, be courteous and remember not everything will go your way. You’ll lose money, you’ll experience heartache and you’ll have health problems. You’ll have your share of sleepless nights. You will be depressed. Maybe suicidal. Just remember that all of the shit you experience is fleeting and will pass and you will be happy, maybe for a week or a few days, but you will be happy, so don’t go stocking up on strychnine.
Everyone has their good days and bad days. Everyone. I’ve experienced constant frustration at life, tiny niggling things like gridlocked traffic, idiots at the supermarket with more than 12 items in the express lane, and psycho telemarketers on the phone. Still, I get by, hopeful that the traffic will move, the fat lady buying Doritos and Clorox will bag her products and get the fuck out of the store, and that the telemarketers will spontaneously combust.
And that's my brief moment of happiness…