Although poetic and sage, this lyric doesn’t quite answer the question. In the West, Charles Darwin probably got the closest to providing an answer. One day, as Darwin was studying the wonderous creatures on the isolated shores of the Galapagos Islands, he pondered how so many and varied forms of life could be found in such an remote location.
The answer that he struck upon was that all life needs resources to live. However, he extrapolated, left to their own devices any singular species would eventually exhaust all of its resources. Therefore, competition is a necessary part of life, preventing one species from dominating and thus having nothing to stop it from consuming all its resources.
The answer that narrowly escaped Darwin’s clutches could be found in the East. Buddha actually answered this question with the most critical insight on life ever discovered by man. The answer to “why me?” is this: The very conditions that give rise to life are the same conditions that give rise to suffering.
In other words, life is suffering. I know that many Westerners might angrily reject this theory and decry it as harsh. They will brand this idea with the words fatalistic or cynical. They will claim that life is a happy place and that you should always look on the bright side of life.
Buddha would argue that you should simply see life as it is; not how you wish it to be. The Christian Bible got it right when it declared that, left to his own devices, man would destroy himself. On a more base level, Darwin also got it right when he realised that one form of life cannot exist as a lone, solitary tenant on Earth. The only part where either source went awry was in failing to walk this further intellectual step: If competition is required to regulate life, then suffering is inevitable.
Buddhists believe that we suffer because we live. We tend to think that the only way to end the suffering is to exit the circle of life. Exiting the circle of life means exiting the cycle of rebirth... and therein lies the rub. You see, Buddhists believe that life is not a one-shot deal. As a Buddhist, I believe that we keep coming back here until we get it right. By getting it right, I mean finding Enlightenment. The cycle of rebirth is called samsara and it holds that death is not the end of life. It is simply the end of the body.
Much like buying a car, the next “vehicle” we get all depends on what we have to spend. We accumulate currency towards our next body based on the sum total of the actions we took in the previous body. Much as in capitalism, we can choose to either invest wisely or dwindle it all away.
Often, Westerners get the answer to this question wrong. We fail to see that life’s many tragedies are part and parcel of man’s very existence. Some people conclude that suicide is an easy way to end the pain, but if you are thinking of jumping from a tall building I must ask you a question: Did it ever dawn on you that you may simply jump only to land here yet again?
There is no short-cutting the system. If you try to block the circle of rebirth, it will steamroll you straight into the pavement. The inevitable end of your life is simply its start anew. Life is a serenade of change and in that singsong a sole, benevolent voice warbles right: Although you’re suffering now, your luck could change overnight.
All About Buddhism is a monthly column in The Phuket News where I take readers on my exotic journey into Thai Buddhism and debunk a number of myths about Buddhism, as well as take readers to exotic temples that few of us have gotten to see.