It was the Wednesday night dharma talk at the Pt. Montara lighthouse. The teacher was a guy who has talked there countless times. He’s a wonderful human being who counsels the dying and exudes compassion. He was the first teacher I met and has often brought me peace of mind in trying times. Last night, however, I just wasn’t buying it.
Things started going off the rails early when he discussed the constant struggle we have with suffering by using the example of opening the refrigerator to get the cream for your coffee, but there is no cream. This causes a mild form of suffering that we need to be aware of because it’s the seed of a constant stream of suffering we must endure throughout our day and on and on to the end of our days.
Talk about first world problems! Maybe it set me off because, for one, I can’t relate at all. I enjoy my coffee black. The bigger deal to me though, is that I’m becoming more and more conscious of the plight of those who really are suffering due to the first world lifestyle. Lester Brown’s World on the Edge, an assessment of the deeper and deeper shit we’re getting into worldwide as a result of climate change, is seriously getting under my skin. The biggest takeaway so far is that climate change is having real effects in the world already but it’s those stuck in the far corners of the world who are feeling those effects thus far and it’s typically in the form of starvation and disease due to failing crop yields and lack of fresh water. That and it’s mostly innocent children who suffer first. Not to mention all the threatened species other than dear humanity.
Another factor springs from the event I attended with my family a week ago that resulted in my acquisition of Mr. Brown’s gloomy tome. It was the pre-screening of Do the Math at the monastic residence of a Buddhist nun who’d been awakened into activism on behalf of the environment. Ayya Santussika had discovered the cause through others in her order who had been part of the recent mass protest in Washington (the one Aldus attended). It had ocurred to me after watching the movie that I might bring the issue to the attention of my own little sangha in Montara. The nun agreed it was a great idea and even suggested a willingness to make the trip out and give a talk about it. I contacted the folks in my sangha who schedule the speakers and assumed they’d embrace the idea. Instead they threw cold water on it. They didn’t want to distract from the core mission of the sangha, which is apparently to alleviate the suffering of those who don’t have cream for their coffee.
It really makes me think that Buddhism, at least in its common western form, is mostly about feeling better about being so full of ourselves that we can’t give a crap for anybody else but our own little community of relatively rich and comfortable, well-fed and secure fellow human beings. As our teacher had us close our eyes and asked us to feel compassion for our friends and loved ones in their creamless anguish I was brought very near to the point of standing up and screaming at the group in outright anger. No, goddamit! I don’t care about any of you at all right now. I’m mostly consumed with concern for the hell we’re unleashing upon the world in the form of starvation, habitat destruction, and all the wonderful adventures to follow.
I held my tongue and stayed outwardly peaceful, but I did not leave the group last night a happy and content soul. It helps a little to get this out. Thanks for listening.