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Six years ago, on my first trip to Nepal, I bought every self-help book I could lay my hands on.
I returned home with a bag full of books. One book, in particular, was exceptional—it was spot-on, and I ended up carrying it with me wherever I went.
For someone like me who spent the majority of her 20s working, partying hard, and trying to determine her purpose, What Makes You Not A Buddhist was an eye-opener.
I read lines that blew me away over and over again. I underlined paragraphs that I knew would stay with me for many years to come.
Here are some of the passages that have been stuck in my mind:
“Eventual change is inevitable. There is no degree of probability or chance involved. If you feel hopeless, remember this and you will no longer have a reason to be hopeless, because whatever is causing you despair will also change.”
“We forget that our days are always numbered. Even if we understand that everything born must die and that everything assembled will eventually disintegrate, in our emotional state we constantly slip back into operating out of a belief in permanence, entirely forgetting interdependence.”
“Everyone must die at some point; an estimated 250,000 human beings do so every day. People close to us have died and will die. Yet we are still shocked and saddened when a loved one passes away, and we continue to search for the fountain of youth or a secret formula for long life.”
Needless to say, I knew death, short-lived experiences, and suffering exist. Call it ignorance, but I thought those were mere, general ideas that could never take a toll on my own life. Or maybe I was too young and naive and thought it was too early for me to reflect on death and its consequences.
Reading this book and immersing myself in the Buddhist culture woke me up to the fact that death (of any kind) can happen to me, to anyone, anytime, anywhere, and I needed to change the way I was living promptly.
I was so damn proud of those inner realizations that I shared them with almost anyone I had met. I once shared this book with an acquaintance and insisted that she should read it because it will open her eyes to many things we take for granted. After a whole lot of debating, she agreed to read the first few pages.
I anxiously watched her as she read the first few paragraphs. Halfway there, she chuckled and said, “This is the silliest book I have ever read. Who cares about this Buddhist sh*t?”
Welp, I did. I cared about that “Buddhist sh*t.” I felt extremely disappointed when she said that to me. I judged her not, but I genuinely wanted someone to see things from my own perspective.
Today, I remembered that book. It’s been on my shelf, untouched, for the last two or three years. On Tuesday, I spent seven hours in the emergency room with my father, who’s been coping with the rough effects of COVID-19 for the past 20 days. Somehow, every underlined paragraph in that book kicked in.
I’m standing by the door of my father’s room, who’s having constant pain in his chest and making soft moans.
On the counter, two meters away from me, stands a teenager who’s carefully listening to the doctor telling her that her pinky finger might be forever paralyzed.
Two minutes later, the ambulance brings in a 25-year-old guy who had an accident. The red cross volunteer whispers in the doctor’s ear that the guy is likely having a heart attack and the chance of survival is low. Behind him stand his two little brothers who are sobbing.
To my right, an old woman is in pain. She doesn’t know what’s wrong, but it could be her stomach, or her gallbladder, and she’s waiting for the doctor who’s helplessly trying to revive the 25-year-old guy.
You can tell by now that the ER is not the best place for me. Being a highly sensitive person, I walk in the opposite direction and burst into tears.
I bump into two ladies who are rushing to the second floor with a balloon that reads, “It’s a boy.” Huh. Life. Right?
Anyway, I let that energy out and wipe my tears with the side of my right arm, as I’ve been trying my best not to touch my face. With teary eyes and blurred vision, I remember Dzongsar’s words:
“The concept of impermanence does not foretell Armageddon or the Apocalypse, nor is it a punishment for our sins. It isn’t inherently positive or negative, it is simply part of the process of the compounding of things. We usually appreciate only half of the cycle of impermanence. We can accept birth but not death, accept gain but not loss. True liberation comes from appreciating the whole cycle and not grasping onto those things that we find agreeable.”
Out there, outside that emergency room, there’s a whole different world. Just yesterday, that 25-year-old guy didn’t know that, within the next 20 hours, he would be in the hospital, being resuscitated, with blood all over his face. Just yesterday, that teenage girl probably didn’t even notice she had a pinky finger. And, well, I surely didn’t know that dad might relapse.
Then again, the so-good “Buddhist sh*t” kicks in.
Nothing lasts. Everything changes. Suffering is a built-in form of life. People die. We get sick. We lose loved ones. We lose a finger we have never gave any attention.
But before you get depressed all too often, remember that, a few meters away from you, a plant is growing, an insect is alive, an animal is feeding, and a baby is born. Things last for a few minutes, hours, weeks, months, and if we’re lucky enough, for more than 30 years. We live before we die. We can heal. But hey, we’ll die some other time.
My point is, appreciate where you are and who you are with. Like really. Appreciate.
Call that person. Hug your dad. Be kind. Do something good. Walk your dog. Water your plants. Be good to your body. Be good to others. Forgive. Be happy. Be grateful. Look at your pinky finger today because you might not be able to use it tomorrow.