Neither optimistic nor pessimistic but realistic
G: What does being a Buddhist mean? Neither optimistic nor pessimistic but realistic, what do you mean by that?
R: When I say a Buddhist is not optimistic, I mean the Buddhist view of life is not optimistic. Some people think that everything is so beautiful like a rainbow. Everything is so wonderful. This is not realistic. They think everything is wonderful and so they are not really careful.
Some people say that if you are an optimist all the good things come to you. Maybe it will happen to you if you are lucky, if you have good karma. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to be careful about your practice. You need to practice mindfulness carefully. Some people use that view in order to be careless and not take responsibility.
G: They might have too much naïve faith.
R: Let us say there is a cobra snake in the house. It is no use saying ‘dear snake you are so beautiful pleas go away’ thinking that the snake will go away. That is like being like a little child. It’s too naïve and unrea listic to say ‘go away your so beautiful’ and then he will walk away. Being like that is too naïve and unrealistic. Some people think that everything is wonderful and we are on the verge of some golden age, which is going to happen soon. It’s a bit like flower children of the 60s. That kind of mentality. This is too optimistic. Buddhism is not like that. Life is suffering. There is so much suffering all the time around us. We are suffering. That is what I mean when I say Buddhism is not optimistic. The future is not so good. The present is not so good the way it is going in the world. There is so much destruction of the environment and consider all the politics. So we can’t be optimistic.
Yet at the same time we can’t be pessimistic. Some people believe the world is going to end anytime in the year 2000 in the middle of the night. They think everything will collapse and everything is bad. Some people get so depressed the way the world is going now. They are too pessimistic. Buddhism is not like that because everything is part of or operates under cause and effect. There is good and bad, right and wrong. Good and bad is all interdependent. So Buddhism is not pessimistic. So what we do is realistic. For example in the Buddhist teaching when we talk about suffering we talk about the four noble truths. Some people say Buddhism is always pessimistic because it is always talking about suffering. I remember one lady asked me a question. She said, ‘If everything is suffering what is the point of practicing dharma? That’s is precisely why we practice the dharma. That’s the point. Some people think just thinking about or considering suffering is pessimistic. But when the Buddha taught the four noble truths he first talked about suffering and the cause of suffering. It is not because he was pessimistic. He was being realistic. He was saying this is how it is. This is what is happening. Look! If you want to have cessation, happiness, freedom then you must look for the cause and you need a path. You have to see suffering otherwise you have no motivation to look for a path. Don’t be naïve be realistic. Look! There is suffering, physically. Old age is happening. Sickness is around us. Death is happening all the time. So that’s what I mean when I say Buddhism is realistic.