I was at a computer store in Ginza the other day, walking slowly down the aisles, studying the gadgets and the myriad of soft-wares on the shelves. Then suddenly, I looked up.
This happens to me pretty often — I would “sense” something, I don’t know what and sometimes I would ignore it. But I looked around and there it was. A portly man in dark sunglasses, and judging from the way he was dressed: blue-jeans, sneakers and the emblazoned baseball cap, he was an American.
I did not find him suspicious, wearing sunglasses indoors. What it was that I felt was a haughtiness, an arrogance, a condescending attitude that seemed to ooze from his pores. I felt an instant revulsion, and a desire to gnarl back, “Just who do you think you are?”
Well, this evening as I waited for a download on my computer, I picked up a book from the shelf, a book I bought a long time ago and hadn’t found time to read. I opened it randomly on a page, and this is what I read:
Whenever I meet people I always approach them from the standpoint of the most basic things we have in common. We each have a physical structure, a mind, emotions. We are all born in the same way, and we all die. All of us want happiness and do not want to suffer.
Looking at others from this standpoint rather than empathising secondary differences such as the fact that I am Tibetan, or a different colour, religion or cultural background, allows me to have a feeling that I’m meeting someone just the same as me. I find that relating to others on that level makes it much easier to exchange and communicate with one another.
So my revolting guy at the store is someone just the same as me: born the same way, wanting happiness and not suffering. So rather than “empathising” those secondary differences: that he’s American, white, possibly one of those evangelical Christians that swept Bush into the White House, with a culture most certainly different from mine, I should instead relate to him.
So I racked my brain, trying to find a way to do so, then I hit upon it. There’s something about his sunglasses. It didn’t say a lot of things — it said one thing: I don’t want you to know me. I am incognito.
And there it was. If you listen to the American military radio station, they advise travelling Americans to keep a low profile. They also tell listeners that they are goodwill ambassadors in a foreign land.
Poor guy, I thought. Knowing that the international community regards the American in low esteem, he wants to be a simple blip in a foreign land. Well, I can understand that. Although I’m sure he thinks that wearing sunglasses will protect him from threats of terrorism.
But I can’t seem to relate to the haughty strut and condescending stare. I find no goodwill in that.
Quote from The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living (© 1998 HH Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, Hodder and Stoughton Publishers)