The Buddha’s Second Noble Truth pins the responsibility for our suffering squarely on our own shoulders: “Our suffering is caused by our cravings.” — The Buddha.
We all have desires, and that’s perfectly natural and healthy. But there are certain desires we cling to with a white-knuckle grip. These are the ones we just won’t let go of. And it’s our relentless attachment to these cravings that causes the suffering we all experience.
I remember well the first time life taught me this truth, when I was twelve years old.
My parents had taken me shopping, and we were outside a sporting goods store when I spotted a bicycle in the window that looked so fantastic it took my breath away. My stepfather saw my reaction, and remarked, “Your old rust-heap used to looked that good!”
But that wasn’t true — nothing I had ever seen had ever looked that good! The bike was sleek and racy, unlike my old rusted heap, and a beautiful rainbow-coloured sticker bore the name of an Olympic champion who was my hero. I wanted that bicycle more than I had ever wanted anything! I was consumed by it, and could think of nothing else. I refused to even contemplate the possibility of living without it.
So I got a part time job after school, instead of going surfing every day. However, I kept this a secret from my parents, as I bicycled off to work every afternoon with my surfboard tucked under my arm.
I worked hard, and saved everything I earned. Each day on the way home I would stop by the sporting goods store and gaze at the object of my desire. That bicycle provided me with many glorious fantasies. Soon I had designed my whole future around it.
Finally, one day when I had saved almost enough money, I went for my usual visit . . . but the bicycle was gone! The shopkeeper said a man had come in that morning and bought it for his son. The shop keeper couldn’t order another one, because that model had been discontinued. I couldn’t believe it! My world was shattered. My future was ruined.
Grief overwhelmed me. I suffered every waking hour, day after agonising day, week after endless week. I suffered, and kept suffering — right up until I awoke on Christmas morning, and saw the bicycle under the Christmas tree! Suddenly all my suffering was gone!
Ecstatic beyond words, I took the bike for a spin. However, all too quickly I realized this bike didn’t ride nearly as well as my old rusty one. Maybe that’s why this model was discontinued. Something was wrong with the design. Despair overcame me. I felt betrayed, crushed and defeated. And I wondered, bitterly, if there really was a loving God watching over us, as I had always been taught.
But it didn’t end there.
As soon as I got home, my despair escalated into horror, as my stepfather announced a new regime: “Now that you don’t need that secret job any more, you can put all that spare time into some chores around here. And I want that bike kept polished — I don’t want to see a spec of rust!” From that moment on, a new kind of suffering came down on me every Sunday morning: while my friends were heading off to the beach, I would have to spend an excruciating eternity waxing and polishing that new bike, even though the old bike was the one I rode to school every day. Plus I now had a whole list of new chores to get through before getting to the beach.
These tedious sessions gave me time to reflect. I eventually realized that if I had not wanted that new bike quite so much, life would now be much more to my liking — especially on Sundays! In all, I endured two years of this Sunday drudge before I felt I could unload the bike without causing any offence to my step-father. I ended up getting rid of the thing without even trying to sell it — I just gave it to my cousin, who didn’t have a bike.
My stepfather understood, and was not offended. In fact, had been quite amused by watching me put myself through all that misery…
David Lourie is an Emmy Award winning documentary writer and editor, living on Sydney’s northern beaches. He author of Dharma Diary: Reflections On A Path and also writes the international comic strip, Dharma The Cat – Philosophy With Fur.