We are born gentle harmless creatures happy in our helplessness. Part of us, at least, remains gentle, happy, good and kind, as the helplessness retreats, as we grow bigger, stronger, more powerful and able to take care of ourselves. The helplessness of childhood transmutes into the helplessness of mortal adulthood.
Saturday night, Memorial Day weekend. I go out to make a drug store run, taking care of a cold, pick some carry-out Chinese. Connecticut Avenue is busy with tourist foot traffic, the open bars and restaurants full, people out experiencing conventional happiness, the relative degree of less pain. There are groups of young women in enticing outfits talking with each other, guys checking them out. In one bar, windows open to the street, young people are playing boardgames. And in my Buddhist mind, I see it as a fair amount of automatic behavior, less considered, barely self-controlled, such that one would not be so surprised by the presence of a potential drive-by shooter somewhere in it all along with all the rest, given that people are acting however they''d like to and given that within that there is a small percentage of latent craziness. It's all advertised to appear as fun, a good social time, but I cannot help see the dissatisfaction, the dissatisfactory nature of it. At a gut level I see suffering. And that's Buddhism, pure and simple, though you'd be had put to convince the people out on a Saturday night of it, the Four Noble Truths, about dukkha, about suffering, about the unsatisfactory quality of life, about the source of suffering, about the release from suffering. The most fundamental truth of being alive there is.
But what other option is there? Where else are you going to be happy but somewhere not alone on a Saturday night? Enmeshed in the world, thinking conventionally, of course you would be inclined to pursue forms of happiness in pleasant experiences, until you get honest with yourself.
My years as a barkeep have been a front row seat to the human condition just like that of the young prince who became the Buddha when he left the palace to observe the sick, the old, the dying. The suffering was there all along, below the surface. We all fall in to it, say, of course we are happy, because this is the only way to be happy, through relatively less suffering, until we stop and think about it, and pursue another way to live.
Drawn into conversation that assumes the normal purposes of a Saturday night, you're not going to win, because you've already become a part of its terms, silently shouted down as it were by assumptions normal to the social species. To that way of thought, Buddhism is retreat, a state of being alone (and who wants that really), foolish really, a waste of life, youth, energy, good looks.
And I know from all the going away parties for our coworker off on adventure, there's little point bringing up Buddha, the wine starts flowing, you're in the world again, a part of it, part of its conversations and its egos. You feel you have to reestablish who you are, etc.