sh!t happens


As I’ve studied, learned, and unlearned over the past few years, I’ve noticed many of the things I accept easily aren’t received as well by people I’ve discussed things with from home.

I don’t know if it’s a matter of studying in Asia compared to North America, where good teachings/teachers aren’t always accessible (at least in rural Nova Scotia, anyway…), or just a willingness to receive the teachings.

Of course, my awareness is only about ankle-deep, so I could be way off here, but it seems as though the word “suffering”, the double-f word of Buddhism, tends to get in the way. Not many people seem to enjoy being told that even what they perceive as joy in life is actually a source of “suffering”.

As most of those who have dug a bit further into this have found, “suffering” isn’t always the best translation of the original word, Dukkha. Suffering feels like such a big, dramatic word. It’s  suitable for someone who’s dying of hunger, but a little over blown to describe that craving for potato chips, or watermelon I get at night. Or even more difficult to swallow is that the enjoyment I get from them tonight is the doorway to more suffering tomorrow.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be one perfect word to replace Dukkha in English, but a number of explanations have helped my understanding. At times stress, dissatisfaction, thirst, or craving seem like better substitutes, or the best one I’ve come across yet was on the Ox Herding blog, where Barry explained that in the Buddha’s day, Dukkha referred to a potter’s wheel being out of balance. In the context of existence, the metaphor is obvious.

If you still don’t like the ring of this, the Buddha didn’t simply say, “Life is suffering,” and leave it at that. The potter’s wheel can be re-centered. Or, if you own a car and your wheels are out of alignment, they can be re-aligned and he gave specific instructions on how do it. The reason I use the prefix “re-” is that it implies a former state of balance, an inherent nature that is balanced.

If the Buddha had been from New York, the teachings just might have come out something like this:

1 – Shit happens. (I don’t know anyone who can argue with that.)

2 – A certain amount of crap is inevitable, but we also create a lot of unnecessary piles.

3 – The manure is manageable.

4 – Here’s an Eight-Step-Guide to waste management…

Maybe that’s why the Buddha wasn’t from New York…


The Four Noble Truths

The Noble Eightfold Path


4 responses »

  1. So true. In my experience at the Center of the Universe (i.e., Canada’s capital city), people recoil from the idea that their choices may not be the best ones for them – even if it a pack of chips!

    I love your re-alignment of the Four Noble Truths in NY’ese! Jon Kabat-Zinn (please forgive me for quoting him!) summarized life (i.e., the Three Marks of Existence) as:

    1) Shit happens
    2) It doesn’t last
    3) Don’t take it personally


      • I’ve never met Jon Kabat-Zinn (although I’ve seen him talk and his work inspires me enormously).

        If I were a New Yorker (and I’ve spent a lot of time there, so I know I don’t wanna be one), I’d probably state the truths like this:

        1. I make a lot of shit
        2. I make a lot of shit because I don’t like you or New York
        3. I could do better
        4. I could shit in the toilet (and remember to flush)

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