There’s something appealing to a negative, non-religious person like myself about a belief system that claims no definite God and whose basic tenets include the idea that to live means to suffer. The Buddha sounded like he had the right idea. I wanted to immerse myself in his teachings.
I was wary, though, because I had seen and agreed with the criticisms of white appropriation of Eastern culture such as in the book and film, Eat, Pray, Love. I did not want to be like Julia Roberts gallivanting through another people’s sacred way of life, solipsistically searching for my own happiness.
Like every angst-ridden new college student, I am confused about being thrown into this unfamiliar environment. I was finally getting comfortable in high school, and now I have to learn a whole new set of social rules and try to make human interactions with a whole new group of people.
When I realized this, my overly-anxious brain attempted to look for a greater meaning in life. For a single night, I truly believed that I was going to convert to Buddhism. I looked up plane tickets to Nepal. I researched programs that would let me stay with local village families. I ordered a few books with the theme of “Buddhism for Beginners.” I did all of this with absolutely no specific knowledge of what Buddhism entailed. All I knew was that Buddhists seemed peaceful and I wanted to be peaceful, too.
I have since realized that the answers to my problems will not be found in a romantic appropriation of someone else’s way of life. Happiness is tough to find, and even when you think you have it, it seems to slip away again. You try to figure out new ways to capture it and hold onto it for eternity. For some, the solution is Buddhism. For others, the solution is not contained in any mainstream philosophy. I have come to accept I belong to the latter group.
I do not mean for this to sound depressing. Searching for ultimate happiness is tough, but the journey of life can be satisfying in and of itself. I am not going to find the answers to life in a single book, and there will not be one doctrine that will make me understand the universe. But that does not mean I cannot laugh at a funny movie or simply enjoy a beautiful day. Woody Allen said it best in Hannah and Her Sisters: “I should stop ruining my life searching for answers I’m never gonna get, and just enjoy it while it lasts.”