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My Favorite Buddhism-Related Stories

I read an enlightening story recently: The Antique Dealer’s Plate.

"A man was gifted a plate by his wife. It had beautiful drawings. The man was an antique dealer. Every day at the market, he would eat lunch from his plate.

Soon, his wife passed away. The man was grieving, but he still ate from his favorite plate every day. One day, the plate fell down and broke into a thousand pieces. The man was devastated.

A fellow stall owner told him: “I know someone who can teach you how to fix it. But he lives far away.” The man went to seek the plate fixer. After one year of traveling, he found him. The plate fixer helped the man reassemble the pieces and the man returned home.

At first, he was happy. But the plate never felt quite the same. One day, it broke again and, again, the man was devastated.

Another stall owner told him: “I know someone who makes plates just like this one. But he lives far away.” The man went to seek the plate maker. After one year of traveling, he found him. The platemaker taught him how to make his own plate and, with it, the man went home.

At first, he was happy. But still, the plate never felt quite the same. One day, it broke again. Again, the man was devastated. But he was tired. He could not travel far anymore.

A fellow stall owner told him: “I know someone who sells plates just like this one. He has a new stall on the market.” Happy that he wouldn’t have to travel far, the man went and bought a plate just like his.

At first, he was happy. But that plate, too, never felt quite the same. One day, it broke again.

As the man looked at the broken pieces on the floor, a stranger passed by his stall. He said:

“You are lucky. It was just a plate.”

At that moment the man was enlightened."

I love this story! It’s really simple, but it’s really symbolic and powerful just the same.

Like the antique dealer, I think a lot of us try to hold onto things that we know are eventually going to disappear forever. We crave permanence in a world of such impermanence, and that can really hurt sometimes. It’s a noble act, really, but it’s a mistake. We wish to preserve what can no longer be preserved. We’re fighting change, even though we must face it.

It reminds me of the Buddhist story of the Master’s Glass.

One day some people came to the master and asked ‘How can you be happy in a world of such impermanence? The master held up a glass and said “Someone gave me this glass, and I really like this glass. It holds my water admirably and it glistens in the sunlight. I touch it and it rings! One day the wind may blow it off the shelf, or my elbow may knock it from the table. And I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”

The first of the 4 Noble Truths in Buddhism is called “Dukkha”, which means suffering. Life is suffering, but how we react to what happens in our lives determines the way we will live and feel; we’re either going to continually feel unsatisfied with life, or we will understand and come to realize that acceptance is the only true constant in life.

There’s this really powerful clip in Smallville, where Clark visits his father’s grave and says:

I never stopped blaming myself for what happened to you. It was a way to not have to let go. That’s exactly what I have to do to move on. To get rid of the darkness of my past I’ve been carrying around. To be there for the people who need me now. You said to hold on to Smallville. I will, I won’t ever forget. Because you’ll be with me no matter where I go.

I relate to this so much in my life.

We all have our ways of coping with grief. Of holding onto things that are already gone. Ultimately, though, acceptance is key, and just because you accept something, it doesn’t mean you have to forget how much that thing you let go of influenced your life’s journey. It’s the memory that means something, as long as it doesn’t hold you back from settling into who you are and doing great things with your life.

As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself…The critical issue is allowing yourself to know what you know. That takes an enormous amount of courage. ~ Bessel A. van der Kolk

Psychiatrist Bessel A. van der Kolk also talks about flashbacks, which I think can relate to what we’re discussing here. He explains that the reason flashbacks become so common among people who have PTSD is that they no longer feel alive now, so their minds go back to a time where they did feel alive, even if that time wasn’t necessarily safe.

I think it’s the same for memories. When we cannot deal with the present moment, our minds bring us back to a place of familiarity. The trick is to refocus your mind. Depression and sadness derive from our inability to accept what is.

Unfortunately, though, the truth doesn’t change itself based on your ability, or lack thereof, to accept it.

I’m not saying that everything is survivable. Just that everything except the last thing is. ― John Green, Paper Towns

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