Buddhism's starting point is dukkha, translated as suffering, stress, or dissatisfaction, among other unpleasant words. It acknowledges that all of that exists and is part of life. But it says you're not stuck there until your next life – you have the ability to change that, to go from samsara, the cycle of suffering that is our world, to nirvana, the cessation of suffering – in this lifetime, on this planet. The Buddhist path is a process for doing that.
Speaking about the movie “Unbroken,” director Angelina Jolie said she was drawn to tell the story of a prisoner of war who is tortured and suffers extreme hardship but emerges with his spirit intact. “I didn’t want to put a movie out where people are just reminded of the struggles of human nature,” she told the New York Times. “I wanted them to be reminded of that thing inside of all of us, that rises up against these obstacles."
In Buddhism, that thing is our buddhanature, which is unbroken and unbreakable, unceasing, and unborn. It's also called the ground of being, the nature of mind, inherent richness. I think of it as the light in us that gives us the inherent worth and dignity inherent in all beings that's referred to in the first UU Principle.
We experience stress or dissatisfaction or suffering because we forget that we are inherently whole. Instead, encouraged by our culture, we judge ourselves and compare ourselves to others. We worry that we're inadequate: too fat, too slow, too poor, that we consume too much or too little, don't recycle enough, are unaware of our privilege, drive the wrong car too many miles. We rarely hear that we ARE good enough, and when we do, we doubt the speaker's sincerity, assuming that they're looking for a favor.
But Buddhism says that we are already good enough. We just have to find our way back to our connection to our whole, unbreakable self. What is the source of the stress? Expectation? Fear? Desire? How is it expressed? Is it accurate? Is it kind? Does it leave space for change? Can we accept where we are and move on, or are we obsessed with redefining or reframing the past? Can we trust our capacity to cope, or do we need to control whatever we can (and try to control what we can't)?
Finding the connection to wholeness – through nature or spirituality or music or meditation – reminds us that we are more than the struggle, more than the stress. Our nature is already perfect. The question becomes – how can I live from that place and help others to reach it?