In our quest for happiness and the avoidance of suffering, I believe we are all fundamentally the same, and therefore equal. – Dalai Lama
What does that mean?
We are all equal in a couple ways, and unequal in plenty of others. We all have exactly the same number of hours in the day. We are all trying to avoid suffering, as we define suffering, which isn’t always the same from person to person or culture to culture. However, we all do it.
We are all trying to find happiness, as we define happiness, which isn’t always the same from person to person or culture to culture. However, we all do it. These are strong traits within us, and whether we use our urge for pleasure to subjugate nations, or humbly serve them, the underlying principle of gaining pleasure is the same.
Why is finding happiness and avoiding suffering important?
This section almost doesn’t need to be written, right? Why should we try to be happy? I would say that our bodies are hard-wired to do it, even without conscious thought. Biologically, we are chemically programmed to react with pleasure to doing things that help ourselves as individuals (eating, for one example), and as a species (I shouldn’t have to explain that).
Avoiding suffering is also hard-wired into us. Our biology is designed to avoid things that injure us or cause great harm. With few exceptions, we avoid the kinds of things that could cause us serious harm as individuals (falling from a substantial height, for an example). However, avoiding suffering as a species doesn’t seem to be part of our biology. However, we seem to be working on it from the logical, emotional and spiritual sides.
Where can I apply this in my life?
I’ll presume that you can figure out what makes you happy and what you want to try to avoid. Your personal preferences and societal values will likely be of greater influence than this blog. You will also know, far better than I, how best to find that which gives you happiness and how to avoid that which causes you to suffer.
Instead, I would like to focus on the things that make us the same. Recently, I talked about the necessity of inequality in life, and the many ways that we are unequal. I still stand by that post, but I acknowledge that there are parts of life where we are equal. Think of this post as being the other side of the coin.
We all get the same amount of hours in a day, the same number of days in the week, month and year. We are all equal on this point. We differ in how we apply those hours and days. Similarly, we all strive to find happiness and to avoid suffering. We differ only in how we define happiness and suffering, and what we do to seek or avoid them.
Think about what makes other people seem odd, weird, goofy or strange to you, and of your definitions of happiness and suffering. While I have a small tattoo, I can’t imagine the suffering that someone would have to go through to have a large back piece or a full sleeve (much less two). Even if they collected it a few square inches at a time, that sounds like suffering to me, kind of like pulling a band-aid off a little at a time.
However, for those individuals, I would have to imagine that they looked at the pleasure and the pain involved, and decided that they would put up with a little suffering now for a lifetime of happiness. They have different ideas, different values, and different thresholds of pain.
How about you, what kind of things have you seen that seemed inexplicable? Consider that, in the group of people they associate with, what they do is normal, and what you do is considered weird. Equally as weird as what you think of what they do. How is that for symmetry?
Boxers and other professional fighters put up with the suffering of training and the pain of the fight because they feel the it is slight when compared to the happiness they receive from winning. Or perhaps they feel that losing causes greater suffering than training. However it is done, it works for them.
Remember, the people you think are strange or goofy are busy seeking the same thing you are, happiness. They just define it differently than you do. In this purpose, the quest for happiness and the avoidance of suffering, they are your equal. Smile at them. You might alarm them, you might amuse them, and you might just make a friend.