The Dhamma of Little Women

My daughter and I have been reading LIttle Women. We found the nugget of very Buddhist-seeming wisdom today.

“It will have to do,” Meg returned. She looked at her well-worn wardrobe and sighed. “I wonder if I shall ever have real lace on my clothes and bows on my caps?”

“You said the other day that you’d be perfectly happy if you could only go to Annie Moffat’s.” observed Beth in her quiet way.

“So I did! Well, I am happy, and I won’t fret. But it does seem as if the more one gets the more one wants, doesn’t it?”

This is a perfect little example of dukkha (suffering) writ small. It’s not that the Buddha denied any worldly pleasure. In fact, he explicitly talks about how all kinds of unwise or even downright evil things might be pleasurable at first. It’s just that the pleasure doesn’t last very long. And worse yet that pleasure curdles into problems down the road.

This isn’t a no-funsville Buddhism, it’s just the way the world really works. Nothing is as much fun the second time. Nothing tastes as good the second time. We’re always left wanting more. And things that seemed so amazingly wonderful are never as great up close. Success at work means more work. Children bring suffering as well as joy. Marriage, well…

So what do we do about this? The straightforward answer is just to stop kidding ourselves. There is really nothing on this earth that will bring us lasting happiness. Nothing. Not money, not even a nice cup of tea. The next step is to keep reminding yourself to do the first step.


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