The Buddha Had It Right…

Posted by Melvin Bray on February 22nd, 2006 filed in Useful Perhaps

The Buddha had it right: desire is the root of suffering. The modern Christian apologist might immediately respond, “Well, the desire not to desire is a desire in itself,” and thus dismiss the power of this ever so pivotal truth (thinking he has once again defended the faith against the creeping compromise of acknowledging the light found in other faith traditions). But I have dared to reconsider the Buddha’s exhortation.

That isn’t to say that all desires, aspirations and hopes are bad. To think that would be down right… unAmerican? It all depends what one aspires towards. The way of Jesus teaches that the moment we aspire toward our own self-interests we’re headed for trouble—and are going to cause the suffering of others in the process. There is absolutely, positively, unequivocally no way to escape the consequence (suffering) of self-interested aspiration, yet we put good effort into it. We’ve constructed economic systems, construed theologies, manufactured art and institutionalized curricula in an attempt to enshrine our desire to aspire towards our own self-interest in hopes that what accrues to our benefit would one day somehow take the evolutionary leap of becoming the good of others.

I was talking with a friend about all this last night. It would seem to me that if we desire a better world (which is an other-interested aspiration) we must start by living toward that which serves other than our own self-interests. It’s the ethic of preferring others over ourselves. That doesn’t mean that nothing we do ever benefits us personally, but our own benefit becomes a serendipity of becoming our brother’s keeper. Such thinking may be counter-intuitive, but it’s a damn bit more sustainable than this get-as-much-as-you-can-for-you-and-yours ethic that even people of faith now practice. What happens when those who consistently come up with the short end of the stick get sick of suffering or simply slaving in the interest of those who devalue them?

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