Monday, September 6, 2010

BEST OF PBIHT: The Buddhist Bus Ride - III

Continued from  The Buddhist Bus Ride Part II
Originally posted November 2009

Truer Than Truth

"There is an old Jewish saying that I love," Isabelle Allende, the Chilean-American, says, opening her moving but also hilarious Ted talk called Tales of Passion. "What is truer than truth? Answer: The Story."

Well this Jewish-Canadian cannot conceive of a better way to approach even the most surface of understandings of Buddhist wisdom than with a parable.

It is ancient times and a mother has suffered the greatest tragedy a mother can - the loss of her child. In agony she pleads with the Buddha to do something. He contrives of a way to help her, saying that if she can procure one particular spice (he names a spice common to most any kitchen) from any home upon which death has not touched its door, then he can bring her child back to life.

The woman visits home upon home and of course, in every case, she learns that all the families have been touched by death. All have lost mothers, husbands, children.

At the story's end, the woman does not - cannot - get her child back of course - that is impossible. Instead, what the Buddha has taught her, what she has learned, is that she is not alone in her pain.

What If We Can't

Whether we are dealing with the most horrific of human tragedy, or the most mundane of daily struggle, there is a Disney danger, I think, in always trying to escape our fates, our pains, our realities. Yet so much of the modern western lifestyle does exactly this. Buddhism suggests the opposite because we cannot cheat death, and sometimes, when the walk would just be too long, or a bike ride just not possible because it's frigid February, sometimes we can't get off the bus.

Which brings us to the impetus for this overlong series of posts. Some advice the Dalai Lama once gave of how to deal when in a crowded, uncomfortable situation, eg. a crowded bus. He recommended to look around, to actually see the people around you. You ever do that? Look at all the other sad souls on that bus, the misery plastered on their faces? You ever recognize that the misery on your face is the misery on everyone's face? That you are not alone in your misery is, however, only the first part.

The 14th Dalai Lama, who speaks of compassion above all else as the ultimate good, takes the advice a critical step further. What he has taught me to do on that bus, and only when I remember - and oh how easily we forget - is to step out from my own misery and not just look to the misery of those passengers around me, but to empathize with them and offer of my compassion in response. Offer of your kindness to relieve their pain.

Now let's be clear, out of ten bus rides I doubt I'm batting .200, but when I do step out from me and empathize with you, I no longer feel miserable.

What Choice Do We Have
I'm sure you'll agree that there are but two types of old men in the world: the grumpy old man and the sweet, gentle old man. And the same way all men believe they are Michael when they watch "The Godfather" because, as my brother-in-law, Roberto, so astutely once put it, "Nobody thinks they're Fredo," no one believes that they will grow up to be the grumpy old man either.

And yet, with each passing year I became more the old man wanting to snip and bark at dumb teenagers who yell on buses and throw garbage out windows, that aging man I am who seethes at how much worse the world has gotten, hell in the old hand basket... But when I can remember, I lately find myself voicing in my head that mind-altering Ghandi quote:

"Be the change you want to see in the world."

We assume this to mean ending global warming or AIDS in Africa, and God bless. But it can heal small too. When I remember to be compassionate for the crap a bus driver deals with or the suffering of my fellow commuters, I like to think I inch that much closer to the sweet, gentle old man and suffer that much less. I'm not suggesting Nirvana, just feeling a bit happier.



  1. When I am on a train or a bus I am always searching the eyes of those around me. I see their pain, their suffering. It is my pain, my suffering. But I keep searching until I find one person (sometimes an adult, sometimes a child) whose eyes meet mine with a smile. It's a rare and beautiful moment of knowing that, in spite of our collective suffering, there is still grace, still something worth smiling about.

    And that makes all the difference.

  2. Nice work if you can get it...

  3. Sorry, TP, that was cynical. That moment is lovely when it happens; just ... rare.


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