May You Grow Two More Legs and Always Be Close to the Ground…

Recently, as I rode the bus, I observed a most delightful sight. A small dog, a Maltese, to be exact, was quickly scampering across the surface of an icy parking lot, pulling behind him a thin boy of no more than seven years of age, and perhaps, sixty pounds. The dog looked like it was having the time of its life, and the boy, if not being pulled, was also running with no obvious concern for falling. The Maltese is a small dog and quite low to the ground. Its average weight is around five to seven pounds, with a height of about six to eight inches.

As a middle-aged woman living in a climate where winters last about four to five months with lots of snow, and the cold can be bitter and prolonged, I spend quite a bit of time trying  not  to fall. Despite my ascending age, my imagination remains quite vivid, and I am constantly involved in making connections. “Making connections” is my definition for ‘learning.’

So, it didn’t take long for me to put myself in that young boy’s place, imagining how different the picture would have been had it been I walking that dog. First, I wouldn’t have been dragged anywhere; and second, if the dog had been larger, and I had the potential for being dragged, I would have definitely been fearful, being much taller than that boy, of falling. Walking on only two legs and being over five feet tall, I’d have much farther to fall to the ground than that little boy or the dog.

Then, I thought of that tiny dog’s obvious joy in being outside, scampering fairly free, with no fear of falling. It literally had nowhere to go even if its legs went out from under it! And then I thought of the “four legs” of the joy of a Buddhist’s life: the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths. Working to live by, and meditate on, these Four Noble Truths can help us to remain grounded and less likely to fall by constantly reminding us that not only are we not as “tall” as we think, but also that should we find ourselves “sliding” on the icy pavement of circumstance, there is a sure way to regain our footing. They remind us that suffering is part of living and that we are not alone in this suffering.

There are many renderings of The Four Noble Truths. Two of my favorites are:

  1. Life brings suffering;
  2. That suffering is a part of living;
  3. That suffering can be ended;
  4. There is a path that leads to the end of suffering.

I’m currently searching for where I found the above rendering, and hope to soon post the authorship/location.

The second rending appears on the Website, Buddhaweb.org, under the title  Essentials of Buddhism:

  1. Suffering exists;
  2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires;
  3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases;
  4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing The [Noble] Eightfold Path.

These Four Noble Truths are difficult for many to accept because the implication is that we cannot simply pray to ‘God’ to take our suffering away, or expect to live a life free of suffering, immediately and easily. I was once a practicing Christian. And before I continue, I must say that I know many Christians who take great comfort in their faith and much joy in sharing it. So, if this works for them, I am happy for them. It’s just that one day, when praying to God to make something a certain way for me, I realized that if “He” did so, it would be at the expense, happiness, and possibly even safety of others. I wondered how ‘God’ answered every good person’s prayer fairly, justly, and to everyone’s satisfaction — at the same time. I also came to the conclusion that for me, it was not “enough” for me to simply say, “It was not God’s will” when something did not go my way. I was also disheartened and dissatisfied with the idea that, sometimes, our lives simply have to be miserable, and we must just deal with it because, in the “great by-and-by,” we will one day be happy forever. This is how slaves were taught to deal with their misery. “God will reward you after you die.” The Buddha said that we can be happy in this life. This life.

This is why, today, I wish for everyone to grow two more legs and always live life, joyously, and without fear, like that Maltese —  ‘close to the ground.’

Namaste.

 

 

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6 thoughts on “May You Grow Two More Legs and Always Be Close to the Ground…

  1. Does all desire cause suffering? I struggle with this idea to some degree. For example, does the desire to be a good person, the desire to help others, or the desire to create cause suffering? While I can conjure ways in which yes, in fact these things can cause suffering, I can’t help but believe some desire is essential.

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    1. Dear Amanda,

      Great question! Mind you, I’m still struggling with this issue, myself! That said, let’s address your first question: “Does the desire to be a good person… cause suffering?” Well, depending on the person, yes, it could cause suffering. For example: Let’s say you loan someone in need money, when what you really needed to do was pay your heat bill. They promise to pay you back in one week — in time to prevent your heat from being shut off — but they never pay you back, and your heat is shut off. If you don’t accept the fact that some people are unappreciative, or liars, or con artists, or just really well-meaning, but unable to follow through, then your potential for suffering is high. You might become very angry (which is suffering, in itself), or you might do something retaliatory, which could (read that “will”) cause suffering for both you and that person. On top of all this, you could be thinking, “Wow, I’m a really good person! I loaned them that money, and now, rather than appreciating me (my goodness), they’ve totally dissed me! How could THEY treat ME that way?! In other words, if you do something nice for someone, and have expectations from them of honesty, appreciation, or just simple ethics, and they don’t meet your [desired] expectations of how a good person like you deserves to be treated, then you are in for some suffering. Now answer this: How many of us open doors for people, loan people money, or speak out against injustice, and are perfectly fine with getting no thanks, recompense, or attention, respectively?

      It’s my understanding that ‘desire’ (i.e., ‘grasping’ or ‘clinging’) is based on expectation. We eat chocolate not only because it tastes great, but because it’s a “comfort food” with the potential to make us feel “good,” if only for a moment. We desire a certain outcome or effect. I, myself, desire chocolate quite regularly, despite the fact that it often gives me a really bad headache.

      I’m going to go out on a limb and say that no, probably not all desire causes suffering. I can’t imagine that the desire for ‘liberation, itself, ‘ i.e., the attainment of nibbana (nirvana) is a bad thing, but if the attainment of that state requires me to forgive a debt, or some grievous wrong (so that I do not incur more negative karma), then unless my “desire” for liberation is greater than my “desire” for revenge, then, I will suffer. Additionally, if I let myself down by acting less responsibly or compassionately than I should, then I will also suffer because I simply expected better of myself — when perhaps, I should not have because I desired to think I was better, or stronger, or wiser, or holier than I truly was?

      I recently experienced a great setback regarding the accomplishment of a substantial, life-altering goal in the near future. At this point in my life, I truly believe that not only is depression clinging (with ‘clinging’ referring to ‘desire’) but that even hoping is ‘clinging.’ So, I simply “let go” and decided to learn what I could from that setback. The practice of meditation teaches us to observe our feelings, acknowledge them, and then, let go. As I mentioned in my recent post, the Buddha said, “Nothing whatsoever should be clung to.” Both being depressed or in a state of hopeful excitement are examples of ‘craving,’ ‘clinging,’ or ‘desire(ing)’. And when the Buddha said, “I teach one thing and one thing only: suffering and the end of suffering.” That’s what he meant. We suffer because we ‘cling.’ “Nothing whatsoever should be clung to” — not good things, not bad things, not neutral things. Nothing.

      So, let me end by quoting Bhante Gunaratana in his book, “Meditation on Perception” because I am the last person in the world who should be discoursing on, or teaching anybody, anything about being a model Buddhist. I’m not even a novice. I’m merely a hopeful aspirant. So, in the words of Bhante Gunaratana:

      “Dispassion is the opposite of craving. As the realization dawns that attachment to impermanent things causes suffering, we become disenchanted with the desire to glue ourselves to pleasant feelings. Similarly, we recognize that our tendency to push away unpleasant feelings is also craving — craving for conditions to be different than they actually are…

      Disenchanted with all sensory experiences, the Buddha said, we become dispassionate… When this attitude arises naturally as a result of our meditative development, we are released from suffering.” [emphasis mine]
      (Gunaratana, B., 2014. Meditation on Perception (pp. 73,75). Wisdom Publications. Boston, MA).

      Yep! ‘Desire’ (craving, grasping, clinging) is the root of suffering…

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  2. The Maltese is a small dog and quite low to the ground. Its average weight is around five to seven pounds, with a height of about six to eight inches.

    Max the Maltese chuckles…at 16 pounds.

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    1. Being very much an attached-type personality, I’ve always felt one of my life’s purposes is to learn detachment. My 14 year old tests me daily in this department~bless my heart…and yours too, for bringing to light such important ideas. I always look forward to your posts, Vivien! Thank you!

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      1. Dear Amanda,
        You and I are both alike, and blessed, to recognize our “attached-type” personalities. May we both be successful in overcoming these tendencies! Raising a child was not in my stars, but as I’ve had a difficult enough time raising myself, I can only admire your courage and fortitude! Just remember that all people are our teachers — and this includes your 14-year-old. You have him in your life not only because you are blessed, but also because what you need to learn you can, perhaps, only learn from him! 🙂

        And thank you for your kind words! I always look forward to, and enjoy, your comments, as well, because you make me think.

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