From Annapolis, MD, recalling the effects, sometimes, of listening to favorite songs from another time. The pain of memory, things that could–should–might–have been if an effort had been/could have been made at a time that the wonderful soul/spirit stirring music evokes. Analytical, understanding, observing, deducing, assessing, critiquing, commenting on, but not as often as could be wished–doing. Time has surely passed with deeds, tasks, desires, etc. undone–Omar says the “moving finger having writ, moves on.” It is certainly true that it can never be that the past is relived as the past–but, Nichiren Daishonin makes it clear that the effects of the past do not have to be as the causes made in the past would otherwise dictate. Now and forever is the time to do what I might and still can, if belatedly, do. Eternity is not a long time–it is no time at all; but only experienced in the moment. Experienced in the past, it can be joyful or sorrowful; for deeds undone it may mean regret. Experienced now and forever–eternity becomes opportunity once determination and ichinen merge in faith and practice. It is never too late to “soar into the ultimate skies of reality!” (But the time to enjoy it in this lifetime is not unlimited)
Shankar Vedantam had a Science page article in the Washington Post today, Is Great Happiness Too Much of a Good Thing? He begins with an anecdote about an 80 year old man who, after suffering a head-first tumble over the handlebars of a bicycle at age 70, has not only survived the ordeal but finds reasons to feel grateful about life. The man reportedly feels neither regret nor sorry for himself despite losing the use of his legs due to a spinal injury. Vedantam goes on to highligh the results of a new study by University of Virginia psychologist Shigehiro Oishi, which superficially seems somewhat out of phase with the anecdote.
According to Vedantam, Oishi says that people who experience many more positive than negative events seem to get less joy from additional happy events — and ever larger bad effects with each negative event. “Getting to ‘very happy’ is like climbing an ever steeper mountain. Additional effort — positive events — doesn’t gain you much by way of altitude. Slipping backward, on the other hand, is very easy.” Vedantam reports.
I find interesting confirmation and correlation to Buddhist principles in relation to this piece. Undoubtedly most people would prefer to be happy. But what is happiness? Is it the absence of hardship? In the article, Vedantam mentions satisfaction, short-term contentment, global happiness and day-to-day happiness among other things, but misses, I think, taking the critical step of defining terms. Rapture, one of the states of being (or worlds) in which human beings may move through each day from moment to moment, is something we experience when things go exceedingly well and we are overjoyed–from the mundane effects of the touchdown scored by our favorite team, the taste of a great piece of cake at a happy celebration, or even the peak of an amourous encounter. All of these fall under the rubric of relative happiness. As the referee disallows the touchdown for an out of bounds catch, the cake is all gone, or–well you can imagine about the amourous encounter, the happiness is gone.
Absolute happiness, in contrast, is that confidence and conviction–that sense of contentment like that of the 80 year old, that no problems in life cannot be surmounted. I have no doubt that I will experience frustrations, difficulties, and various negative phenomena on a regular–if not a daily basis. This is especially true when I am exerting myself strenuosly to accomplish some objective I find important. I no longer find this reality disturbing. Yes, it is annoying; but it does not diminish my happiness. On the contrary, it elevates it. Having been married twice unsuccessfully, I hazarded a third marriage despite a death threat from my prospective father-in-law. The outcome has been 27 years of happiness increasing on a day-to-day, month-to-month and year-to-year basis. That is the power of challenging one’s destiny, challenging the fundamental darkness that would keep me from the path of the Buddha. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
If “ignorance is bliss” and “romance is bliss” then romance must be ignorance, right? No, I don’t think so. It’s a faulty syllogism. Right now, a lot of people are concerned about illegal immigration. They think a rising crime rate is a problem of illegal immigration. They think immigrants are taking jobs legal Americans could otherwise have. They think they are overcrowding neighborhoods, draining government resources for education and healthcare. Are these observations valid?
Consider who settled Georgia, among other of the original 13 colonies which had a large contingent of convicts from their native land–England. They worked out OK in the end. If illegal immigrants have fake social security cards, with bogus numbers, who gets the benefit of any FICA taxes collected from paychecks? Those dollars go into the U.S. Treasury for the benefit of the Social Security fund. What jobs do these people take? The ones no one else wants. But shouldn’t we care that they are illegal? Yes, but the whole issue is an overblown distraction, a red herring, an easy target at which to point. So what? It avoids thinking and acting on real problems facing America. A failure to resolve this overblown problem then becomes yet another source of frustration with the government and politicians–avoiding personal responsibility for one’s own success or failure, one’s own happiness.
What do the following have in common? “The Devil made me do it!” Thank God I got that promotion!” Or perhaps, “If only we could move to the country, then we would be happy.”
They all give credit, blame or control to someone or something outside ourselves. The devil doesn’t make anybody do anything; people choose to do things. God doesn’t whisper in employer’s ears, advising on who should get promotions. Why would a change of scenery make life any happier? Happiness lies in the confidence not only that you control your own destiny, but that you can achieve whatever you want or overcome whatever adversity faces you. If you are unhappy where you are, going somewhere else just changes the view–not the reality. This is a small glimpse of the value of a Buddhist perspective on life. More to come.
I am cheating, you might say, but it is early in this blogging game. What I have to say today is not really content, just more description of what I will be saying when I do have something to say. All of which is to say that some of the categories I expect to include items on are:
- War and Peace
- Applied Buddhism (what is that?–you’ll see)
- Politics (yuck)
- Financial issues
Well, that should be enough for a start. More tomorrow.
Welcome to Views from Eagle Peak! This is where I will pass along my observations on a variety of topics. I am off to a slow start at this, having spent countless hours getting up the Waiting for Westmoreland website and the Eagle Peak Press website. But the publishing world has convinced me that an author must have a “platform”–most often created these days via a blog. In connection with Eagle Peak, the general notion is to create value by revealing the laws of cause and effect at work in day-to-day life–whether at home, in the workplace or the world at large. I’ll give you some examples in the next couple days.