You are never closer to the solution than at the moment of our deepest angst. It has been said that your happiness is never closer than in the midst of your most trying turbulent moments. Is that true?

The difference between Buddhism and every other religion out there is that there is no moral code of ethics to follow. There isn’t a long list of “thou shalt not’s”. There is no godhead that states his/her/its decrees to be followed. Rather, it asks you in quiet moments of reflection to evaluate your suffering and your previous actions. It asks you to survey the acts of others as well as your own, and come to your own answer. The answer that one is forced to find is “Does it work?” “Did I achieve peace?” “Am I happier because of what I have done?” “Are those that I know happy with their choices, and what choices did they make to relieve their suffering?”

In addition, because Buddhism has no supreme entity at its center, one’s future and ones happiness is not attributed to the will of a deity. And perhaps thankfully, ones life is not bandied about as the volley of some stellar ping pong game.

The contrast could not be more stark then when we analyze our suffering and happiness in the West. With Judeo-Christian upbringing here in the West, we tend to see our relationship with the divine as a bit of a carrot and the stick relationship. If we do what we ought, are commanded, and what we are told, then we will be rewarded; if not in this life, then in the next. This very idea has prompted a lot of people throughout history to sit idle and wait to be “delivered” from their suffering.

Old Negro spirituals speak to this concept. “One glad morning, when this life is over, I’ll fly away,” being a prime example of the concept that although I suffer now, heaven is just around the next bend. At that point, I will be happy.

Who of us would have acted different if we were one of the slaves of the South? Who of us would have acted different if we were in the concentration camps of Nazis, the internment camps of the US, the Death Camps of Serbia, or the Red Army’s atrocities? Like many people, I’ve wondered how all the evil could have all happened? But resisting evil is so difficult when the choice is possible death. This is even more sure when death is certain.

WE as humans have one characteristic that makes us markedly human…our ability to decide. From the moment that a stimulus comes into our brain, we have a moment however small, when we can choose to react or respond…differently. In that fleeting breath, we experience freedom. It is in that moment that we can grow as a being. Like Bobby Fisher, we can sacrifice our queen to win the game.

When someone steps on my foot. My first response is to pull it back—to run away. Or too kick the person who prompted the offense. It is our fight or flight response. I feel pain, and thus I react. Anger is a secondary emotion. We always feel another emotion before we feel anger. But, if at the moment that someone steps on my foot, I choose love, I experience freedom. However, this doesn’t mean that I don’t experience pain. The person either maliciously or accidentally is still stepping on my foot.

In my opinion, people are good at their core, so in this situation of my foot pain two possibilities exist. They didn’t know they stepped on your foot, and they apologize. Or, if they did it on purpose, they are looking for a response. The response validates them in someway; your reaction in someway makes them feel better about themselves, or satisfies a need. No matter what the reason they did it, they want to feel loved.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. Viktor E. Frankl

Like it or not, for most of the entire worlds history, we have all lived with the deep ingrained belief and have manifested for ourselves a fertility cult culture. The American Dream states it eloquently: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

To question the idea that I am “meant” to live, I am “meant” to be happy, I am “meant” to have a spouse, kids, and live to be 90 all fly in the face of our very being as not only Americans, but as Earthlings. WE all want to live; everything on this planet thrives to live. But it is in questioning the very meaning of life that we find our greatest expression of what is truly means to be human. Our ability to choose to not to seek a long life, security, and material acquisition in trade for loving another at any single moment is thee question.
This others-centered existence then puts at the very center of the debate, the question of one’s own life, and one’s own happiness. We are all put into situations by our life where we are tested to the breaking point. Were we must answer the pervasive question of one’s existence: Choose me or choose others; self or selfless. How one answers life’s call is similar to gambling, and our very life is the wager. How we respond is purely upon our own shoulders. For our own decision we are responsible. Our happiness and our suffering are in our own lap.

With a growth in the global economy, more and more people have a means to live; yet we suffer because we have nothing to live for. WE have been deluded into thinking that it is ourselves that we must take care of. Studies have proven that 4 out of 5 people will root for the underdog. This perhaps it tied into our compassion centers of the brain. If we wager on the clear favorite, and they win, our elation is small. However, if the favorite looses, our dismay is large. In contrast, if we wager on the clear underdog, and they win the emotional, and perhaps the monetary payoff are far greater, and if they loose…eh-they were supposed to loose. Plus, there is our sympathetic response to be accounted for as well. We all know what it is like to be favored not to win. We know what it is like to be picked last for kickball.

The above demonstrates the compassion of the wager for the underdog. Despite this, there are still two people in ten that will always cheer for the favorite. Why? They are usually those who have often been the “favorite” themselves, and they know what it is like to loose because of a technicality. They know what it is like to loose because of a buzzer beater, or a lucky punch. They tend to hate luck. Their response is still one of compassion however. Compassion for the clear winner is justified in their minds because shouldn’t the best win?

These two mentalities are in our politics now at every turn. Why should the rich pay for the poor? Shouldn’t they be able to win because they played the game better? The poor however are portrayed as a 6 year-old standing in the middle of the playground crying, “Not Fair!!!” Those in the middle want to “win” themselves, so they tend to ascribe their allegiance to the rich, because they did “play” the game, loopholes and all, to win. Would those in the middle have done anything different?

Like so many Germans, French, Polish, and Netherlander peoples when they saw their neighbors packed into cattle cars and shipped off. Do you want to be on the winner’s team…or the losers? Like so many Americans who watched their Japanese-American neighbors trucked off to interment camps, they felt justified taking care of themselves, and their own. How is this different than what is going on today when we see anyone who ascribes to Islam or comes from the Middle East being racial stereotyped or profiled because the actions of another? And yet we all just go along, just like the Germans do we not? All those who had everything taken from them including their lives cry out—“Not Fair.”

Everything that you “think” you possess, your wealth, freedom, health, life, and even your intellect can be taken from you at any moment. Everything can be taken except for one thing: How you choose to perceive and react to your given set of circumstances. How will you choose to live? In what way will you choose to live if even for only the last minute?

Although thankfully most of us have never been in a camp of one sort or another, although I have many friends whose parents were in the US interment camps. We have the chance to make that choice; we still face the same choice everyday. Live for others or live for self? This doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences, and it doesn’t mean there is no fear. What one fears, is very likely to come true.

The possibility exists however that you and I are not on this Earth as we have all been deluded into thinking, to live forever. The probability exists that having as many kids as possible and raping and pillaging the Earth isn’t why we are here. I might be here to sacrifice my own life for the good of the whole. This flies in the face of Islam, Paul’s Christianity, Judaism, and a whole host of other religions.

But still the “true meaning of what it is to be human or humane” varies for most of us from day to day, hour to hour, perhaps even second to second. I’ve experienced this question during the pilgrimage numerous times. I did even last night. After being at peace all day, I found myself cursing my tent and the winds last night to such an extent that I am certainly glad no one was around to hear.
But, that is just it. My happiness is truly my responsibility. At any moment, I am the author of my happiness, because of how I react to problems. Thus the two are integrally linked. Happiness doesn’t lie at the polar opposite of a problem; it lies in the problem itself. If not for the problem, the bliss that follows the resolve wouldn’t be as sweet.

I recommend that the Statue of Liberty be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the west coast.Viktor E. Frankl

It occurred to me once that heaven and hell could be this simple. What if by chance that when death comes, it is only are body that dies, but when we are put into box in the ground, we have total recall of all of our lives memories. We would get to live over and over all that we did to hurt people, and all that we did to love others. We could access all those whom we hurt as well as those we helped. Hell, would be being forced to relive your life of selfishness over and over for all eternity. Heaven would be the exact same.

I’ve heard Hell described as being stuck with a spoon strapped to your arm that is so long that you cannot feed yourself. In Heaven, you use that same spoon to feed others. If given the chance to live your own life over, what would you do different? Would you love more? The rest of your life exists so that you may redo what you wish you’d done before.

So then what is true freedom? Someone can take away my physical freedom, someone can even lobotomize me, but it is my ability to choose when all that I hope and desire are extinguished, this is my last freedom.

Thus, it isn’t as important to ask what is the meaning of life, or what am I supposed to do with the life I have? What is perhaps of greater consequence is the importance of asking the very question itself. To awaken, and then proceed as seems best in any given moment despite the repercussions, seems to be our TRUE calling.

I’ve been trying to be a bit of a candle lately. I’ve tried to shed the light I am discovering. What I didn’t expect was that the wick also has to burn. This has been hard; fire purifies however. I just thought it would be easier…I’m learning however, and with each new problem conquered, I feel freer. I just must endure the burning sensation.

I’ve learned that when I can’t change any of the variables in my given situation to please myself, to comfort myself, and to put myself at ease. It is not the situation that needs to change—it is me.