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Lions Roar : May 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2009 38 buddhist recipe for freeing the mind than the four noble truths. They are Buddha’s diagnosis of the human condition followed by his treatment plan. here is the first truth: This is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suf- fering; not to get what you want is suffering. once Upon a Time The Buddha’s story is about what to do when you find out that the world is not as you have been told. The Buddha was raised in a palace that was like Disneyland or the Truman Show. The hero of the Tru- man show grew up and lived inside a television show built around him. In the palace where the Buddha grew up, suffering and pain were concealed from him. as in the Truman Show, the hero was the last to know about the conspiracy. The sights that were hidden from the Buddha involved any encounters with sickness, old age, death, or any person who was on a spiritual path. This is a level of informa- tion management that would have made Kim Jong-il very happy, and in such circumstances it is natural for questions to arise. Eventually the Buddha began going absent without leave from the palace. he had the help of his charioteer, the equivalent of a limo driver today, a person who might be able to arrange a vari- ety of experiences for you. During these unauthorized trips, the gods came in disguise and took on the forms of those forbidden sights: someone old, someone sick, a corpse, and a pilgrim—the pilgrim being a person who meditates and offers a different pos- sibility for how to live. The forbidden sights taught the Buddha that reality was different from the dream he had been raised in. a discovery that we have been misinformed is always the first step in awakening and is something like a joke. Meditation and jokes both have a banana-peel effect; they turn you upside down. Sallie: Daddy, Daaddy, Pilar says there’s no Santa Claus, tell me it’s not true! Father: Well, yes Sallie, it is true. We made up the Santa Claus story to explain the presents we give you. Santa is imaginary— you know, like the Easter Bunny. Sallie: What! There’s no Easter Bunny!!?? The first step in waking up was to see through the dream and for this step the fact of suffering was the important clue. The Buddha found this realization to be so important that he called it the first noble truth. In the Zen view, this tragic discovery, in which you notice the pain of being human, is the beginning of freedom. It is a tragedy that is happening in a dream. If you notice that the walls of your prison are confining, you might look for a way out, a way of waking up. or as Gregory Bateson said, “all learning is aversive.” Back to What’s on TV after September 11, President Bush went on television and said, essentially, “You can fight terrorism and show your patriotic spirit by shopping. Please don’t make sacrifices.” This is not Suze orman’s way. Suze as a TV personality seems generally loveable and high-spirited and I, like many others, have happily ignored her recommendations for years. I enjoy her, though; she gives me the impression of a dreamer who became practical and wants to share the benefits of her discovery with others. This is what in Buddhism is called the bodhisattva path—in which your motive is to help everyone to wake up. here is how Suze preaches the first noble truth. If you are someone who used the equity in your house as an aTM machine, she points out that this is in itself a matter of suffering. Sooner or later you will have to pay that adjustable rate mortgage. or perhaps foreclosure has already occurred. There is a salutary sternness in her expression (I’m not offering Suze as a source of financial advice, something I’m not qualified even to consider; I’m commenting on the way she is filling a necessary role in our culture as we wake out of a dream). If you took out one of those loans for which the mortgage broker said, “no need to fill in your income, I’ll do that for you,” then her show is for you. She offers a mixture of discipline, ca- tharsis, and hope. a certain amount of regret usually attends a self-examination, but Suze is not interested in blame, she focuses on where to go from here—very like the Buddha when he es- caped from the palace. now Suze has a segment in which the metaphor is a loan ap- plication. People call in because they want to buy a trinket but in the current, changed economy, have qualms about their own judgment. She tells them whether she will allow them to spend their own money. Today the trinket in question is a Maserati— $85K. Think of a low-end Ferrari, but still very cool, and wicked fast. “So,” she says to the caller, “you need a useless and expensive car.” (Tell us what you really think, Suze.) “and your wife doesn’t like this idea, am I right?” “She told me to call you. We agreed that we would follow your advice.” So Suze is not just teaching the truth of suffering; she is moving on to the second noble truth, the cause of suffering: grasping, aver- sion, ignoring cause and effect. Thinking that a Maserati will make you happy is greed. regretting the loss of value of your house is aversion. Suze teaches by reason, as the Buddha did: “Well,” she says to the caller, “show me the money. how are you going to pay for this thing?” If a woman is on the line she calls her “Girlfriend,” which perhaps makes the medicine go down a little easier. The man who wants a Maserati tells how much income he has (a lot), and expenses, also a lot. he confesses that he is going to put half the price of the car against the house. This is the high moment for Suze. “You are going to mortgage your house for a car you don’t even need?” This is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is craving that leads to rebirth, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking