Aug 08, 2010 Misery and Lego
Decades passed for me to learn how at once to be mindful of countless people’s misery and to do my share helping to alleviate misery, while also finding a way to enjoy life lest I become useless in helping others. I ultimately recognized that if I wait to truly enjoy life until humans stop oppressing humans, I will never enjoy life; and if human oppression ends, there will still be human misery from natural disasters, disease, and bodily death.
The Dalai Lama helped me learn to be joyful even in the face of human misery.
Thich Nhat Hanh urges the importance of seeking peace while smiling. His original calligraphy behind my desk says “breathe and smile” inside a Zen incomplete circle.
Fortunately, I learned these vital lessons in time for my son to be born over four years ago. In time he will learn more about the constant human sufferings that come from human rights violations, natural disasters, disease, and bodily death.
In that spirit, I have figured out how to make sense both out of human misery and the simple joys of Lego, where on the same day that my boy and I went to a local Lego extravaganza, including a computerized Rube Goldberg contraption that took hundreds of hours to complete (see the contraption with the red balls, by Brian Mausolf), a blogger posted a photo of 66-year-old Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc, who on June 11, 1963, in Saigon followed a centuries-old practice of self-immolation, in this instance protesting government persecution of Buddhists. (See more about Thich Quang Duc here, and here, (caution, as this is a video of Thich Quang Duc’s self-immolation).)
Though I do not think I would carry out such a form of protest, it appears that he had reached a high level of mindfulness. I spoke not long ago with an American-born Buddhist monk who told me that he was inspired very much by Thich Quang Duc quite sometime before this American-born monk became a monk.
I was deeply traumatized by the self-immolation photo of Thich Quang Duc, which I first saw too young, at around five or six years old. I was also deeply traumatized from seeing a photo of the 1972 napalming in a Vietnamese village that resulted in the image of a naked girl, Kim Phuc, running desperately for safety but still getting severely burned by the napalm, and the 1968 photo of Viet Cong officer Nguyan Van Laem summarily executed on the street by Nguyan Ngac Loan, a general of police in South Vietnamese, close in time to when those photos were taken. Of course, the trauma I suffered paled in comparison to the victims of such violence.
The trauma has not disappeared, but has healed significantly. Unfortunately, for decades, I let trauma eat at my insides over all the human rights violations and misery of war surrounding me. As I said, folks like the Dalai Lama have taught me critical lessons to transcend that. So has my boy.