I had dinner a little while ago with a health care reporter who also happens to be a Buddhist (is this getting to be a theme in my life?) and I mentioned that one of the most consoling thoughts I’ve had these days is that nothing lasts. I was probably thinking on the geologic scale, reminding myself that no matter how badly we might ruin the environment, a quarter of a million years from now, the earth will be doing its thing and we’ll be a long-gone species.
But my friend lept on my comment and said that my thought aligned with one of the three main precepts of Buddhism. I might have mangled them a bit but there is impermanence, acceptance of suffering, and reduction of self, i.e. whatever is going on, it isn’t about YOU. The first and last ones gave me no trouble but the middle one gave me pause.
Does acceptance of suffering imply we should be less compassionate? Does it open the door to the old excuse of those who enjoy comfort that “the poor shall always be with ye”?
Apparently not. The idea is that if you accept that pain is part of life, then you don’t need to run away from it. If the third precept is true and thus, you’re not Superman, then the second precept says that pain is not Kryptonite. Exposure to it won’t weaken or kill you.
That’s an idea I can wrap my brain around. Suffering makes us uncomfortable, whether it’s poverty, illness, or what have you. If you take it on its own terms, and not as a denial of some idealized view of the world, then you can be in its presence and do good in its presence.
If our discomfort leads us to turn away, then where are we? Should we invest ourselves only in the problems that we think we can solve? That would seem to overly restrict that universe of ills that we might address. It also begs the question, what makes us so darn certain that certain things can be fixed and others not?
I suspect many otherwise fine people don’t question their ability to divide the problems they see into fixable and unfixable. I think these are the people Bob Dylan had in mind when he asked “How many times will a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see.”
I think we should see. And I think we should act. Let me know if any of this rings true, or pick it apart if that’s what this needs.