As a child, I envied my older brother's inner fortitude that enabled him to do things like sleep-over camp that I was too afraid to do. Later, I felt the same way when he was certain that he wanted to be a dentist while I only knew I had no idea what I wanted to do.
In my 20s and 30s, even though I had a consistent Buddhist practice, was happily married, and had a rewarding career, I still sometimes compared myself to others who had achieved more notability or financial success. Either they were a more published author, successful musician, or “fill in the blank.” Oprah Winfrey stated, “You become what you believe.” I was clearly wasting too much time looking outside myself for my fulfillment.
My wife, Most Beautiful One (MBO), always pictured herself teaching children but didn’t get her elementary education degree until she was in her thirties which was a significant benefit from chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Ten years later, she had to stop teaching full-time because of fatigue from her multiple sclerosis. She was sometimes envious of people who didn’t have the same limitations. But she made a new determination and became a part time reading and writing specialist and, when we moved to an island in the Pacific Northwest, started a successful tutoring business inspiring numerous children. MBO is one of the most courageous people I know. And…she just read this and gave me a great big hug. This paragraph is definitely staying in!
I recently did an exhaustive survey (ten minutes on Facebook and Instagram!) of online friends and discovered that social media has only served to exacerbate this problem. It has become a platform for people to post all the positives about their lives and none of the adversity. Clearly, comparing our real life to someone else’s controlled online content can be a destructive distraction. And it’s a stark contrast to the experiences on Buddhability.org.
In his book, The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, Daisaku Ikeda eloquently said, “[As Nichiren has shared] Buddhism…teaches the principle of cherry, plum, peach and damson. The cherry has its distinct beauty, the plum its delicate fragrance. The peach blossom has its lovely color, and the damson has its delightful charm. Every person has a singular mission, unique individuality, and way of living. It’s important to recognize that truth and respect it. That is the natural order of things. That is how it works in the world of flowers. There, myriad flowers bloom harmoniously in beautiful profusion.”
I can’t imagine a plum being a cherry any more than I can envision living someone else’s life. But it took me many years to embrace the truth that every human, seven plus billion of us, is one of a kind, each with their own Buddha nature and mission that only they can fulfill. Which explains why I shouldn't compare myself to anyone else. Neither should you. It’s a fool’s errand.
Ikeda also said, “It is not about how others behave or how society is. The most important thing is to ask yourself, “What should I do?” and “What can I do?” Eventually, MBO and I gained a deeper appreciation for the countless ways we have improved ourselves…the positive changes that have been reflected in our relationships, professional endeavors, efforts to help others, and now, active retirement.
Certainly, we can learn from others. This is an essential component of having a seeking mind. It’s why we have consistently read our mentor's encouragement for 52 years, why MBO studied water coloring with a master painter, and why I acquired the basics of the harmonica online with an experienced musician. The list of people whose successes and failures have informed our own lives is endless. It’s also why I try to openly write about our struggles in the hope others can benefit from them.
Of course, I’m aware there are those who might be comparing their difficult reality to mine. I find it helps to remember that hoping to understand someone else’s karma is like attempting to see the bottom of an iceberg. We don’t know what kind of challenge another person might be experiencing. Instead, let’s concentrate on being better, not someone else.