We see a fire burning, and we go around telling the entire village. They ignore us, and continue to have fun. By the time they notice it, it is too late. Those of us who saw the fire early has a choice. Do we run for our lives, or do we die along in solidarity?
The above storyline has been repeating through the course of history. Sometimes it gets worse, because a select few get to decide who should escape and who should not. Other times, there’s no escaping regardless because we’re all inter-connected so there’s nowhere to escape. Many of us have to pay with our lives because of the decisions of the few.
Such is the power dynamic of life, such is the unfairness of it all. I have lost hope for humanity quite a while ago, especially since I have begun to learn how our brains and psyches work. Perhaps the Buddha saw the same, so his solution was to live a desire-free, do-no-harm sort of life and hope one day we can be released from the cycle of rebirth and suffering. His hope was not in a human life, neither did he think that humanity would transcend themselves and become better humans – his hope was in nirvana, in an after-life. Of course, there are people who argue that right here, right now, is nirvana itself, if only we can see it. But even if that can possibly be true, we are interdependent, so nirvana really depends on how everyone else around you behaves.
I am not a Buddhist, but I appreciate some of the philosophy that stems from it, especially Zen. According to my shallow understanding of Zen, at a time like this, the best thing to do is to experience reality for what it is. There is no denial, no over-interpretation, no convoluted narrative or reasoning. Life is full of paradoxes, contradictions and hypocrisy, and ironically it gets easier once we are able to live with that.
In a way, I am really self-centered and yet not. I find it extremely difficult to feel safe when I know there are millions of people out there unsafe. I struggle to live even before all of this shit, and yet so many people are fighting for their lives. I am grateful for my privilege – that I can remain at home and I don’t have to worry about bills for the near future, but there is an tremendous amount of guilt that accompanies this. Why do I get away with it?
Once we have gone through enough of life and come to the startling conclusion that we are not that special, none of us deserve to be more privileged than the other, that so much of life is due to the lottery of our births rather than our talent, hard work and abilities: it becomes extremely challenging to be at peace and happy. Our safety, peace, and happiness comes at the expense of many other people who are not safe, happy or peaceful. I complain about the inequality in the world, but I am part of it. I want to do something about it, but I am too sick and broken to do so.
If I had a choice in the beginning, I would have chosen not to partake in any of this. There is no winning in life. Someone is always losing. Know this at our core and we’ll never be truly happy; ignore this and choose personal happiness but we’ll lose our humanity.