By Johnathon Lee
We all feel stuck every now and then, and it’s a frustrating, depressing, lonely feeling.
There’s no end to the amount of situations we can feel trapped in. You can even feel stuck in yourself, in your mind or body. That’s when death becomes an alluring option. We spend much of our lives responding to chaos and stagnancy, constantly bouncing back and forth between them.
This was essentially Buddha’s situation when he plopped down beneath the Bodhi Tree.
He had tried everything but nothing worked, and he didn’t know what else to do. He felt stuck. The Suttas don’t mention that directly, but it’s easy enough to empathize if you’re not a jerk. Put yourself in Buddha’s sandals and you’ll know everything you need to about Buddhism. If you empathize well, you’ll reach the same insights he did.
Treat the books, and even your teachers, like secondary guides. The real guide is empathy.
As the practice makes us more mindful, we do start to face our suffering more, and we become more aware of how widespread suffering is. Our hearts open up to the human condition, which is the absurd notion that we can win a losing game.
We can’t win. I can’t win, no one can win this. It’s like we’re on a game board with eight squares; the player who gets to the last square wins. But your dice only has six sides, and if you don’t make it to the last square, then you have to go back to the beginning.
This is being human.
Sometimes we only move forward one square and sometimes we roll a six and almost get to the end. Either way, we wind up back where we started. Some people stop playing by giving up and quitting; others stay at square one and use intoxicants and/or religion to pretend that they’re at the last square as their pawn gathers dust.
This is essentially the first two Noble Truths—suffering and the cause of suffering.
Buddha was human too. He was a sensitive, compassionate person who felt sad when farmers killed bugs. He was sad when his son was born because he knew that he couldn’t protect the poor kid from pain, not even with all the pleasantries that royal life provided.
Be Buddha. Picture yourself in his situation because it’s basically the same as yours. He was stuck, and everything he used to unstick himself just made it worse. It’s exhausting, isn’t it?
I laughed at my neighbor once. I was in the bowels of a deep depressive episode, and I saw him weed whacking. His shirt was drenched in sweat, and his face was contorted in rage as if saying, “Fuck this shit!” I laughed because, no matter how good of a job he did, he was just gonna have to do it again. And again. And again. Welcome to samsara, baby. We’re all mad here.
We can’t escape it using logic, faith, or daydreams. You’re in this cosmic washing machine whether you realize it or not, even during your most joyful moments.
So, what gives? What do? Why be? While ignoring Buddha’s insights beneath the Tree, because we can’t trust the Suttas when it comes to that, what did he do?
He got up and dedicated the rest of his life to helping people. His own well-being consisted of eating, drinking, walking, bathing, shitting, pissing, sleeping and meditating. That’s all he did for himself because he knew he couldn’t do anything else. The rest of his energy went to caring for us.
That’s what unstuck him. It was like throwing the dice away, turning the board 180 degrees, and saying, “Square one is square eight.” His dedication to others kept the dust off of him. He was always moving, he just wasn’t going anywhere. Whenever people found themselves back at square one, there he was, waiting for them with wise words and kindness.
This is it. If you’re looking for something else, you’re going to be disappointed. It might look boring and ordinary on the outside, but empathize with Buddha, and you’ll see that it is beautiful and profound.
There will come a point in your practice when the things you’ve learned and experienced will hinder you. That’s when you’re like Buddha, having tried everything to no avail. In that moment, do what he did, forget yourself and get to work using what you’ve learned to make life better for us all.
Editor: Dana Gornall