I rode my bicycle today, October 13, 2013. Seemed there were more dead rabbits and squirrels than usual on the streets I rode. Run over by cars. I always feel vulnerable when I ride my bike. The animals are a reminder of the consequence of being hit by a much larger, heavier object.
I have always wondered what is to live a good life. Is it doing good works? Am I wasting my life every night as I watch TV? Should I be reading great literature? I haven’t read much since law school where I had to read thousands of pages of legal documents for 2.5 years. That beat the desire out of me for reading.
Are my many hours spent in movie theaters and reading fitness magazines the same as missed opportunities to live meaningfully? Is it enough to go to work, be a good friend/relative, and attend church?
I have continually tried to live right. But I don’t know what that is. Is it being of constant service to my fellow earthlings and environment? Is it to pray often and keep the commandments? Is it ok to just work hard and play well. Would I have lived a right life if I worked hard, been fair to others in my dealings and raised children to be good stewards of the earth?
I am a practicing Buddhist in the Theravada tradition. As such I took 5 vows.
1. To abstain from taking the lives of living beings.
2. To abstain from stealing or taking that which is not given.
3. To abstain from sexual misconduct.
4. To abstain from telling falsehoods or gossip.
5. To abstain from partaking of intoxicants.
I have lived by those vows and quite proud that my wife and kids have made an effort to live by them also. On the other hand I know numerous folks who consider themselves Buddhist who are not as committed to the vows but are very determined to practice meditation, study scripture, the 4 Noble Truths and the concept of impermanence. A difference of approach I guess.
Does my dedication to my vows make my life a “right” life? Would it be a right life if I worked in corporate America, went to the gym every day and gave money to the poor? Or not give money to the poor. My heart is heavy when I see the dead animals. I feel bad for people who struggle to make ends meet and who must struggle to have time and resources to enjoy their lives. I worry about people I have never seen but am fully aware that the act of finding enough food may consume the entire day.
A Buddhist monk named Lama Marut spoke to a group I was part of and said that to be born into western civilized society in these times was a karmic gift. He said 2/3rds of the world struggled just to subsist and that we Westerners have the time, leisure and comfort to work on our spiritual life. He admonished us not to squander this very special opportunity.
Instead of biking every Sunday morning for hours maybe I should be in a temple or church somewhere. What will I feel at the end of my life if there is time to feel? Proud I raised two fine daughters? Proud of my donations and contributions to many fine causes and all the pro bono work I did for legal clients. Pleased that I spent years contributing to society as a social worker on the mean streets.
I used to want to be extraordinary and make significant, memorable contributions in the legal and social arenas. But despite my wish to stand above the crowd, I just sank into the same normal routine most people live. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of my greatest inspirations as a young man. I aspired to walk the talk and sacrifice anything and everything if called upon. I felt disappointment when I abandoned social work because I felt I had come up short in the sacrifice category. It happened again when I abandoned my law practice where I had daily opportunities to help desperate people who were my clients.
Today I run a mundane auto repair business. When I arrive home I turn on the television and watch another episode of the old TV show, Gunsmoke, then some Daily Show and Colbert. I spend lots of time with my family. Three days a week I lead mediation for groups and I give talks to school groups on the subject of Buddhism. But I am agitated frequently when I ruminate on death and wonder if I will let go when my life is over, satisfied that I lived a right life. I know I don’t want to die, I am just not sure I know how to live.