illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
We love drama, don't we? Sure, we love a happy ending, but really what we're interested in is the drama that precedes.
Nobody wants to read about a peaceful, equanimous, compassionate life in which one glides untarnished through saṃsāra. No! We want to read drama: we want to read about Devadatta sending mercenaries to kill the Buddha, or about the Buddha setting off to intercept the murderer Angulimala… We want to read about kings going to war, about dangerous beasts and angry elephants, or even about Māra the Lord of Death… Of course, how the Buddha deals with adversity is inspiring but, really, that's it: we want to see dealings with adversity! We want controversies, disagreeing 'Brahmins', secessions…
So then we practise Buddhism, and make it hard.
We imagine standards impossible to reach (given the current conditions and circumstances)… We imagine black & white requirements where making a single mistake, having a single moment of weakness, falling once will be enough to postpone Liberation by 'eons'… We don't take vows, frightened by their weight, as if a single failure to uphold them would cancel all other successes and the wholesomeness of the intention…
Since we like to narrate dealings with adversity, and we like ourselves very much, we make our buddhist path a heroic path! With enemies, temptations, failures, and a little progress now and then but only to reach a new scene with new adversity… And since nobody is interested to read beyond "and they lived happily ever after", surely we have to struggle all our life. Otherwise, what would we do after Enlightenment? Be bored? See other people stop being interested in us? Would our ego really cease!?!? Nope, nope, nope, let's struggle all our life! Let's stay the hero of our story: the endless, hard, hopeless quest of purity.
Buddhism is practical
Any vow you take, even if you take it for only one day rather than 'forever', is of value. Any effort you make, any act of kindness, of generosity, of patience, of perseverance is valuable. Any act of sharing, any donation, any constructive interaction is valuable. To you and to the world. Any appropriate response to the situation at hand, no matter how benign, is a manifestation of wisdom!
Cultivation is made of small steps, not of impossible leaps breaking your neck!
Buddhism offers maps, paths, ways, inspirational stories, philosophical doctrines and ethical guidances… many gates to the Dharma and more… but it does not offer standards impossible to reach. The latter are our own projection, to maintain our 'self', to keep our 'self' the hero of the story and the centre of attention!
Here&now, in our 'mundane' and 'small' life, is where cultivation takes place. Any step and every step matters. Intentions do matter. Every single time you embody wisdom and wholesome qualities, you're a buddha. The more often you do so, the more often you are. Still, the Buddha did eat, sleep, walk, get tired, get sick, get criticised and misunderstood… Here&now, not in some 'perfect' world and time, is where cultivation takes place.
photo: © Vinzoo Calif, www.flickr.com/photos/vinzoo/