This Too, Will Pass ~ LEARNING FROM PAIN

IS THERE ANYONE WHO HAS NO REGRETS about the past, about things done that ought not to have been done, things not done that should have been done? We travel through life weighted down by burdens of regret, not knowing how to rid ourselves of them.

It takes intelligence to learn from the mistakes, advice or example of others. But intelligence is not common in a world where ignorance and stupidity are often considered virtues, where competitive-spirit is inculcated in us from infancy, and where the idea that 'Might is Right' still prevails. The rest of us have to struggle on painfully, making many mistakes, and learning from them, if and when we perceive them as mistakes.

Among the things I regret doing are hunting animals and birds and catching fish when I was young; I now realize I caused a lot of unnecessary pain, as I did it only for 'fun' and not because I was hungry and needed those creatures for food. If my parents told me not to do it, their advice made so little impression on me that I do not remember it at all, and so I continued to do what I now cannot undo, but which I will try to atone for, in some measure. I don't blame my parents—in fact, I must praise them for helping me in countless ways—but I think that if they had advised me in a different way instead of just telling me not to do such things because they were 'bad,' I might have understood and desisted. Advice must include a reference-point: oneself, for this is where we must begin our journey or undertaking: with oneself. If, therefore, my parents had explained to me that the animals, birds and fish that I was callously depriving of life, were just like me in their desire to live and be happy, to avoid pain and death, I would have had a reference-point, I would have been included in the picture, alongside the animals and fish. The whole matter would have appeared quite differently, I'm sure.

But it was years before I began to realize and see things in this light for myself, and stopped killing. And now I'm in a position to explain about this to others. We do not need to kill, but can live easily without killing. If we kill, not only do we deprive other beings of their most treasured and irreplaceable possession, but we injure ourselves, because, as Lao Tsu said: "If you delight in killing, you cannot fulfill yourself."

When we live as members of a community, we have responsibilities towards that community; if we do not want the responsibilities, we should be honest, and give up the benefits of community life, too. But then where would we be? We would not be very happy at all, to say the least. Nothing is free; we are only deluding ourselves if we think we can get something for nothing. See how things are advertised: "Free gift with $20 dollars-worth of gas," for example. Free? If it were really free, we could go to the gas-station and ask for the free gift without buying anything, and technically, would be within our rights. But just try it, and see what happens! According to the law, they are advertising under false-pretenses, but this is so widespread that it's not noticed, and most people don't understand what is going on, because, like moths to a candle-flame, they are fascinated and fooled by the magic word 'FREE'!

Nothing is free. We pay for everything, sometime or other, though not always with money; there are other forms of payment, like labor and services; but by far the most-common forms of payment are disappointment, suffering and pain.

There are now about 6 billion people in the world, and each of us has his or her own personal little world that no-one else can inhabit or fully understand; I have my world, and you have yours, within the big world we call 'ours.' All these tiny personal worlds are not completely separated from each other like air-tight capsules, however, but touch and overlap each other in many ways. Via these words, for example, my world is now touching yours. We do not live alone; we cannot , even if we want to; it's impossible! We live together with others—humans and non-humans—each with hopes, fears and desires quite similar to our own. No-one wants to be unhappy, to suffer or die, do they? Everyone wants to be happy and loved, just like you and I. You have your reference-point, and I have mine: ourselves. Starting with and understanding ourselves, we shall begin to look at others with understanding, and respect them as people with feelings and rights, just like ourselves. The journey begins here.

There's a proverb: "People who live in glass-houses should not throw stones." We complain loudly when someone wrongs us, but expect others to keep quiet when we wrong them. Isn't it strange? Surely, we are entitled to complain about things only when we are not guilty of the things we complain about ourselves. Many Vietnamese blame the Communists in Vietnam for all their misfortunes, for example, but this is not fair, for while the V.C. might be held responsible for some of their misfortunes, they should not be blamed for all; even without Communists, or other people of that kind who cause trouble to others, we would still suffer in various ways.

Some years ago, in one of the Refugee Camps of S.E. Asia, where I spent some time, I was talking with a young man about this, and noticed he had a number of scars on his body, so, pointing to one on his arm, I asked: "Did the Communists do that to you?" "No," he said, "I cut myself with a knife." "Then how about that one?" I said, indicating one on his knee, "Did they do that to you?" "No, I fell on a rock and cut it." "Well, what about that one on your head?" "Oh, someone hit me with a piece of wood." "Then", I said, "you cannot blame the Communists for everything that happened to you, can you?"

Saying this, I know, will not help the expatriate Vietnamese recover their lost homeland, and I am not offering any theories or plans on how to do that, nor should anyone expect anything like that from me, as I am not a military strategist, politician, diplomat or statesman. What I am talking about is how to turn pain into gain, failure into success, defeat into victory, weakness into strength; listen:

The pain that the Vietnamese suffered at the hands of the Communists in Vietnam should be fully understood, so that they will not make the same mistakes themselves, and will be opposed to all their kinds of nonsense forever. They say they hate the deceit, dishonesty, cruelty, false promises and corruption of the Communists. Good! Very good! They should remember, therefore, and have nothing to do with these things themselves, lest they become worse than the V.C. Only then might they have grounds for blaming the Communists.

People complain that it's so difficult to 'follow the Way' in the present time and conditions, but it's not true. We have reached a level of material prosperity that we've never known throughout history before, and have no need to fear starvation here—in countries like Australia, England, and the U.S., at least. If we really want to 'follow the Way' it's easier than ever before, for never have we had as many teachers as now to help us to understand. A class in school consists of from 15-30 students, with just one teacher; rarely, if ever, is there a ratio of 1:1. But, in following the Way, each of us has countless teachers, and yet we complain that it's very hard! We see things all around us that we hate, dislike, disagree with and fear; we are aware of all the greed, corruption, exploitation, injustice, selfishness and stupidity, and know that these things are wrong. All these things are our teachers; they help us to understand, and show us the way not to go, the things not to do. If we have never encountered corruption or injustice, we may be excused for not knowing them to be wrong, but when we are familiar with them, how can we plead ignorance? If we hate something, that's all the more reason to avoid doing it ourselves; if we commit the same kind of things that we hate in others, are we not even worse than they, having learned nothing from them? No, it's not hard to 'follow the Way'—it's easy! What is difficult is being oneself, separating oneself from the blind masses who wander around aimlessly, and doing what one knows to be right! We have lost our inner strength, our character, our self-reliance, and have joined the herd in complaining and blaming others for whatever happens to us, instead of accepting responsibility for our own lives.

There are two kinds of suffering: Natural and Man-made. Because we have been born, we suffer; this is why Lao Tsu said: "Accept misfortune as the bodily condition. Why do I say 'Accept misfortune as the bodily condition'? Because without a body, how could there be misfortune?" While some of our natural suffering—that involved in growing, aging and death—cannot be avoided, much of it can be. But it is the man-made suffering that is really avoidable and therefore unnecessary. Is war really necessary? Cannot we find better ways to express ourselves, release our energies, display our talents, science and technology than through crime, and causing suffering to others? Would we like it if someone mugged, robbed, exploited or cheated us or our children? The advice of Confucius: "Do not do to others what you would not like others to do to you," is still good, after all these centuries.

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