Our teacher explained that all human beings want to be free from suffering, and that no human being wants to be free from suffering more than any other.
So why should our suffering be any more important than anyone else’s? Why do we think we’re inherently more important than anyone else?
We always think our suffering is worse because it’s happening to us. If our car is stolen it can feel like the end of the world, but if our neighbour’s car is stolen, it’s a shame, awful even, but they’ll deal with it and life will go on and we don’t really bother ourselves with it.
I had trouble with this concept. Even though logically you can’t really argue against it. My trivial daily disappointments in no way compare with the suffering of a child in Syria or soldiers in Iraq, but I couldn’t help thinking that if I didn’t believe I was important, then who would? If I’m not the most important thing in my own life, then how am I of any consequence at all?
Surely you can’t bring a child up thinking that they are not important, nor is their suffering. They would grow up with terribly low self-esteem. Wouldn’t they?
As Aibileen, the maid, says to the little girl she looks after in the film The Help, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” Grammatical errors aside, this seems to me to be a good mantra to emphasise to a small child. That they are important, not that they are not.
But I can still understand that for most adults, trying to understand their suffering in the context of greater suffering is sensible and could help us to be calmer and more content.
We were supposed to meditate on the fact that our suffering wasn’t any greater than anyone else’s, but I have to admit I wasn’t in the mood that day.
In my eagerness to embrace all things Buddhist and to really encourage myself to meditate as often as possible, I had ordered a statue of a bronze sitting (or meditating) Buddha, (I know I know, that’s not the point). But he was beautiful and I couldn’t wait to put him in my sitting room.
I had of course found him half price as well so it made the deal even sweeter.
My Buddha had arrived that morning in a big box labelled ‘FRAGILE’. But before I had managed to open my gates to collect it, the delivery man threw my Buddha over the gate.
Now this isn’t a small gate, it’s a huge black gate, and just as I came out of the front door I heard an unceremonious crash on the pavement.
I rushed to my Buddha’s aid, but it was too late. He was in pieces.
This was sacrilegious!
What would actual Buddhists make of this flagrant disregard for Buddha? Whenever my meditation teacher came into the room, she would clasp her hands together and bow her head to the big gold Buddha which sat facing us all as we attempted to meditate.
This delivery man’s karma was ruined!
I took my Buddha back inside to inspect the damage, but he was too far gone. He was never going to sit upright in my room meditating. He couldn’t sit at all.
So when I was in my group meditation and we were supposed to be focusing on our breath coming into our nostrils (which always makes me strangely aware of my nostrils and makes the air feel like it’s burning them when it comes in), all I could picture was my poor Buddha crashing to the ground over and over and over again.
Every time I tried to bring my focus back to the breathing, all I could picture was the box flying over the gate.
I gave up, opened my eyes and looked up, the big gold sitting Buddha was right in front of me and I pictured it all over again.
Needless to say I was not really feeling that other people’s suffering was worse than my own. All I could see was my own distress and sitting trying to empty my head just made it worse and worse.
Probably because of this the meditation part of the session seemed to go on for ages. I have no idea how long it actually was, 15 minutes maybe? But as a novice this was definitely too long.
I must be the only person in the history of meditation who started to feel angrier and angrier during the meditation, and whose in-breath made them feel like their nostrils were on fire.
I suppose I can’t really classify this as meditating. If it had been I would have felt calmer and happier afterwards. Wouldn’t I? Wouldn’t I!!
So I went home post meditation and stared at my poor broken Buddha.
Buddhism teaches that we’re supposed to love people unconditionally and feel compassion for them when they do bad things or make mistakes.
I wondered whether my Buddhist teacher would still advocate this if she knew that a delivery man had destroyed an image of her beloved Buddha. The one she bowed her head to in gratitude every time she entered the room.