The concept of selflessness is one that is all too familiar to many Americans when it is summed up in the statement “Treat others how you want to be treated”. It is a statement burned into the minds of both young children and aspiring Buddhist pupils. As said by Padampa Sangye, “Whatever you want, others all want as much; so act on that!” (p 223). It is in this sense of compassion and empathy for other beings that many relationships and attachments form. It is in these attachments that a contradiction of sorts can form in the Buddhist teachings. In the teachings of Geshe Tonpa he states, “This decadent age is therefore not a time for ordinary beings to help others externally, but rather a time for them to live in solitary places and train their own minds in the love and compassion of bodhicitta” (p 237). Also, in Transcendent Concentration we are meant to give up all worldly attachments and connections. However, this to some extent comes in conflict with the idea of precepts of aspiration and considering others as equal to self. As an aspiring Buddhist, and someone who wishes to attain both bodhicitta and enlightenment, you must be willing and active in taking on the sufferings of those beings around you. Living in seclusion on a mountain top one may be able to concentrate and meditate in peace but how will you be aware and able to feel and experience the suffering of other beings so that you might understand and feel empathy for their plight? The concepts of selflessness and seclusion are two ideas that practically do not contradict in way that could be potentially lead those following the Dharma astray from the ten negative deeds. In their desire for isolation, any worldly distraction from meditation could provoke a monk to think not of the suffering of the creatures around him but instead of only his need for concentration.
Another interesting point in this reading, or more so the general teachings of Buddhism we have covered so far is how drastically different the concept of greed and continually striving for wealth are represented in American culture versus Buddhist teachings. As in the story of Daughter, continually looking for a better deal or living situation down the path will never leave you satisfied and will eventually leave you in ruin (p 226), or more directly stated “Like the rich, the more you get, the more you need,” (p 248). In Buddhist teaching the never ending desire for wealth is the direct cause of suffering, as you will never truly be satisfied with your level of wealth. However, in American culture the paradigm is the same but the perspective is flipped. The ability to always accumulate more wealth is not a cause for suffering but instead a cause for happiness. The idea of “the grass always being greener on the other side” is not a cycle of unattainable happiness but is instead a path down which there is unlimited potential. In my opinion this concept is the greatest obstacle to Buddhism further expanding into America. One of the core tenets of Buddhism is asking Americans to give up what has been ingrained as their unlimited source of happiness, and instead see it as a cycle of unending suffering.