God bless Mom.
She lives with my wife and kids and I, but spends most of her time inside that tiny little dungeon called “her bedroom,” where she clutters whatever space she has left with miscellaneous things that she’s somehow become emotionally attached to over the past billion years. Not to mention that she spends countless hours reading books by James Clavell and watching Fox News. She apparently loves historical and current-event fiction. I just did a Fox News joke.
But one day while we were on the road, she felt that she had to tell me that the Dalai Lama was basically a piece of shit who ate children and incited some sort of war killing a shitload of people.
Obviously she heard this from Sean Hannity.
I told her that’s a bunch of bullshit and she knew it. I’m not the hugest fan of the Dalai Lama myself, but eating children and starting wars? That’s not the Dalai Lama’s style. I also told her Tibetan Buddhism is as peaceful of a religion as you can get. They’re good people.
She asked me how they can be good people when all they do is beg and sit around all day thinking about nothing (my eyes were rolling at this point). I said that first of all, they’ve sworn off materialism which is why they all wear the same robes, and that they’ve cut their hair as short as they’ve cut their ego. So they look for charity in others much in the same way they serve others with charity.
She then asked, “But all they do is sit down and think about nothing. What good does that do for the world?”
That’s a valid statement, and a very good question. I can’t speak on behalf of the meditative practices of Tibetan Buddhism or any lineage of Buddhism as a whole, so the only way I can answer this is from a Taoist standpoint, albeit, a very beginner’s understanding of Taoism. But having friends of different Buddhist lineages, they tell me that Taoist meditation is very similar, so here it goes…
Let’s imagine that you had a shitty day. You wake up on the wrong side of the bed and so you start off the day in a shitty mood. So you yell at your partner, kids, or roommates for whatever crappy thing they supposedly did. Then you can’t handle the traffic going to work or school and so you’re driving mindlessly and emotionally, dangerously speeding or cutting people off. You finally get to work and start pissing off all of your coworkers. And after work is finally done, you just want to go home and watch TV, so you find yourself in rush hour once again, desperately driving like a fool all the way back home, where your partner, kids, or roommates are waiting for more of your crap.
But that’s the account from your perspective. What about all the people that you affected that day? Partner, kids, roommates, coworkers, co-commuters, that barista you yelled at because they got your name wrong at Starbucks… how has your anger affected them? Maybe they had a horrible day because of you. Maybe somewhere along the line, the person you pissed off had pissed off someone else, and that person probably pissed off another person who then probably got into a horrible fight with their boss, or got into a deadly car accident, or killed a cat in some blind rage, which then affects even more lives. Like the chaos theory of “the butterfly who flaps its wings causing a hurricane on the other side of the world,” you probably had devastated the lives of others somewhere in this vast web of human experience. And it all started just because you (and I do mean you) could not take responsibility for your own thoughts, feelings, and actions, and did not consider how it may affect the world around you.
What spiritual meditative practice does (again from my Taoist perspective), is it helps you understand what your thoughts and your feelings actually are, and how it affects everything and everyone around you. It makes you become accountable for everything you say, everything you think, and everything you do. And it does so by bringing you face to face with that evil monster that we call “ego.” Meditation puts your understanding of “ego” and “self” into perspective. A larger perspective. A perspective where, as the sage Chuang Tzu would describe as being able to “enter fire without getting burned, and to enter water without getting wet.” Don’t take that literally, though. It simply means to say that you’ve mastered virtuousness and that nothing big or small can jostle you out of your inner peace. Then it becomes easier to be more loving, compassionate, and happy. And that’s what the world needs to spread.
So in the case of your “bad day,” with dedicated meditative practice, your anger would’ve stopped right in its tracks by recognizing and sitting with your anger without acting on it. Your loved ones would’ve had better days. Your co-commuters in traffic would’ve been more level-headed, and your coworkers would’ve been more productive. And who knows, maybe by just being patient, kind, or compassionate, you may have prevented another shooting spree or a war somewhere in time. It sounds far fetched and I could be wrong, but I’d rather be wrong in the right way. But one thing is for sure, all of us are affected by each others’ actions in some way – no matter who, and no matter where.
So what good does meditation do for the world? All the good. All the fucking good. And all you have to do is sit down on your meditation cushion, shut the fuck up, and focus on your breath.