The Late Night Buddhist: Just desserts

By Scott Taylor
Reader Columnist

One of my favorite bands, The Avett Brothers, has a knack for writing wry, honest lyrics that confront the human condition. Their hit “Head Full of Doubt/ Road Full of Promise” presents the line “When nothing is owed, deserved, or expected/ and your life doesn’t change with the man who’s elected…” (It was released in 2009) Many of us live our lives believing that if we do a favor for someone they owe us one in return, that those who are “good” deserve reward and those who are “bad” deserve punishment, and that we should expect certain rewards or punishment based on our (or others’) behaviors or deeds. Buddhist philosophy would teach us that this thinking, while seemingly compassionate and just, is dangerous to our happiness. (If you’re thinking, “Then what is karma?” a column on that is forthcoming).

    When we send our minds in the direction of expected outcomes and deservedness we travel a path rife with the probability of disappointment. We unconsciously decide that if our expectations aren’t met, if we aren’t recognized or repaid for our generosity, if we aren’t rewarded for our good deeds or hard work, we will be unhappy. Buddhist thought would teach us to discard these notions, enjoy the happiness that happens and not expect outcomes. And if Buddhism can be summed up simply in a few words, those could be “Walk the path of happiness, not the path of unhappiness.”

    I went to a small college (NCAA Div. III; no athletic scholarships) with high expectations from myself and the college coach to play basketball. When, in tryouts, it became apparent that I did not possess Bill Walton’s height, Charles Barkley’s power, Muggsy Bogues’ quickness or Michael Jordan’s athleticism, I was cut from the team (I considered myself to have Larry Bird-like skill and savvy. Can you tell I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s?). I was disappointed. I was devastated. I was incensed. How dare they? Didn’t they realize I was second in every statistical category on my conference-champion high school team, that I was voted Mr. Pressure or that I was recognized as All-Region by local sports reporters? Later, after an assistant coach watched me playing pickup games in the gym, the head coach changed his mind and asked me to join the team. Sour and prideful, I turned him down and spent the rest of that semester unhappy and resentful, then transferred to play at another school. 

    Now, whenever I feel myself or someone else has not gotten what they “deserve” or were “owed,” I remind myself with a little saying: “No one deserves anything, good or bad.” Hard as it can be to swallow, and it can be very hard given the good deeds that go unrecognized or the awful things some people do, it reminds me that the universe works the way it will and we’re all responsible for our response to that. We can choose the path of unhappiness, or we can choose the path of calm acceptance and contentedness. Choose happy!

Editor’s Note: The Festival at Sandpoint just announced this week that The Avett Brothers are going to be playing the Festival on Friday, August 9. We’re betting Scott Taylor will be in the crowd.

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