Half asleep, I heard an East Indian on my clock radio say, “Everyone suffers, the poor suffer without comfort, the rich suffer with comfort”. I thought that would be a good kick-off for a post so I tried to find that in NPR’s online archive, but found nothing. Did I dream this with the Indian accent and all? It could be, but dreams are just another side of reality, so on with my story…
I have always wondered why Buddhism never took hold in India. After all India is the land of Buddhism’s birth. Of course, the same applies to Christianity and the Jews. Why didn’t the Jews swap their old paradigm for the newer updated Christian one? History shows that people trade in their traditional religious models for new and improved ones when their old ones fail to help them cope with the vicissitudes of life(1). This is simply a matter of nature filling the vacuum that it abhors. The Jews and Indians had something that served them well enough and so never flocked en masse to the newer religion.
Buddhism, like Christianity, was a contemporary attempt by their originators, Buddha and Christ, to update the religion of their times. Jesus refocused Jewish tradition, casting out the moneychangers and challenging stuffy hidebound priests. Buddha offered a spiritual practice open to everyone, circumventing the caste system. Essentially, he simplified and democratized the worldview expressed in the Bhagavad Gita. (Jesus did something similar for Judaism I assume.)
However, Buddhism didn’t stick in India, and that NPR comment, whether real or my dream, explains why. He didn’t come with a radically new message. His message was already an integral part of Indian culture. For example, the Bhagavad Gita offers, Freedom from the lust of the senses, absence of the thought of ‘I’, perception of the sorrows of birth, death, old age, disease, and suffering; (13:8).
The truth of suffering, Buddha’s First Noble Truth, parallels this “the rich suffer in comfort; the poor suffer without”. Frankly, everyone suffers. Buddha’s message just consolidates it into an empirical principle… The First Noble Truth is the existence of sorrow. Birth is sorrowful; growth is sorrowful, decay is sorrowful, and death is sorrowful. Sad it is to be joined with that which we dislike. Sadder still is the separation from that which we love, and painful is the craving for that which cannot be obtained.
I am not a Buddhist, at least not in any formal sense. That applies to Taoism too. However, I have repeatedly verified the evidence underpinning Buddha’s truths through personal experience. Buddha was a “rich suffer in comfort” person. He sought out the cause of suffering, and found a way to manage it. Stories of enlightenment are just icing on the cake of reality, like the Christian stories of Heaven. Belief in enlightenment and Heaven serve a tribal purpose by giving people an ideal around which to unite and to offer a flicker of hope. Of course, that is true of all ideals: artistic, political, dietary, clothing, etiquette, etc. We connect through whatever cultural beliefs we share in common (2).
This analysis may sound cynical, depending upon whose ears it falls. Fortunately, if you’re reading this far, your ears are perhaps impartial enough to see that I’m merely seeking to see life from a simpler Symptoms Point of View (p.141). Frankly, I find any other point of view just leads me around in circles. Simply said then, necessity is not only the mother of invention; it is also the mother of all action.
(1) The failure of a contemporary religion to address changing times effectively explains why religions in the developed regions of the world are losing many of their adherents. The harnessing of electricity has changed life in profound and fundamental ways—and this is only the beginning. We have barely begun this new electricity based lifestyle. Such a drastic change as this will undoubtedly drive a comparable shift in humanity’s religious paradigms over the coming centuries. See also And Then There Was Fire (p.296) and The Wealthy Poor (p.232). For more on enlightenment, see Is Enlightenment Something or ??? (p.24) and, So, You Want Enlightenment, Eh? (p.174).
(2) This explains why people become emotionally unhinged when their beliefs are threatened. The survival instinct and fear kick in, which then kicks out rationality. Perceiving the source of conflict (need and fear) helps me remain impartial and at peace with what is out of my hands to help.