|Last night the Society of Friends of the Buddha met in my living room. We discussed some teachings of the Buddha. I want to share some of our discussion with MindfulHeart friends and with members of our Sangha who were not able to be here last night. |
In a reading titled, “The Sharpest Sword,” the Buddha answers a series of questions. His answers to these questions are, I believe, well worth contemplating.
The Buddha was asked, “What is the greatest loss?”
His reply to this question was not something I would have guessed as an inevitable answer to this question. His anwer is, however, well worth thinking about.
Please allow me to ponder the Buddha's answer for a moment, for I think his answer applies to me, and perhaps to many others of us as well.
You see, I count myself among a very, very, very small minority of human beings who has never known real hunger in an entire lifetime.
I was born in the United States in 1951, and I have always enjoyed only plenty of food. Grocery store shelves have always been fully stocked wherever I go. A huge variety of foods from around the world is available to me at very little cost. Half a dozen stores within walking distance from my front door compete among themselves for my food dollar which has buying power that is not less than astonishing.
Am I grateful for my great good fortune?
Well, I try to be. I really do. I try to remember to be grateful for the plentiful food that has always been available to me.
But as often as not, rather than really tasting and focusing my attention on the tasty and nutritious food that I am eating, Sarah and I talk—as we did, again, this evening—about local city politics or the music class in kindergarten this morning or some non-gustatory subject of the sort.
To be fair, we cook our food from scratch; we linger an hour or more over our meals by candlelight. We have some very pleasant music playing in the background (Stan Getz's tenor saxophone tonight). We keep our conversational pleasant, and interactive, and, if you will permit me to say this, pretty interesting. But the food we eat falls into the background of our consciousness. It's not the main focus of our meal time together. The fact is, I take my incredible good food mostly for granted.
With climate change, peak oil, ecological collapse (is there really any other word for it?), and topsoil degradation, it is not difficult for me to imagine a very different scenario within my lifetime (or, since I’m getting on in years) certainly within my children's lifetimes.
The days of plentiful good food for the many are numbered and probably fewer than we realize at the moment. Before too long, the abundance of food I’ve known my whole life will come to its natural end. Plentiful food will someday be a fond, and bittersweet memory.
As the Buddha said, “The greatest loss is to receive without gratitude.”
I can imagine a time not so far in the future when I’m hungry, really hungry, and without anything to eat. At that time, I may remember the meal I had tonight and wish I had been less concerned with city council business and more attentive to the rice and green soup and vegetable salad that I enjoyed this evening.
Will I wish I had heeded the Buddha’s answer to the Deva's questions? Will I wish I had avoided the greatest loss by receiving my meal with genuine gratitude?
I think it’s more than possible.
What do you think?