An Ordinary Man - Finding the Path, finding the Way
Like you, I'm just an ordinary person, and ordinary man
He claimed he was just an ordinary man
Content or not content, that is the question
William Shakespeare put the commonality we all share in vivid perspective. We are all born of woman, we all bleed when cut; we all die and our bodies moulder in the ground. But have you ever stopped to wonder why, though we humans have so much in common, we are all so different in the way we look at life? Our outlooks cover a quite a spectrum.
Few people are absolutely content. But there is an enormous range of discontent between us all. Some people seem to be cheerful for the greater part of their lives, others sour if not downright miserable. Why is this?
The Buddha looked very closely at the causes of unhappiness
2,400 years ago Siddartha Gautama, better known as The Buddha, looked very closely at such questions. He came up with an answer. Suffering,” Buddha said, “ is caused by the pairs of opposites and our preference. It is caused by our clinging to what we desire, and our aversion to what we dislike.” Our subjective view of these opposites, is what causes our problems and our unhappiness.
And what are these opposites? There are many of them, but in a decreasing level of abstraction we could have: good-bad, pleasure-pain, sweet-bitter, rough-smooth...until we descend into specifics such as “me as company president: good.” “me as toilet cleaner: bad. Interesting work: good, boring work: bad.
It is the degree to which we desire something to be or not to be which can cause us our problems
It is the degree to which we desire what we think is “good,” and are averse to what we think “bad” which is the root cause of all our suffering. If we deeply desire to the point of obsession that, for example, we want a champion basket ball player, but we’re only 5 foot two in height and can’t jump very high, we’ll suffer terribly. Or if we yearn to be a company president but are still only in middle-management five years out from compulsory retirement, we are likely to be deeply unhappy. Our desires have been thwarted.
Worldly recognition and success does not automatically incur happiness
On the other hand, if we are a champion basket ball player, we might increasingly feel the fear of getting too old to play well. Of losing our touch. We have an aversion to something we have no control over: chronological time. Or if we’re promoted by a board of directors to the position of company president, we might have an aversion (possibly based on fear) to certain types of leadership role we might be called on to play, for example, public speaking. In this case, we could be every bit as unhappy.
An ordinary man - finding the path, finding the way
Another question Buddha asked was: “If suffering is caused by our preference for one or another of the opposites, how can we overcome this preference?” A profound question indeed. For the lowliest creature on the evolutionary scale up to the higher primates, and humans themselves, seek pleasure in gratification and the avoidance of pain. It is a fundamental principle of Nature.
To overcome his ignorance and to enable himself to find the answer, Buddha went into deep meditation. And both history and legend tells us that he found the answer. Meditating under the bodi tree on that fateful night, the answers came tumbling in. Ignorance was dispelled. He became enlightened. And history and legend say that he went on to spend the rest of his life passing on his hard-won revelations to the rest of the world.
The Buddha was a modest man. But then, a man without ego is
Like many saintly persons who lived before and after him, he had found the way, had trodden the path, and had overcome. Gautama’s suffering was forever gone. But he stressed throughout his teachings (and this is important) that he was just an ordinary man, same as you and I. That what he had done anyone could do. It was just a matter of application.
But such application is another story...to be told at another time...
I hope you enjoyed reading Finding the Path Finding the Way.