Nobody Gets Outta Here Alive

Don't take life too seriously,
you'll never get out of it alive.

    T. Tucker

Are you are survivor? Well, if you think you are, you just might be - for a while. But let's face it, we're all gonna die. Survival of the individual just does not happen. You might live to be a hundred; you might even make it to 120. But most likely you'll be gone before you get that old - and even if you do survive to a very ripe old age, you're still gonna die.

Individual humans are fairly long lived as species go on this planet. But Galapagos Island tortoises have humans easily beat - they might live more than 150 years. Some trees, like the Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) may live to be 2,000 years old. But all individuals come to an end sooner or later.

In discussing evolution, "survival of the species" is a phrase you might hear. But species don't survive either:

And the species that are still here are much more likely to be johnny-come-latelies than ones that have been around for a really long time. Incarnating in material form is simply not about surviving. Individuals don't survive, species don't survive, stars explode, solar systems get engulfed, even galaxies get gobbled up.

In the Buddhist tradition, when a disciple of the Buddha initially "got it", what he got was "all that arises also ceases." This is just the way it works. It can be stated as "entropy", as "The First Noble Truth" or however you wish - but we are all subject to it. In fact everything in the Universe is subject to this law: all material objects, all ideas, thoughts, emotions - every concocted thing.

There's not a lot we can be really certain of. But the fact that we are going to die, that everyone we know is going to die, that all that we hold as dear and delightful is going to change and eventually vanisih, and that earth, the sun, the whole solar system will one day be long gone - this we can be certain of.

So how does that make you feel? If it makes you uneasy, then you just got a taste of what the Buddha was talking about when he said that craving causes dukkha. You want something you can't have - and you want it strongly enough that it causes you to feel uneasy when you realize you can't have it. This is the Second Noble Truth - craving causes dukkha.

The Buddha didn't stop with the first two Noble Truths; he continued on with the Third Noble Truth: if you don't want dukkha, don't crave. If our wanting things we can't have causes us suffering, that suffering can be aleviated by simply not wanting them.

Remember Aesop's fable The Fox and the Grapes? The fox, upon failing to find a way to reach grapes hanging high up on a vine, retreated and said, "The grapes are sour anyway!". The moral is stated at the end of the fable as:

But what was the fox's mental state? If he truly decided they were sour and hence really did no longer want them, he probably wasn't very upset. Deluded, yes; upset, no. That's precisely why he decided they were sour - so he wouldn't be wanting them yet not able to get them.

We make the mistake of thinking that it is getting what we want that makes us feel good. But the truth is that it is the lack of wanting that makes us feel good. Now it is true that getting what you want stops the wanting - that's one way to feel good. But wouldn't it be easier to not be wanting (and hence not be unsatisified) in the first place?

But you say "There are things I want!" OK, and these things - are they subject to arising - and ceasing? Well, since eveyting in the Universe is subject to arising and ceasing, whatever you are wanting is as well. If you don't get it, that'll make you unhappy as long as you want it; and if you do get it, then you have to worry about keeping it or getting more of it when it gets used up or worn out. Getting what you what only changes the craving from "getting" to "keeping".

So if every arisen thing in the Universe is subject to ceasing - just what is there worth craving? Nothing is going to bring you lasting satisfaction! Drop the craving!

Of course, me telling you to stop craving, or even the Buddha telling you to stop craving is not going to enable you to immediately drop all your cravings. You gotta practice to be able to learn to do that! And that's precisely what the Fourth Noble Truth is: The Path of Practice Leading to the Ceasation of Dukkha (by teaching how to stop craving). It's hard work - but what else you gonna do - get a bigger TV?

Leigh Brasington

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Leigh Brasington / / Revised 16 July 12