I recently heard again the story from the sutras of Sakyamuni and a woman who was attempting to commit suicide. She had been betrayed in love and she was filling her clothes with stones and planning to jump from a bridge into the river below. She felt that escaping this world to go to another would allow her to escape her suffering. The Buddha spoke to her and told her of the kind of intense suffering that awaited her in the afterlife. His words stopped the woman from killing herself and she vowed to follow his teachings from then on.
When I think about it, how little has changed today from 2600 years ago. People are still suffering from an endless list of causes, and looking for a way out. We find it hard to be alone with ourselves, some people become workaholics, others are addicted to shopping, others to partying, drinking, drugs, overeating. Others enter into one relationship after another to deal with the inner emptiness and loneliness. We truly cannot bear the pain and loneliness that is within us, that we carry around day in day out. Is there a solution to this pain?
Buddhism teaches that we all live in our own world that is one of our own making. Even though we may have brothers, sisters, friends and lovers, we still feel lonely. Buddha said that this is because our true self is alone. It has no family. It has traveled alone from the past world and will continue alone in the future world, and it is craving to be understood. Don't we feel better when we share our problems with someone? And if the other person appears to understand us, we feel lighter as though a weight has been lifted. This is the power of sharing, and maybe one of the reasons why people find psychotherapy so helpful — we seek a way to get rid of this persistent, nagging sense of emptiness and dissatisfaction that we cannot seem to throw off no matter what activity we immerse ourselves in. It's a problem, isn't it? We seek complete fulfillment and satisfaction that will never betray us, which will never have us running from one thing to the next, exhausting ourselves in an attempt to keep the darkness at bay. Living such a life is suffering.
Because we live with a constant ill-at-ease mind, we tend to think that happiness lies somewhere else. We see others and think that their situation is better than ours. We think we are the loneliest, the unhappiest, and that others must be living a fun and happy life. Thinking this way only makes our situation all the more painful. The saying “the far away hills are greener” aptly summarizes this belief. Such thinking never allows us peace of mind, and always keeps us looking for more. When I was growing up I would sometimes look at the fields that were away in the distance and look in wonder about how green and lush they appeared. They looked wonderful and inviting, almost like a idyllic play field. But up close what field have I seen that was able to keep up with that image? None. Up close all the fields were more or less the same quality as the one I had been standing in. Was there any field that would fulfill their distant appearance, I wondered? “We fight for prizes of dubious value — ?even for an eggshell' — deceived by hopes that ?over the mountain lives Happiness '” Reason page 36. Even someone who commits suicide is seeking happiness. “An infinite distance separates the reality of success from the success of our imagination,” Reason page 35. What we dream of being happiness, when we finally attain it, does not seem so happy after all, it says in chapter 7 “Satisfaction Just Beyond Reach” of You Were Born For A Reason. Two people get married for love and promise to love one another forever. I am sure at the time most couples most likely truly believe it. Yet over 50% of first time marriages in the USA end in divorce. The rate is higher still for second and third marriages. What we think is happiness does not always work out to be happiness.
Thinking that happiness lies somewhere else can lead to unhappiness and ingratitude. Therefore it is crucial to know that the far away hills are just as green or even less green than the field I am standing in. Others are suffering just as much as you or I am, if not more.
The fact is that life is what we make it. We are makers of our own happiness and unhappiness. Running away to someone else or somewhere else because we think life will be better isn't always the solution if we don't look within to find the true cause of our pain. Moving somewhere else can be a temporary solution to a problem, but not the ultimate solution.
Without the guidance of the Buddha and knowing the purpose of life we would not know which way to turn. Whenever we are in pain, we are encouraged to look within to find where this is coming from. In the phrase-a-day we read “let's not avert our eyes from suffering; rather let's examine it closely”. The reality is that it is coming from me, myself. If we move places, the type of suffering we encounter changes, but suffering still exists nonetheless. Metaphorically speaking, if we run to a far away field we might find temporary happiness, but the deep emptiness will remain. Buddha taught that the solution is to listen to his teachings and know the purpose of life, and only then will success, relationships, money etc take on a truly fulfilling meaning.
Source: The Buddhist Village Times #22 | 2012, The Far Away Hills Appear Greener
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