Sunday, October 7, 2012

Your Choice

Hiroyuki Itsuki wrote:
"Some may deride this view as negative and pessimistic, but this was the starting point for the Buddha. Emerging from a life of privilege and shelter, he looked directly at the reality of human existence and saw birth, old age, sickness, and death as its essence. This view of human existence as defined by birth, old age, sickness, and death is the ultimate expression of negative thinking."

In a previous post i agreed with Itsuki and offered that i do deride his views as negative and pessimistic. I need to back off that a little here. I wrote that because "deride" was the word he offered, but it has bothered me since then. I certainly do not deride him for his views. There is no contempt in my opposing opinions, there is no mocking intended here. But, i do disagree with him.

I don't deride his views, nor do i look down on him for having them. As long as they don't hurt others, or incite others to hurt others, then everyone is entitled to their own views and opinions. Whether you accept them or not everyone will have their own views opinions, and most of those will be different than your own. In fact, i would make the argument that no two people on the planet have the exact same views — we all, everyone of us inhabit our own personal world and have, therefore, our own, specifically personal, world views.

It's just that in my way of looking at this world it seems to me that he has chosen among the worst of all possible options — impossibly negative and pessimistic, assuming the worst, giving up all hope for the best. From my perch, if you never expect anything good, that's what you'll get ... nothing good. If you never expect happiness and fulfillment, that's what you'll get ... unhappiness and an unfulfilled life.

I can't say that Itsuki is wrong and i'm right, of course not, but i do thank my lucky stars that i somehow escaped that black hole of negativity that seems to have sucked him in.

In any case, back to what he wrote. Seeing that old age, sickness, and death define human existence, that they provide the broadest of outlines inside of which we live our lives, is not the ultimate expression of negative thinking, but simply a recognition of what it means to be alive, the "reality of human existence," as Itsuki said.

The ultimate expression of negative thinking would be to take this understanding of reality to its ultimate end and say that, since we will all ultimately get old and die, what use is there to live? What use is there to have children? When you bring them into the world all you are doing is condemning them to die. From their first breath they are condemned. Why bother putting them through that?

But that is not what the Buddha said. He accepted this as the basic fact of life, but questioned whether or not that was the whole story. And in the end, he rejected that option and pointed out a different way of looking at our lives. He took the ultimately positive road and said that even inside that broad outline of certain aging and death there is something that we can do about suffering, there is a wondrous life that can be lived. Even in the most horrendous of circumstances, there is, if not happiness, then at least peace and contentedness to be found.

What matters is how you define your life, how you define what you see through that rolling window of circumstances and events that is your life. Buddha taught that your world ("the" world, from your perspective) is something you personally create, define, organize, and maintain. You can define and maintain a wold full of suffering, hopelessness, despair, and surrender or you can define and maintain a world full of compassion, love, hope, and goodness.

Everything about your world is defined by your mind and your mind alone. Everything in your world is judged and evaluated by your mind and your mind alone. Everything in your world is as it is in your mind and your mind alone. And there is no reason that you can not train your mind to see, experience, and live in a better world. This is not ultimately negative, it is the epitome of positivity. You are in charge, you can have as much happiness as you want, you can be anything you want. All you have to do is put in the effort.

Yes, what happens "out there" may be completely out of your control. But how you react to it "in here" is under no one's control but your own. Choose the high road and the low road will disappear.

But, even more importantly than all that is the question "What is life?" Is it that period between birth and death? Is there really such a thing as birth and death or just different and constantly changing ways that "we" manifest?

As long as we maintain the illusion that there is a "me" and those "others," there will be those problems which others cause for me. So the Buddha also offered the ultimate solution. Wake up; see for yourself that ultimately there are no problems that anyone can cause you, no difficulties too difficult to bear, no hardships worth wrangling your hands over, because "you" are not the one experiencing them. If experience is part of the equation, then you're looking at the wrong "you." The real you, the real other, isn't born, doesn't experience, doesn't suffer, and doesn't die.

The Buddha taught two ways of dealing with suffering, neither of which was pessimistic or negative. Accept a difference between yourself and everything else but train your mind to reject negativity, hatred, aggression, and greed, and, instead, live a life of compassion, love, and hope. Or, realize there is no difference, in which case there is no difference.

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