Lately, my son (a.k.a. Little Guy) and I have been watching classics episodes of the Super Mario Brothers cartoons that I used to watch as a kid,1 including this classic gem:
This episode has some surprisingly Buddhist lessons in it. If you fast-forward to 06:13 you can hear King Koopa say:
Look at those dumb clucks hand over their life savings for a few brief moments of mouth-watering bliss.
This says a lot about human behavior, I think. Of course, we’re not just talking about fast-food but a lot of cheap thrills we sacrifice our labor and dignity for. Look at your own life and I bet you can kind examples big and small.
For me, I tend to buy Starbucks when I don’t need to. My wife buys excellent cold brew concentrate so I can make all the coffee I want at home, but I still find myself wanting to buy Starbucks sometimes. It’s not based on thirst so much as the thrill of buying a Starbucks coffee. I have the same problem with eating out, too.
Or, when I buy certain expensive Magic the Gathering cards so I can defeat my friends or play in some local competition. The cards give me an advantage (usually) and that leads to a few more victories. But the moment’s thrill don’t last very long, and sooner or later, I get trounced again by my opponent. There’s always a bigger fish out there.
All that sweat, labor and saving only buys a few moments of bliss and you’re back to the grind again.
In the Dhammapada are these verses:
260-261) A head of gray hairs doesn’t mean one’s an elder. Advanced in years, one’s called an old fool. But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness, self-control — he’s called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened. (trans. Ven Thanissaro Bhikkhu)
Self-restraint rubs against the grain of what we want to do, but it does lead to more dignity and fewer hassles in life, so it’s worth cultivating even just a little bit.
Also, don’t eat anything made by King Koopa. Seriously. ;p
1 I remember watching the original Super Mario Brothers Super Show as a kid (including the Friday Zelda episodes). It was a really fun time to be a kid due to “Nintendo fever“.