My son just got back from a wonderful vacation to southern Mexico, what a lucky guy. He told me about the beautiful resort they stayed in with all its amenities, the views of azure ocean spread before them as they ate dinner at sunset, wave jumping on jet ski’s and dune buggy rides through the surrounding country. The dune buggy ride is where the story starts.
During the dune buggy outing, they came across a cow that had died, most likely from starvation. There were also some goats and cows that seemed to be starving to death nearby. These animals were emaciated, desperate for water, and barely surviving. What do you feel about this?
There was a stark contrast between the resort they were staying in and what was going on just a few miles beyond that resort. We can feel sorry for the animals, for a moment at least, and then we move on. We know life is tough, that this is how things are, and there has always been suffering in the world.
This same scene goes on all over the world. When it involves people instead of animals, we have a little more difficulty tossing it into the “that’s the nature of things” category. But we get there somehow.
Sometimes we take the time to feel a little guilty, only to shove it away later. When it frightens us, we convince ourselves the people involved are different from us, and it could never happen in our world. But this does happen to people, even our people, maybe not in the same way, but it happens.
The Buddha and many other teachers tell us the world is a place of suffering. That does not mean only suffering; it means there is suffering. Why do we want to avoid this truth, even when we see it all around us? Are we afraid the same things will happen to us? Do we feel guilty others are suffering more than we are?
For some reason, we have come to believe that suffering is not supposed to happen. What if we change our deepest beliefs about this and see suffering as part of the experience, part of what is meant to happen. Then we can look suffering straight in the eye. We can feel our fear and guilt, knowing that is what we are supposed to feel.
What action will we take when we embrace our situation and feelings entirely? How will we act when we truly see our inability to control all things?
On a very personal level, what do we do with the suffering we have within ourselves? Do we deny having any suffering, any fears, any feelings we are not able to control? And do any of us get to unlock these mysteries without looking at the whole of life?
Because these questions are too big for many people, they get answered by wise men and prophets, politicians and clergymen. They are left to be answered by others, and those answers become beliefs that are accepted without question. This is dangerous.
These beliefs are the foundation upon which we build our lives. These beliefs keep us from looking at what is truly happening around us. But we pay the price for this.
Only when we find the courage to look at and question our deepest beliefs – our core beliefs about life, God, and who we are – can we become free from the beliefs that have been chosen by others.
It takes courage to face the uncertainty of what we might find or how we may feel. But in doing this we come to know our truth, we take control of choosing our beliefs, we create a foundation from which to base all our other beliefs.
In this way, we create a belief structure free from conflict, free from ignorance. We build a belief system of our own and become conscious of who we are and where we fit within things. We assume control over our beliefs and develop the ability to change or modify our beliefs with changing circumstances. We take responsibility for our free will.
Now when we look at the contrast between the wonderful resort, beautiful ocean, our joy of being free, and the suffering animals we have come across – we can choose what to do. From our own set of beliefs, from within our true being. No excuses, no rationalization, just our own choice. And we can live with it.