It’s Ohigan season again. For this season’s post I got burst of inspiration came recently after I saw this article about a parody account that pokes fun of the recent “Authentic Lifestyle” movement. You can see pictures of authentic lifestyles online now, and there are plenty of self–help websites to help you live an authentic lifestyle.
It sounds very tempting doesn’t it? Live a life the way you want to, the way that feels right for you. Life will be great, without friction, authentic, and most important: happy.
But unfortunately very few people, if anyone, live like this. Not everyone can be an attractive twenty-something hipster with the time and money to spare. Somebody has to clean the toilets every day, and somebody else has to work in a factory making the designer hiking clothes you wear, the non-gmo, organic, free-trade food you eat and so on.
In fact, most of us can’t live this kind of lifestyle to begin with. You see, life is often messy, complicated and demanding. The Buddha knew this long ago when he formulated the Four Noble Truths. The very first one states that existence is marked with suffering. People aren’t suffering all the time, but there is plenty of frustrations and stress to go around. Or in his words (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, SN 56.11):
“Suffering, as a noble truth, is this: Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; association with the loathed is suffering, dissociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering — in short, suffering is the five categories of clinging objects.
On a typical day, we experience “micro-frustrations” when we have to associate with things we don’t like, be separated from things we like, not get what we want, and so on. We have obligations we have to attend to, things we worry about, etc.
In the Immeasurable Life Sutra, the Buddha describes life like so:
“Because they are spiritually defiled, deeply troubled and confused, people indulge their passions. Hence, many are ignorant of the Way, and few realize it. Everyone is restlessly busy, having nothing upon which to rely. Whether moral or corrupt, of high or low rank, rich or poor, noble or base, all are preoccupied with their own work.
The trouble with the “authentic lifestyle” is nothing new: it’s just a nice way of saying a self-indulgent lifestyle. Further, the more you try to indulge yourself, the more dissatisfied and agitated you become.
Instead, the Buddha offered different advice to his son Rahula. Rahula had followed his father’s footsteps and joined the monastic community and some of the early sutras are conversations between the Buddha and his son. In this sutra, the Maha-Rahulovada Sutta (MN 62), he tells Rahula the following:
“Rahula, any form whatsoever that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: every form is to be seen as it actually is with right discernment as: ‘This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am.'”
“Just form, O Blessed One? Just form, O One Well-gone?”
“Form, Rahula, & feeling & perception & fabrications & consciousness.”
The Buddha’s advice seems pretty counter-intuitive at first. Of course it’s my feelings, my thoughts and my life.
But are they? The Buddha taught that everything arises through temporary causes and conditions, and when those causes and conditions fade, things fade too. Your thoughts and feelings often arise from outside conditions (hunger, cold, annoying co-workers, etc), and much of who you are is shaped by the environment you grew up in, for better or worse. This is why it’s so hard to fulfill one’s desires: when you satisfied one, another arises because conditions keep arising. The harder you grasp, the more exhausted you become. There’s no end to it.
So, at some point, you just have to drop the baggage you’ve been carrying around and just leave it where it is. You won’t be able to solve all the problems in your life in the span of time you have (even if you lived 1,000 years), so just let them be. Cherish your friends and family because they are here for you and accept you for what you are. You don’t own them, but they are some of the positive causes and conditions that help you to be who you are.
Don’t worry about what you could have or could be, focus on your life now. It probably sucks in some major ways, but it’s not who you are. It’s not a reflection of you. It just is what it is.