If the Buddha Was a Hamptonite: The Down Side of Up

If Buddha Was a Hamptonite: The Down Side of Up Eve Eliot There is a Buddhist teaching which identifies what is called “attachment” or “clinging” as one of the roots of suffering. Clinging refers to the grasping and guarding of experiences that we are conditioned to believe are necesssary for our functioning or comfort. Attachment happens for a variety of reasons both obvious and subtle, the more obvious reason being because something feels delicious. If food is exceptionally wonderful, for example, we want to eat too much of it. If we are in love with someone, we get attached to being with them and fear of the loss of them becomes a source of suffering. If we have ample financial resources, a reversal of fortune will devastate. We cling to that which we love and then anxiety about its loss or grief over its actual disappearance produces suffering. I began studying Buddhist principles several years ago with an American teacher who had been “deputized” to disseminate Buddhist wisdoms here on the East End. She had studied with a Tibetan octogenarian who’d sat at the feet of the same guru that taught the Dalai Lama. The American teacher held classes once weekly at Joshua’s Place, right across from Schmidt’s Produce in Southampton, offering talks and guiding meditations on compassion, patience, impermanence, and more esoteric themes, such as attachment. The teaching on attachment, or clinging, came to mind one afternoon several years back on a cloudy August day at a local pharmacy. It was one of those overcast afternoons where East Enders head for the villages rather than the beaches. There was a long line of people shuffling toward the counter waiting to pick up medications. I was not on the line, but nearby, rummaging through some sale items: perfumes reduced from hundreds of dollars an ounce to only one hundred dollars an ounce and wands of mascara and hair ornaments costing as much as dinner at the local pub. A woman pushed past me and scurried to the very front of this line of people waiting their turns. She thrust her prescription at the clerk and said, “I couldn’t find a parking space, my car is double parked, can you fill this for me right away?” “Madam,” said the clerk at the pharmacy, “There are people waiting. There’s a line.” “But they already have parking spaces,” said the woman. “I need these pills now.” The clerk took a breath and said, “I have someone on this line who was just discharged from the ICU and needs heart medication.” The clerk tactfully didn’t indicate who this customer might be, but there was indeed an elderly gent at the front of the line. And he did seem frail, his chest concave and his skin slack and gray. “But these are my birth control pills,” said the double parker. The clerk looked at her calmly and said, “I don’t think you are going to be having an emergency.” For those of us fortunate enough to live comfortably, suffering might entail no parking space. We get addicted to being comfortable, to life being easy. Withdrawal is uncomfortable. The glamour, the impossible to believe wealth, the gloss of shiny new cars and beauty of the landscape, the weeders and pruners manicuring each blade of grass to equal heights, the beach breezes…all this is just too wonderful. It’s all too good! People fortunate enough to have such comforts naturally get attached to them! Of course they do, how could they not? I pictured Buddha standing on line at the pharmacy that day, pondering. I jumped presumptively into the mind of the Buddha and watched as he saw the anger on the faces of the people on the line. I saw a twinkle in Buddha’s eyes then. I saw he knew that the angry people had not been at the class hearing another of his teachings, that observation called “just like me.” Just like me, the double parker just wants to be happy and comfortable. Just like me, the Jaguar driver who nearly smashed into my little Mazda as he swerved into the spot I was idling to pull into as the Mercedes pulled out just wanted to get to the movie at the East Hampton Cinema in time to see the previews. I assumed that because I recognized him. He was in one of the movies being previewed. Buddha would be reviewing the “just like me” teaching as he witnessed the very brief drama at the pharmacy that overcast afternoon. I noted that no doubt just like everyone else on the line too, the double parker wanted to check off the items on her to do list in her own time frame and continue to be comfy. To all the double parking sufferers and line shufflers, to all the beleaguered summer souls who schlep groceries from Citarella to far away parking spots, to all beachgoers who are hot hot hot walking on fiery sand across baking asphalt parking lots, may we all realize that invisible Buddhas are beside you, praying that we can become unstuck for just a moment from ease, from the need for constant comfort. Buddha will be at Nick and Toni’s waiting for a table with you, encouraging equanimity. Enjoy!