by Dr. Markus Esboz
The Hindus have a word that we do not.
For a Hindu, samsara is the answer to all of life’s questions. Why do I suffer? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why, perhaps, is my life insufferable while my neighbor’s is layered with cushions and pleasure?
The answer, of course, is samsara.
It is the cycle of karma. The process of reincarnation, when the soul is paid its due for actions and inactions of a life past.
Thus, when one suffers, the answer is simple.
You earned it.
And this is an attitude that America needs in a desperate way.
Pain: The Greatest Teacher
Perhaps I may better explain my point with a simple analogy. Do you remember the first time you touched a hot pan from the oven? Or perhaps you ignored a clear warning and touched the glowing coils of a hot stove?
Do you remember?
Of course you do. And that single event taught you more than entire classes in our finest institutions ever could.
Why did this work? Why have you responded in kind, day after day, since you were a child?
The answer is simple: Pain.
There is no greater instructor than pain. It teaches without remorse or hesitation. It’s lessons are retained with immeasurable clarity and poignancy. We even come to look fondly on our good teacher, Pain, reflecting on those precious moments when we passed from ignorance to awareness. We did not die, but we passed on.
Our actions received their due.
And so we suffered and learned.
A Pain-Free Culture?
We live in a culture that doesn’t just reject pain – it criminalizes it.
Being in discomfort – to somehow want, but not have – is culturally outlawed. Just try to reach Christmas without buying a present. It is socially unconscionable to do so.
And in this loud society of ours, there are many who cry out from the place of poverty. Their voices reach us from street corners, behind scribbled words on cardboard signs; they reach us on the nightly news, as more shootings decimate our poorest neighborhoods; they reach us when we learn of refugees drowning and black citizens falling to armed officers.
And everyone, it seems, wants it to stop.
For a moment, I can empathize. Pain never feels good.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t good.
And that is why I must beg you, dear reader, to reconsider your efforts to “help” the poor.
After all – you’re denying them proper samsara.
And it’s killing them, again and again.
I’m Sorry, But You’re Not Helping
Say you throw a couple dollars at the man on the corner. “God bless you,” his sign says.
So you leave feeling blessed.
But what have you taught this man? Sure, you have relieved his pain like a good American. But you’ve given him nothing of actual utility. Your five bucks will turn into string cheese, a Pepsi, or goodness-knows-what, soothing his immediate pain – not allowing him to fully emerge from his perpetual cycle of painful poverty.
What if you donate to an international charity – perhaps $25 a month?
Where does it go? Likely, to massive overhead. Out of that $25, roughly $2.50 reaches the starving masses in WhereverLand, its borders peopled with faceless dark-skinned wretches you’ll never meet.
I don’t say this to be crass, or out of disrespect for the millions – nay, billions – of poor people around the globe.
I say it to slap your chin and get your attention.
You’re killing them.
Did you hear me?
How to Actually “Help”
For samsara to run its course, suffering must occur. Pain must run rampant, else no one learn a damned thing on this Earth.
Who demands that all pain be equal? Just because another soul suffers disproportionately to you doesn’t mean there’s a massive conspiracy of global injustice to deal with.
Who demands that you, a solitary American with a shiny credit card, be the savior of the nations? You are not a god, nor are you commanded by a god to be so impossibly noble.
That’s the job of samsara.
Karma is a vastly over-used term, and it’s not necessarily something I would espouse myself. But it describes a very real phenomenon we must come to accept.
Samsara is this: People suffer because they have to.
And if they don’t, they will continue to fall into deeper patterns of behavior that lock them in a prison of endless suffering.
See, they don’t suffer because of injustice.
They suffer because of themselves.
So how do we “help?”
Thankfully, that’s easy:
Just live your life.
I mean it. Go, and live a life worthy of imitating. Live a life that others will observe in the midst of their agony and, with new determination and suffering-hardened commitment, begin to emulate.
Be the ideal, the one others long to be.
That’s what we do at Burroughs University, and I’m proud to be its president. We teach our students how to live lives that are the envy of the world. We create the paragons that give the poor hope.
And it’s the best thing we could ever do for them.
For if the world is to be truly “helped,” it must be shown a goal worthy of pursuing – once it’s learned from its pain.
What do you think? Does giving to the poor help them or hurt them? Share in the Comments below!
Image Credit: Jack (Flickr), Creative Commons