By Gerald “Strib” Stribling
My heart’s deliverance is unassailable.
~ Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha
When I was 19 years old and about to ship out for basic training at the infamous Marine Recruit Depot in Parris Island, South Carolina, I serendipitously ran into an old friend of my father’s who’d been a Marine during the Korean War.
I am not, nor was I ever, Marine material, though I actually ended up becoming a Marine. To give you an idea, in high school my 11th grade English teacher Miss Jasper Schlinker (a jasper if ever I met one) could never remember my name, and often referred to me as “the short little fat kid with the long black hair.”
A hopeless romantic, I had long surrendered any hope, and enlisted for an opportunity to be riddled with bullets and ground into dust. Then along came my father’s friend, Joe Encarnacao. I asked him a simple question: what advice do you have for me to get through boot camp? He thought a moment, and then said this:
“Two things. Number one, don’t offer up an excuse for anything, and number two, no matter what they do to you, they ain’t allowed to kill you.”
The implication of those words stayed with me all my life, and guided me through several careers. Be an honest man, those words said. Be a mensch and take the blame, even if it didn’t belong to me. Above all, do the right thing, and suffer the consequences, over which I had no control.
I would petition for those two principles to be included as addendi to the Buddha’s central tenets and make them “The Noble Ten-fold Path,” but come to find out, they’re covered in the original eight.
The wisdom of The Eightfold Path could be looked at as a “how-to manual” for living a life that frees people from suffering. It doesn’t promise happiness (although that certainly can be a byproduct of following it) but rather, The Eightfold Path promises “the cessation of suffering.”
Fear is suffering. Does following the Path free you from fear? Yes, eventually, it does. Does that mean you won’t pee your pants and run off screaming like a little girl if you find a rattlesnake in your toilet? Probably not.
Buddhist knowledge offers the tools necessary to stop suffering and defeat fear, and it’s easy to be happy when you are not suffering and worrying about everything. The tools are surprisingly mundane and easy to understand, though the practice of them both requires, and develops, mental discipline.
Once you’ve got a basic understanding of what the Buddha said about living, and maybe a few examples of their application in other people’s lives, you will begin to see how these things apply to your life.
When that happens, your life begins to change.
You can’t delete knowledge. When you begin to see the verification of this knowledge through your own personal experience, you will be drawn to learn and experience more. You don’t experience enlightenment, you sneak up on it. It is a mistake to equate comfort with happiness. Comfort is subject to the laws of impermanence—a trendy topic in Buddhism for about 2500 years.
Happiness, on the other hand, is unassailable.
Editor: Dana Gornall