The death of a loved one, or having serious health problems oneself, has a way of highlighting the pettiness and pointlessness of much of daily life. What things might survive death? Personal afterlife (liberation, redemption, salvation, etc., depending on your views) and personal legacy (e.g., children and their inheritence, one’s own tangible and intangible contributions to the world, maybe choosing to live/die in a location where one would like to be reborn, etc.) are the main things I can think of. Except as things pertain to either afterlife or legacy, most everything else seems like short-term issues about which one shouldn’t get too stressed or invested.
If betrayal is defined as selfishly pursuing one’s own interests over the interests of others, most everyone betrays each other, at least in small ways, every day. Only large betrayals usually draw personal or social complaints or punishments (e.g., infidelity, theft, treason, etc.). But, as subjective beings with needs and desires, everyone is faced with a kind of inherent, moment-to-moment conflict-of-interest with everyone else, and sometimes within ourselves, namely: do I do what someone else (or a part of me) wants/needs, or what I (or another part of me) want/need?
For example… do I spend more time/energy on a certain person, or not? Do I follow my heart about relationships, career, etc., or do I do what my family or society want? Do I eat what my tongue, nose, or mind most enjoys, or what my body finds most nutritious? Do I help that needy person who looks or behaves differently than I prefer, or do I ignore, reject, or punish them somehow? Which is more important: my life/health, or the life/health of the plants and animals I eat — or, my family or country, or someone else’s family or country? Should I win, even if someone else must lose?
Selfless love is everywhere, but so is selfish betrayal, often in a complex mixture.
From a Buddhist perspective, the current human condition is inherently unfortunate, unstable, conflicted, etc. The point is to feel frustrated by it, to see the danger and pointlessness of it, and to seek a better state of being.
Many times in my life, in myself and others, I have seen how inaccurate, incomplete, often negative views can be reinforced by brooding or brainwashing — by a person going into some kind of echo chamber (in their head, on the Internet, only spending time with similar people in the real world, etc.) for a long time and repeating certain thoughts or feelings over and over until they become more and more extreme. The same was apparently true in the Buddha’s time, about 2,600 years ago: “‘He insulted me, he hit me, he beat me, he robbed me’ — anger will never cease in those who dwell on such thoughts” (Dhammapada, 3).
But real people are small and complicated. Everyone finds themselves born into a certain body, family, country, etc., which can be hard to escape. Everyone has had many unique past experiences that informed them. No one can see or learn everything. The only way to understand the complexity of life or people is to get out of your comfort zone (either mentally or physically) and have strange, new, different experiences. Brooding or brainwashing in isolation usually only makes one’s views more xenophobic, unrealistic, inaccurate, and incomplete; having difficult, new conversations and experiences usually makes one’s views more connected, realistic, accurate, and complete.
Here is a nice Ted talk, which says pretty much the same thing:
Here are three things, related to reconciliation and reparations, I wish the US would do:
- Give Native American nations some percentage of the land, of their choosing and under their administration, in every county of the US where they have historically lived, so that they are no longer confined to marginalized/poor reservations and can regain all of their ancestral lands to some degree.
- Create a federal Department of Slavery Reparations, which would have these five mandates:
- Work with the IRS and historians to tax white people whose ancestors held slaves, and either give the money directly to poor black people whose ancestors were slaves or make public colleges in the US free for such black people.
- Offer free historical family investigations, done by PhD historians and geneticists, to black people whose ancestors were slaves, going back to the tribe/village in Africa from which they were taken.
- Fund numerous community development and job-placement programs in majority black neighborhoods across the US, organized and led by African Americans.
- Create minimum quotas for African American inclusion/hiring in every American company and at every American mass media network/studio (every movie, TV show, etc.).
- Work in similar ways to repair the effects of other types of historical and modern slavery/trafficking in the US (e.g., indentured servitude, sex slavery, etc.).
- Coordinate with African governments and companies to allow African Americans to take free flights to/from Africa and to find housing, insurance, and decently paid public-service work in Africa, both to re-connect with the homeland from which they were stolen and to help all Africans lift themselves up from the colonialistic legacies that have weighed them down for so long.
Disclosure: In the 1700-1800s, some of my ancestors had a few (maybe 10) African slaves, and my ancestors settled on lands that were taken from Native Americans. Of these things, I am not proud.
What is appealing about eating, or wearing, the rotting carcas of a dead animal or plant?
Why are captive, genetically weakened animals and plants more valued than the freer, stronger animals and plants in the fields and forests?
Why do larger, more intelligent animals (cows, pigs, etc.) deserve to be killed and fed to smaller, less intelligent animals (cats, dogs, etc.)?
Why is a human brain and body configuration more valued than non-human configurations?
What positive contributions do you make to the world that justify killing thousands of other beings for you throughout your life?
Why are humans in other countries less valuable than humans in your country?
Why are children you give birth to more valuable than orphan children who have already been born?
“Good men are constant[ly good]” (Dhammapada, 83, Lal’s translation).
“He is indeed virtuous, wise, and righteous who neither for his own sake nor for the sake of another (does any wrong), who does not crave for sons, wealth, or kingdom, and does not desire success by unjust means” (Dhammapada 84, Acharya Buddharakkhita’s translation).
“Think not lightly of evil, saying, “It will not come to me.” Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, the fool, gathering it little by little, fills himself with evil” (Dhammapada 121, Acharya Buddharakkhita’s translation).
“By not holding to fixed views, the pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision, being freed from all sense desires, is not born again into this world” (Karaniya Metta Sutta, Amaravati translation).
There are so many (often-conflicting) philosophies and religions in the world. Why is yours the right one? Have you taken the time to really study and practice the world’s philosophical and religious traditions, to find the one(s) with which you actually most agree and feel are true, or do you just believe what your family or society tells you to believe? Similarly, do you believe what you want to be true, or what you think is most likely to be true?