It is well known to almost anyone exposed to Buddhism that its originator, Gautama Buddha, left behind rule of a kingdom, immeasurable wealth, and a wife and child, to go into poverty and intentional suffering and seek the truth about the human predicament. A parallel is that of Jesus, who apparently was homeless and who relied on the generosity of those he taught. The Buddha went as far as drinking his own urine. He was determined to understand the cause of human suffering. He intentionally starved himself.
Today, most individuals who espouse Buddhism are highly educated and financially secure. Those who are poor or barely surviving are often disdained by many Buddhist practitioners.
Buddhism is more applicable to poor people than it is to those who are materially doing well. If materially well-off, Buddhism becomes several things that don’t really hit the nail on the head. It becomes another form of status and importance. It becomes a way to like oneself despite feelings of inadequacy. And, it becomes a way of dodging the minimal suffering involved in the daily lives of people who are not struggling to survive.
Buddhism for poor people is a very different picture.
Additionally, in the time of Gautama Buddha, people didn’t live very long, for the most part. Are we prepared to live as poor people did in the Buddha’s time? It might very well entail not surviving into the next month.
If poor, we can take solace in a consciousness that goes beyond the real and genuine suffering we experience, which is part of the condition of all life; birth, old age, sickness and death. If poor, we desperately need to have refuge from harsh conditions, and we find this refuge on the inside through Buddhist practice.
Buddhism is more applicable to poor people than it is to those who are materially doing well.
If poor, however, we probably live in conditions of plentitude in comparison to how people lived in the time in which Gautama Buddha lived. This means that we have a puzzle to solve: Are things truly hard?
The environment carries sets of beliefs that those around us force us to adopt. If everyone says we ought to be scared, we are scared. If everyone says things are hard, then we believe things are hard. If we disbelieve what everyone else is telling us, we are in a separate belief system, and we become crazy.
Everything is subjective. Albert Einstein believed that things were relative. This meant something to the effect that, anywhere you go, the speed of light in that spot measures the same. A social analogy is that, at any place, things function according to the rules of that place, and it is normal. This means that if people have established a place is bad, that is one of the rules of that place.
If you look at things from a perspective of the physical universe, human beings are planetary growths that arose from primordial slime, and that stick to planets via the force of gravity. If planets collide or are hit by a meteor, the planetary growths die. The planets don’t care about this, nor do the stars that shine light and radiate on them. This renders an overdraft in your checking account very irrelevant.
Was Buddha correct about life? Was Albert Einstein correct? Maybe we should look more to them, and less to the beliefs people commonly hold.
Jack Bragen is author of “Revising Behaviors that Don’t Work,” “Instructions for Dealing with Schizophrenia,” and “Jack Bragen’s 2021 Fiction Collection,” and lives in Martinez.