The Tibetans have a funny saying, that it’s easier to play a flute when someone has a full bag of tsampa. Tsampa is a type of barley grain. In asia, rice is the main staple food, and tasmpa is like the tibetan equivalent.
I used to think this was a really clever and funny saying, but I don’t think I ever really understood it. I’ve gotten some small understanding of this recently, and its helped with my practice of dharma in daily life.
Here in the west, there’s a very big emphasis on material things, a belief that having external things will make someone happy. So if someone has money, property, a car, clothes, food and so forth, someone should be happy because these things can bring happines. As buddhist I had generated a contrived form of renunciation, where I believed these things are useful and can make life easier to a degree, but at the same time these things arn’t a source of happiness. If I don’t watch my mind, having these things will actually make me unhappy, because if I don’t have them I’m miserable, and if I have them, I’m scared of losing them. Its like an unending cycle of misery.
Of course, it was easier to think like this when I had a job that paid well enough. I had the option of having these things. I was playing a flute with a full bag of tasmpa lol. When I recently moved to Sweden, I had to start all over again and did not have the comforts I became used to having. Its funny, even though intelletually I know material things arn’t a source of lasting and genuine happiness, that doesn’t mean I don’t crave for these things. When I found myself without a job for several months and not being able to spend money like I used to, my practice was really put to the test. I found that my mind wanted material things and believed that these things would actually bring lasting happiness. In the background of the mind I knew these were just hallucinations, but the cravings for these things were strong.
Spending time in dharma centers, I noticed in the west, as soon as someone loses something, they stop practicing. They lose their job, they stop practicing. They lose their spouse, they stop. They lose their property, they stop. Maybe they have a birthday party and some people didn’t show up, they stop lol.
I never stopped my practice once, but I can understand why someone would be tempted to when they meet adversity. When it comes down to it, its a question of if we were really understand Buddha’a First Noble Truth, which is that unenlightened life is suffering or disatisfactory. If I really believed this, my cravings for material things would diminish. But I think the cravings are there, because somewhere there’s a belief that unenlightened existence is ok. It’s actually pretty good, and I can make it better lol. I think this is the trap, this is why people quit practicing after meeting with problems or circumstances they didn’t want to meet. Cyclic existence is like a broken, burning down house that will never be satisfactory.
Being in Sweden for a few months without a job and much money, and wishing for these with the hope that all my problems would go away is like being in that burning house and believing a new roof will help. It might, but it’ll burn down again later anyway. If someone hangs around long enough in cyclic existence or samsara, the roof caves in many times and we’re buried alive, but we keep coming back for more.
I feel like things are starting to turn around here now, but I don’t think anyone really understands their practice as a buddhist until they play a flute while starving. Dharma in daily life is often a term that is thrown around often, but I think its during lean times that dharma in daily life is really meaningful.