Are we only as lucky as we feel?
I think one thing is for sure, we won’t make the most of any good luck we have if we don’t realize we have it, and especially if we are focused instead on what we don’t have.
Feeling lucky is one of the best feelings in the world, as well as one of the most useful.
Buddhism is eminently optimistic because it recognizes that at heart everyone is pure and everyone is good. In fact, there’s no difference between any of us in that we all have equally flawless potential, our Buddha nature. Whether we fulfill that potential or not depends on whether or not we use our human life to help both ourselves and others.
In The New Meditation Handbook, my teacher says we need to encourage ourselves to put the Buddhist teachings into practice for the compelling reason that we can then:
“permanently cure the inner sickness of our delusions and all suffering, and achieve everlasting happiness.”
What friend is encouraging us to do that? They are probably few and far between, and in any case who has time to be giving us thought aid all day long? So Buddha likened the first meditation of the so-called stages of the path to enlightenment (Lamrim in Tibetan), the one on our precious human life, to our “best friend” because it gives us all the good advice and encouragement we need, whenever we need it.
I have just been landed with three more foster kittens. They are scrawny, sickly, hissy, and currently clueless as to what is going on.* I will try and give them the best possible start to life, and they each have just the same potential as me. However, it is not going to be possible for them to travel the spiritual path while still in their animal body. I find that the animals in my life help me as much if not more than I help them. Taking care of them reminds me daily of how lucky I am by comparison, and so how important it is to make spiritual progress myself so that one day I can help them do the same. It is not fair otherwise.
Even if I compare myself to other humans, it is clear that I have ridiculous resources compared to most people in the world. I have had a roof over my head every day and night, I can read, I can write, I’m drinking coffee, I’m eating a delicious sandwich, I have options. Other people look at us, or watch us on TV, and think that we’re like gods, the luckiest people on the planet, at least materially.
This relative well-being comes about not because we are better or more special than others, but because we are really very, very lucky. That luck comes from many causes and conditions, the substantial cause being good karma, because we have created the causes for well-being in the past. We were able to create these causes entirely thanks to others, who gave us the opportunities to be kind, generous, patient, and so on. The main contributory cause of our good fortune is also other people’s goodness to us – bringing us up, giving us jobs, building our roads and other infrastructure, supporting us on every level since we got here. This much is clear from the meditation on the kindness of others. (Look at this blog article for more on this point).
Buddha said there was nothing we couldn’t accomplish with a precious human life, spiritually speaking. In this first meditation of the Lamrim, he spelled out our options like a tour guide: “Now that you’re here, you can collect all the inner treasure you need to help you in all your future lives, you can attain complete mental freedom and overcome suffering, and/or you can attain the state of omniscient bliss and wisdom and help everyone …”
Harrods is a large department store in London, so luxurious that people from all over the world travel there to shop. It has the best and most desirable of everything. Imagine for a moment that we won a prize of ten minutes in Harrods when everything we can put into a shopping cart is ours. We might well rub our hands in glee, “This is my chance!” But imagine that instead of rushing straight to the jewelry section, we bump into someone rather attractive in the lobby and we linger a while, “Interesting person, maybe we’ll get together later.” Then we think, “Hmm, I’m feeling a little peckish,” and we head over to the cafe for a nice free croissant and latte. There we find a queue full of annoying people who are in our way, and we get distracted by that thought for a while.
Suddenly we realize we have just a minute left and we’re three floors away from anything we actually want or need. If we made a plan, we have not stuck to it. Too late. That’s how we are, we get distracted. We need that motivating knowledge of our opportunity front and foremost in our mind if we are to not to waste whatever time we have left.
The hugely influential Indian meditator Nagarjuna, when he woke up each morning, said:
“How fortunate that my breath has sustained me through the night!”
We could be like this, jumping out of bed happy each morning. As a kid, I was touched by the movie Oliver Twist, about the orphan who was suddenly plucked from poverty due to his birthright and given all the opportunity he could desire. That scene on the balcony when he sings:
Who will buy this wonderful morning? Such a sky you never did see! Who will tie it up with a ribbon And put it in a box for me? Who will buy this wonderful feeling? I'm so high I swear I could fly. Me, oh my! I don't want to lose it So what am I to do To keep the sky so blue?
We could feel this ecstatic every day if we wanted to.
We can’t afford to take this opportunity for granted, given how fragile and short-lived it actually is. Life is not a dress rehearsal, as they say. We only have this shot at getting it right. It is very hard for animals and even most humans to avoid suffering and control their minds. We always have the potential, the Buddha nature — it is our birthright. Right now we also have the conditions — we have the freedom to become free! Joyful Path of Good Fortune has a checklist of good fortune — the freedoms and endowments. If we discover we have these, I think we discover we have everything.
Over to you: What is more valuable to you, one minute of life or one thousand dollars?
(*Day 4: The foster kittens are coming along in leaps and bounds. I like to think of their new purring as tuning into the Dharmakaya, receiving blessings. May it one day be as easy for us to give ALL living beings food, medicine, shelter, safety, entertainment, and love.)
In my increasingly long life, I have experienced many significant insights and teaching, the huge majority of which I have forgotten shortly after realizing how important they are in my on-again-off-again mission to make something of myself. One of the exceptions, going back 50 years, was: “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” When I eventually discovered the Lamrim, I knew I was in the right place. Thank you for reminding me.
If anyone is going to make it, it is you, Chuck.
Nagarjuna said it; ” How fortunate… What a way to start a new day and go to work in a virtues kind of mind for the benefit of all… I’ll take one minute of life Luna… Thank you… for one more teaching…
Yes, it’s all about taking a moment to remember how lucky we are.
Thank You so much Luna!
I loved this post Luna,, so simple , yet so profound and basic…. thank-you for your wisdom and compassion for all.. xoxxo
Mainly Alex 😉 Ha ha. Kidding. Maybe. (In joke).
Luna i loved this post, it filled my heart with loving blessings ….thanks : )
My pleasure Maria.
thank you luna for your wonderful posts, have just read this one while at work. when i think about it i feel lucky but maybe need a reminder to reaffirm it on a continuous level. if we feel lucky we can change our attitude to one of positivity (yes today the shop is quiet – but i do have a job, yes its raining today – but i live in a beautiful green country and have water coming out of taps!) theres always something to feel grateful for when we feel lucky and with gratitude we feel love and tune into our buddha nature x
You live in England?! I used to marvel at water coming out of the taps when i would get back from other places with droughts, drinking water at that!
Another brilliant article – thank you so much, Luna. I love the Harrods analogy! Oh, and send my love to the cats!
The kittens send their love to you, too.
Yes(♥)’To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion; for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?’ (Ecclesiastes 3. Verses 1,2, 22.)i
Cheryl, what do you think the last line means?
I just want you to know how much I enjoy your posts. I am grateful to know you are in the world!
I second that! I have tremendous appreciation for the amount of wisdom you distill into these short posts. I love you are out there doing this for us. Thank you!
You two are very kind to say so, thank you!
thank you so much!
Thank you Maria for your constant support of this blog 🙂
I have been exploring ways to facilitate my “carpe dium”. The main obstacle for me is definitely distractions- i am so interested in what happened at work, what so and so said, whats on the news, I’ll just check the internet, have a look at facebook, have another look… it seems modern life is set up as one big distraction! It is taking real determination and skill to not get sucked back into it; I feel like a distraction addict sometimes “I’ll just check the internet for 10 minutes, only 10, then I’ll be really virtuous”… 3 hours later, with my mind in white noise meltdown…
You probably speak for most of us, me included! We need rules…. hey, i think that’s what moral discipline is for… 😉 Do you think it is part of modern moral discipline to restrict the number of hours we spend on the internet each day?! — I reckon Buddha would have added that to the list of vows if the internet had been around back then. No moral discipline, no concentration. No concentration, no wisdom. No wisdom, no liberation.
i couldn’t agree more! Really agree with the internet time limit- have been experimenting with that recently, and it instantly seems to pay dividends. Its like I have got my mind back; too many distractions leaves my mind heavy, lazy, demotivated, and disconnected from my inner peace. I can see this more clearly, after a few days of being more disciplined with distractions. Whats really interesting for me- was thinking there is no news, nothing happens- and suddenly my insatiable urge to know whats going on was reduced. Definitely an area I intend to explore more… Great to see the articles and replies flowing again, I have missed them 🙂