But What About Me?
Buddhism, unlike most of the major belief systems, does not have as its core teaching the worship of a deity. Rather, the primary teaching is the Four Noble Truths. These include the inevitability of suffering, the cause of this suffering, the ability to overcome this suffering and the means by which to do so. After his enlightenment at age thirty-five, Gautama Buddha spent the next forty-five years traveling and teaching. This body of teachings is the Buddhadharma. The founding minister of our temple, Rev. Gyomay Kubose, devoted his life to making these teachings understandable to Americans. Often, when asked to explain Buddhism, he would reply, “But what about me?” What did he mean by this?
Most of us go through life blaming outside forces for our suffering. Events, other people or supernatural demons are the cause of our suffering. Our egos tell us that we are not at fault. Buddhism teaches us to ask, “But what about me?” How am I the cause of my suffering? Just as importantly, how am I the cause of the suffering of others? We approach life with certain expectations. When these expectations fail to be met, we suffer.
Our ego driven desires even cause us to be envious of the good fortune of others. I once heard a speaker use the phrase “sympathetic joy.” Hearing of someone winning the lottery do you feel joy for him or her or are you envious? Do the stories of the success of others make you happy or resentful? Are you capable of experiencing “sympathetic joy?”
Gautama Buddha spoke of the idea of impermanence. Simply put, this means that all things constantly change. You are born, you live, you die. You are not the same person today that you were yesterday. Nor will you be the same person tomorrow. Our futile wish that things not change causes suffering. Suffering differs from sorrow. When a loved one dies, we feel sorrow for the loss. Suffering occurs when we cannot accept that they have died.
The Buddha meditated deeply prior to his enlightenment. During this time, the demons and temptations of his youth entered his mind. These visions urged him to return to the castle where he could live the life of a noble prince. His realization that these demons and temptations were of his creation, not something outside him, was his enlightenment. The Buddhadharma teaches that before we can overcome our suffering we must eliminate our ignorance, greed and lust.
Buddhist teachings are applicable to every life regardless of religious beliefs. Many of them exist in other religions. Do not covet your neighbor’s possessions. Turn the other cheek. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Follow these teachings and you will lessen your suffering. Therefore, the next time you find yourself upset or angry think, “But what about me?”
For more information about Buddhism and Tuesday evening Zen meditation contact me at BASEWI@aol.com