Sunday, December 18, 2011

Little red pill

Last week I had an interesting conversation with some Zen friends. One of them asked if we would take a little pill that would allow us to forget everything that had happened in our lives and start all over. I misunderstood the question and thought that the pill would erase only our memories of the unpleasant parts of our lives.

This is a much harder question to answer. For who wouldn't be tempted to forget all of those painful, perhaps humiliating memories from their past? My alien abduction, my stint in a biker gang, the list goes on and on. Sure, most of us would like to say, "Not me. My past has made me who I am, and I wouldn't trade that for anything."

That sounds like the kind of thing you hear on a talk show, with some celebrity who just found Jesus, not to real people. Because the truth is, life is filled with a lot of pain, anguish, and outright suffering. The Buddha hit the nail on the head when he said that life is dukkha. In our quick fix, Super size me culture, I have a hard time believing that this pill wouldn't be the next Prozac.

And I would be lying if I said that it isn't tempting. Buddhist practice aims at non-abiding, the capacity to exist fully in the present moment without resisting, passing judgment, and grasping. I guess in a way, practice is about moving from saying "yes" to the pill, to "no thanks." Not because we embrace or accept our scars in a kind of Lifetime channel kind of way, but because we see that they're not actually scars as much as they are stories that we believe. They're basically empty story lines that we have accept for so long that we have a hard time letting go of them.

In a way, I have to be grateful for my suffering because it's what brought me to Buddhism in the first place. Without it, I might still be...well, let's just say, more lost than I am today.

So in the end, I guess I would pass on the pill. Our lives are not obstacles; they are our path. That's what, I think, Zen is trying to wake us up to--that we're complete and perfect, even in our suffering. I know, that sounds harder to swallow than any pill, but I think it's the truth. Once we understand that our suffering originates in our minds, and is in fact self-inflicted and substanceless, then we don't need any pill.

We don't need anything because we have everything. We are everything.

That's because our suffering is more than just our lives or the path we walk; it's the very gate to freedom.

Photo borrowed from Creative Commons flickr user: j03.

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