I’m often a witness to suffering, to others as I throw myself towards them in an effort to serve and to my own as I learn that mostly the way to heal is to simply see.
I’ve been all over the world and deep in me. When I first began I would rank people’s suffering, searching for those “most” in need. I thought I should help the most deserving, the most needy.
I once suggested to a monk we should go “here” versus “there”. He stopped me. “Do not do that. Don’t minimize one man’s suffering in order to honor another man’s. Don’t ever do that!”
Another time, after a hard day of service in a tiny village where I’d never experienced such poverty, we again talked about suffering. “A lifetime couldn’t end this amount of suffering” I said, crying as we pulled away.
He gently responded “Sure it could”.
Using silence as an exclamation point, he paused before continuing. “The suffering you experienced was your own, not theirs. It was based on the distance between your reality and their reality. But they don’t know your reality, if they did they might be in just as much anguish for you as you are for them”
“I don’t think so..” I responded, thinking it so obvious how much better I had it than “those people”.
Silence again. This time twice as long. “It’s only in your ranking of good and bad, right and wrong.. It’s within the judgments of your mind of how things should be that you declared they were suffering. Confusion is always created when we compare other experiences to our own. It’s hard to walk even a block in another mans sandals, but we really must try. What would they think if they knew how much time Americans spend in front of a television or addicted to substances that take away their mindfulness? What would they think if you walked them down the Magnificent Mile in Chicago and explained the extent of consumerism Americans experience in an hour is more than half the world experiences in a lifetime? What would they think if they knew how disconnected we’ve all become, how parents text their children one room away, how we spend far more time in virtual reality versus actual reality? What would they think if they knew so few had so much while so many had so little?”
THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS
There is suffering.
Suffering has an origin.
Suffering can cease.
There is a path out of suffering.