NOTE: THIS POST BY RJ HUDDY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON THE ORIGINAL BLOG FOR XPAT FICTION IN SEPTEMBER 2010.
It’s common these days among humanists—and among Buddhists too, come to that—to see all religions as basically different paths toward the same goal. And of course it’s true that every major religion I know anything about does indeed advise charity, good conduct, honesty, and kindness to others. But when it comes to the ultimate aim of Christianity/Islam—which to an alien researcher would seem more like twinned stars circling each other than intractable enemies at daggers drawn—and Buddhism, the central thrusts couldn’t be more opposed.
Christianity/Islam holds that life’s great goal is an after-death paradise where all suffering will be banished because all our deepest desires will be abundantly fulfilled. The suffering of this world is variously explained as a test, a punishment, or perhaps just a mystery, but in any case a fleeting condition that will be followed by an eternity of happiness beyond our earthly ability to imagine.
Buddhism says suffering is a result of desire, and the great aim should be to banish it by banishing desire, period. Just make it go away. We can never get our fill of what we want, so let’s stop wanting.
I recently heard from a woman who had lost her little girl to a horrific kind of wasting muscular disease. She said that although she tried to console herself with the notion that the child was in a better place now, and that they would someday be reunited, still the waves of grief swept over her, and her life was filled with despair.
On a much smaller level, I myself recall asking my grandmother, after hearing the crushing news of my first dog’s death by snakebite, whether I would see him again in heaven. She assured me that he’d always be there, waiting to chase his red rubber ball all over the back yard. It would never have occurred to me to doubt my grandmother’s honesty, but I remember crying for days anyway. As adults, even believers seem to suspect that the whole meet-me-in-heaven business is too close to a Hollywood script to trump the loss of a loved one.
There’s a story in which the Buddha met a weeping woman named Ubbiri. She explained that she was mourning the death of her daughter, Jiva. The Buddha told her, “Eighty-four thousand daughters named Jiva have died. Which one do you weep for?”
Or as my wife, channeling the Buddha, likes to say when I get anxious: "Jai yen-yen. Puay-man." Which means, “Be of cool heart. Release it.”