Monday, November 1, 2010

On Suffering (Buddhism: A Series, Part 7)

I would like to extend my previous discussion on causing suffering. From my background in sociology, I am acutely aware of the impact of our individual actions and how, in the aggregate, they can have serious widespread consequences. For example, most people believe that they are ethical in that they take no specific actions that directly harm others. By taking a step back we can begin to see how our actions (or inaction) can, even indirectly, contribute to the suffering of others. Taking steps to limit these negative effects can serve to inspire others but it can also serve to ease our own suffering. This higher idea of focusing on the wellbeing of others (even to the detriment of oneself) is the focus of The Way of The Bodhisattva by Shantideva. It is a historical text from 8th century CE. It is written in a stanzas and most translations are also accompanied by notes and interpretation.

Some key stanzas:

To cover all the earth with sheets of hide --
Where could such amount of skin be found
But simply wrap some leather round your feet,
And it's as if the whole earth had been covered!

When the urge arises in the mind
To feelings of desire or wrathful hate,
Do not act! Be silent, do not speak!
And like a log of wood be sure to stay.

Thus, when enemies or friends
Are seen to act improperly,
Be calm and call to mind
That everything arises from conditions.

If even this you do not want for beings,
How could you want buddhahood for them?
And how can anyone have bodhichitta
And resent the good that others have?

If someone else receives a gift,
Or if that gift stays in the benefactor's house,
In neither case will it be yours--
So, given or withheld, why is it your concern?"

Strive at first to meditate
Upon the sameness of yourself and others.
In joy and sorrow all are equal.
Thus be guardian of all, as of yourself.

Since I and other beings both,
In fleeing suffering, are equal and alike,
What difference is there to distinguish us,
That I should save myself and not the other?

Seeing then the faults that come from cherishing myself,
The oceanic qualities that come from loving others,
I shall lay aside all love of self
And gain the habit of adopting others."

Thus when I work for others' sake,
No reason can there be for boasting or amazement.
For it is just as when I feed myself--
I don't expect to be rewarded.

Just as I defend myself, therefore,
From all unpleasant happenings however small,
Likewise I shall act for others' sake
To guard and to protect them with compassion."

All the joy the world contains
Has come through wishing happiness for others.
All the misery the world contains
Has come through wanting pleasure for oneself.

Americans, more so than other inhabitants of high-income countries, often take a view that we are all independent and responsible for only ourselves. Until we see that we are all in this together, it will be difficult to address our biggest problems.

1 comment:

Holly said...

I love this post, and each post you have written about Buddhism. Keep it coming! Those stanzas you shared are truly inspirational.