One of the first books I bought at the beginning of my path was The Heart of Buddha's Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh. It was the first one which really clicked with me, which compelled me, and showed me what I already knew if not in so many words. Two years ago, I gave that book to my friend Marilyn, who had cancer. She told me when her daily cocktail of drugs kept her up at night she would read that book even though that same cocktail of drugs kept her from understanding much of it in her fuzzy headed state. It would help her find sleep again. I was glad of it. When she died, February before last, I had neither the heart nor the courage to ask for it back from one of her children, with whom I had never been close.
A week ago I purchased a new copy for myself. Saturday morning I trotted down to the Laughing Goat coffee shop on Pearl Street, purchased a pastry and a mocha and sat at a little table near the window to once again read Thich Nhat Hanh's words.
"Buddha was not a god," he writes. Then he continues and begins as the Buddha began, with suffering.
"The ocean of suffering is immense, but if you turn around, you can see the land. The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don't wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy."
Here I sit, clean and healthy, in my nice new second-hand jeans, with a wonderful book I was able to buy with money from my fulfilling new job, in a trendy coffee shop in one of the more affluent cities in, arguably, the richest nation in the world, well fed and well caffeinated, and reading about suffering. Don't get me wrong. This is not about guilt. This is about gratitude. I am so grateful for my job, and my jeans, and this book, and this teacher, and this wonderful city in this free country where I can practice my own path. And I am especially grateful for the Laughing Goat's wonderful strawberry pastries.
At the same time, I know this moment is fleeting. Those jeans I bought will have to last the next five years, maybe ten, until they literally fall apart. Soon I'll be addicted to caffeine again (about the time school starts) and go into withdrawal each morning. I'll be hungry in a few short hours. The job will end and I'll be on the hunt before too long, with an uncertain future. I'll be home in Nebraska, dodging cars who are not as nice to cyclists as they are here. And you know what? That's okay.
That moment, when it comes, will be no less perfect than this moment. In that moment I'll have just as much to be grateful for, if not more, because the suffering which comes with change is my greatest teacher.
"The Buddha called suffering a Holy Truth, because our suffering has the capacity of showing us the path to liberation. Embrace your suffering, and let it reveal to you the way of peace."
Because, let's face it, peace rocks!