83 Problems

I might rename this site to “83 problems”. From the lecture last night at Common Ground Meditation Center, the following buddhist parable:

An ordinary guy came to see the Buddha to get help with his problems. ” my roof leaks, I don’t have enough money, my neighbors are noisy, my boss hates me, my kids are messy and disrespectful, my knee hurts and I’m losing my hair. And don’t even get me started about my wife. ” and he went on to describe all his problems in great detail while the buddha smiled and listened patiently.

When the guy was done complaining, he asked the Buddha, “so, how can you help me ?”

“I can’t help you”, said the Buddha.

“HUH? What kind of teacher are you?”, said the guy, “why did I come all the way here for you to tell me that? And what the hell are you smiling about?”

The buddha said, “Everyone has 83 problems. Sometimes we fix one, but it is guaranteed that another will pop up in its place. It’s just life. I can’t help you with your 83 problems, but I can fix your 84th problem.”

“What is my 84th problem?”.

“Your 84th problem is that you don’t want to have any problems.”

This is the best answer to the question that everyone asks about the buddhist principle of unattachment: If you melt down your ego and separate the “you” from all the things around you and start to relax a little bit, then where is the impetus for action to improve the world, shave, vacuum, etc.?

Well, those are examples of the 83 problems and they are still problems that require our attention. Buddhism helps you with the 84th problem, which is suffering over the other 83 problems. If you can approach your other problems without the computational overhead of suffering over them, you can see them more clearly and act on them with more wisdom.

If I strip the threads on a pipe while fixing a minor plumbing problem, I might decide to punch the pipes REALLY HARD because it totally sucks to strip pipe threads, especially ones that disappear deep into the floor. Life is bitter and painful and stripped pipe threads are not even the half of it, as far as I can tell. Buddhism is not practicing to ignore, avoid, or be happy in spite of problems! The practice of buddhism is the practice of learning to embrace the problem and not suffer over it. Grief exists, Pain exists and we all will feel them. And we all must accept them and feel the full force of these problems, but to truly suffer over it, we must wish it didn’t exist. To avoid the suffering, we must accept the pain.

It is not as simple as learning that punching stuff is a bad idea. I can figure that out for myself.

I also think it means something more than “always look on the bright side of life”. Practicing aversion towards all problems and only focusing on the positive is not the answer. Finding a way to appreciate the problems as part of your life is the answer, according to the Buddha. Think of the 83 problems as the water that you swim in. Samsara

So in this weblog, I recount the 83 problems, and recogize the 84th problem as an illusion.

The parable is used in this excellent editorial about computers.

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  5. Buddhism = a lot of hard work.

About Tim

Minneapolis Blogger
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2 Responses to 83 Problems

  1. francesca says:

    I look at Baby Momo and wonder, Does she have 83 problems? At what stage in consisousness do we start accumulating them?
    Do you have those moments when all 84 problems vanish? I love that. I think of that as my baseline self.

  2. francesca says:

    Oh, but if you are taking votes, I vote to keep Primate Brow Flash. I’ve heard the 83 problems story several times, so it’s a bit of a cliche (in the alternative religion clique) (not that it’s not worth telling at least 83 times), whereas I’ve never heard of Primate Brow Flash.