Transcending Suffering and Impermanence

There is a buddhist philosophy that life is all about loss and suffering. 


The Budha says:

Life is suffering.


Why? Because life is impermanence–whatever we gain, eventually, we must lose. 


– Riches, power, people, health, even our memories perhaps. 


In a sense, this is like the saying from “War of the Roses”:

There is no winning, only degrees of losing. 


However, there is one exception to the impermanence and loss in life:


The only thing that is permanent is our good deeds, and with this we can achieve an everlasting good name for ourselves.


In Judaism, we teach:

A good name is better than fine oil.


Hence, this is the permanence that we strive for in life and in death.  


If we can attain a good name through purity of soul then in a sense, we can transcend life’s suffering and impermanence.  


By becoming non-attached to all of life’s temporary things, and instead focusing on perfecting ourselves, we can free ourselves from suffering and from this world, and then we can go on in everlasting-peace to the afterlife. 

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

One Mean Election

trump

Three cheers for one of the worst elections ever.


American politics sinking to new lows.


This poster yesterday plastered all over Washington D.C. 


“Bully Culprit”


Denigrating, bashing, hurting, and humiliating other people whether we like them or not is wrong. 


– What happened to agreeing to disagree?


– What happened to being civil and mannered?


– What happened to “when they go low, we go high”?  


Power is such a motivator. 


Greed, according to the Buddhists is one of the “three poisons,” along with ignorance and hate. 


These lead to evil and suffering and prevent the attainment of enlightenment. 


Desire and wanting something so much that you will do anything for it, thinking you deserve it, and being overconfident that you will get are a weakness of character and leadership. 


Yesterday, Putin said about our election hysteria, “Is America some kind of banana republic?” 


Is this really the type of darkness (and not light) to the world we want to show ourselves as.


We are continuing to go in the wrong direction and away from enlightenment and good–especially when there is so much work for us to still be done. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

From Stability Comes Instability

Buddha 3

I remember hearing the phrase (not sure from where), “everything and the opposite.”


I think it refers to how within each thing in life are elements of the exact contrary and opposing force. 


Similar to the interactions of ying and yang, the world is an interplay of opposites–males and females, black and white, fire and water, ebb and flow, good and bad, optimism and pessimism, and so on. 


Everything has a point and it’s counterpoint.


It was interesting to me to see this concept expressed in terms of the financial markets (Wall Street Journal), where bull and bear contend in terms of our finances.


But what was even more fascinating was the notion from the economist, Hyman Minsky, who noted that the very dynamic between stability and instability was inherent within itself.


So for example, Minsky posits that a stable economic market leads to it’s very opposite, instability.


This happens because stability “leads to optimism, optimism leads to excessive risk-taking, and excessive risk-taking leads to instability” (and I imagine this works in reverse as well with instability-pessimism, retrenchment and limiting risk to stability once again).


Thus, success and hubris breeds failure, and similarly failure and repetitive trial and error/hard work results in success.


It is the interflow between ying and yang, the cycle of life, life and death (and rebirth), the seasons come and go, boom and bust, and ever other swinging of the pendulum being polar opposites that we experience. 


The article in the Journal is called “Don’t Fear The Bear Market,” I suppose because we can take comfort that what follows the bear is another bull. 


But the title sort of minimizes the corollary–Don’t (overly) rejoice in the bull–because you know what comes next.


Go cautiously and humbly through life’s swings.  😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

At Peace Amidst Suffering

Buddha - DC Folk Festival
There is something very smart about Buddhist-thinking. 



(And frankly IMHO, can conceptually mesh very well with Judaism.)



Buddhists nobly accept that life is very much about suffering. 



That greed and evil cause human suffering.



And that we need to reflect, repent, learn, and grow from this as human being with spiritual souls inside us. 



Moreover, that we should have compassion on others, understanding their suffering, even as we experience or remember our own (may G-d have mercy).



This photo taken by at the DC Folk Festival captures well the suffering all around us.



At times, it seems that we are under attack from all sides. 



But like the Buddha at the center, we must submit ourselves to our maker, endure and work to be at peace with ourselves and our surroundings–and to help others achieve the same. 



Yes, maybe a lot easier said then done especially when we are in the throes of it all, but what a noble life we can live and go to the other side with, if we can but learn this. 😉 



(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Just Can’t Bear To Think

Whether though endless work, family activities, exercise, computer time, or whatever, people have a hard time just stopping to think. 

According to the Washington Post, a study in Science shows that people would rather do just about anything–including administer electric shocks to themselves–rather than having to just think for a little while. 

Fully 67% of men and 25% of women chose electric shocks over sitting and thinking for just 6-15 minutes!

People are “desperate for distractions”–whether through social media or smartphones and more.

This is why many ancient practices such as Buddhism, martial arts, yoga, and other disciplines teach meditation–sitting silently, without distraction, deeply in thought. 

People are afraid to stop their endless running, rounds of chores and activities, hustle and bustle, and just think about what they are actually doing and where they are going.

Sitting alone with yourself–you have to confront you!

  • Fears and anxieties
  • Life problems of all sorts
  • Mistakes and personal inadequacies
  • Bad habits and even dangerous addictions

Keeping yourself endlessly busy is an enabler to avoid sometimes painful reflection, introspection, and even necessary self-help. 

While you often hear that doctors recommend a certain amount of activity to keep physically healthy, I believe that similarly, mental and spiritual guidance would be for carving out time for physical inactivity and instead focusing on meditation and reflection. 

Perhaps, this is one reason that the Sabbath (kept in various ways by religions around the world) is so important to the mind and soul–it is a time to stop the work and daily mundane activities and instead focus on your spiritual side. 

Contrary to what you might think, refraining from all the activity may be one of the hardest things to actually do, but stopping and thinking (instead of just continuously doing), confronting yourself, and making life course corrections can be some of the most rewarding. 

Can you stop and think for just 15 minutes or do you need that next fix of compulsive distraction? 

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Addictions R Us

Addictions R Us

I was having an really interesting conversation with a friend–okay, and it got a little deep.

He said something fascinating to me–which is that everyone is addicted to something.

Think about it–some are addicted to the hard stuff…drugs, alcohol, smoking.

Others are addicted to sex, work, shopping, exercise, even religion.

In modern times, there are new addictions to technology, gaming, and social media.

My friend is smart and we discussed or alluded to a number of reasons for the addictive nature of all people.

1) Meaning – Many people have a tough time dealing with the seemingly meaningless, mortal nature of their lives. Without a strong purpose and meaning, we can sort of float through every day looking for some anchor, stability, or rhythm. Addictions, for better or worse, can provide that habit or repetition compulsion. While not very meaningful itself, these addictions help people forget–temporarily, during their high or while they are being kept busy–that they are perhaps lost amidst it all.

2) Pain – Everyone has pain–emotional, physical, mental–these cause stress on people and their ability to deal or cope can be stretched thin, and they turn to some sort of addiction as a “crutch” to help them get through the day. It reminds me of a very crude song that I overheard years ago, called “F*ck the pain away” (excuse the language here, please). Anyway, simply replace the first word, with “work, shop, drink, and so on and poof, you have opiates (i.e. pain relief) for the masses.

3) Fear – People are afraid–afraid of living, afraid of dying–and addictions take us away from having the time to stop, think, and have to deal with our fears. If every minute, I am running around doing a million things–then I don’t have the time to shut it all down and out, and deal with what’s really going on inside. In fact, some people credit the Holy Sabbath day, as being beneficial to us to just stopping all that daily stuff at least for one day a week!

We are all human, and there is no one who is immune to looking for meaning, avoiding pain, and dealing with their fears.

The question is do we just throw ourselves into something to keep going or do we take more of a Buddhist approach, accept that life is suffering and try to raise ourselves above it through healthy balance, contemplative meditation, compassion and thinking about others, doing good deeds, and so on.

Keeping busy is good too–but going through life in a drug or otherwise induced fugue is not–then we’ve lost ourselves, which is maybe the point for our crazy world where addictions abound and we are all too happy to dive right in. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Miles Cave)

The Happiness Meter

The Happiness Meter

Ever realize that no matter how hard you strive for happiness, it almost always seems just as elusive.

There are many explanations for this:

Of course, it could also be that just because you think something will make you happy, doesn’t mean it will. Often, the fantasy does not live up to the reality, and so rather than achieve happiness, we end up disappointed.

Another explanation, from economics, is the law of diminishing marginal utility that tells us that more of a good thing, does not make us incrementally happier, rather the benefit and satisfaction that we receive from each additional unit of consumption is lower. Let’s face it, the 5th mouthful of chocolate cream pie is not as satisfying at the first, second, or third. And at a certain point, you actually will want to puke!

The Wall Street Journal had a brilliant piece on this that explained this from an evolutionary perspective–fitter organisms are more likely to survive and reproduce, so every time we make a positive decision in our life, rather than find happiness, our “happiness meter” resets to zero, forcing us to make the next positive move in our life to make us better, if not necessarily happier. In other words, keeping us unhappy, forces us into perpetual striving.

So while happiness has been correlated with our genetic makeup, life events, and values (New York Times) or even exercise, altruism, and supportive relationships (CNN), real happiness comes from living a life of meaning, where we find satisfaction in the journey itself, and not rely only on the destination.

For example, Buddhists understand that life is suffering and that we need to escape the hamster wheel of jealousy, aimless external desire, and quenchless ambition and instead seek to do good and find inner contentment.

One colleague (ex-army) of mine used to say, “everyday that I am not in Iraq and Afghanistan is a good day” and perhaps we need to think in those terms too, as we all know things can always be worse, so we would do well to find happiness not just in what we have or achieve, but in thanksgiving for what we are spared as well. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)