Working Class Dharma: Four Truths

This column is kind of an extension of the Lay Buddhist one—just a tad bit more vulgar and down-to-earth.

So, here’s the deal:

  1. There’s shit everywhere.
  2. This shit is caused by you being an asshole
  3. There doesn’t have to be shit on everything
  4. The way to clean shit up is the Noble Eightfold Path

There’s shit everywhere.

Birth is shitty. Anyone who’s been around a newborn can blatantly see that’s it’s just a total shitstorm for the infant. I mean, they come out screaming. Just that piercing, primal, tortured wail.

Getting sick is shitty. Everything sucks when you’re sick. When I’m sick, I get really, ya know, mentally screwed up. My mood plummets, I can think clearly, and I’m torn between wanting to die and wanting to live forever. It’s nice to get a few days off work though.

Growing old is shitty. Everything starts to ache and sag. Ya wake up every three hours to take a piss and you have to carry a defibrillator with you to get an erection.

Dying is shitty. After everything’s said and done, after all joy, love, pain, and grief, we just opt out. The curtain goes down, everything fades to black. We lose it all, and the ones we love lose us. Also, death tends to take its time.

Most of us don’t die quickly or gracefully. We slowly diminish cradled in a hospital bed, probably far from the comfortable familiarity of our own bedrooms. We’re surrounded by beeps, buzzes, fluorescent lights, and the smell of industrial grade disinfectants. That’s the way most of us go out. Whatever happened to the good ol’ days when you wandered into the woods and were eaten by a bear?

Losing what you enjoy is shitty. From the first time one of our action figures falls apart, to the death of our parents or significant other, life is full of loss. We’re assaulted by loss. And even when we have something we love, even when things are good, we know—in the back of our minds—that it can’t stay that way. So while grief and lamentation are on lunch, we’re burdened with fear. Hell, sometimes it’s the good times that cause us the most pain in retrospect.

Being forced to endure what you don’t enjoy is shitty. Work, taxes, in-laws, Britney Spears when life isn’t taking things away that we love, it’s throwing things at us that we don’t love.

In short, the five clinging aggregates are shitty. The five aggregates are the body, feelings, perception, volition, and discriminating consciousness. When these aggregates are infused with clinging—clinging to pleasantness, views of self, inapplicable views, and rites & rituals—then being alive is itself, more or less, shitty.

This shit is caused by you being an asshole.

One interesting thing about Buddhism is that it says we are directly responsible for the way we feel. We’re responsible for whether birth, sickness, old age, death, etc. are shitty or not. We’re responsible because the source of this shittiness is within us, it’s in the way we view things, cling to things and crave things.

When we cling to views of I, me, and mine; when we cling to sensual pleasures; when we cling to views of not I, me, and mine… we’re tossing shit on everything. When we crave existence; when we crave non-existence, and we crave pleasure… we’re tossing shit on everything.

All the suffering and dissatisfaction in our lives, and all the suffering and atrocities propagated in the world are caused by clinging, craving, and ignorance. These poisons cause shittiness, and from this shittiness, a whole shit-show of afflictions arise like greed, pride, anger, jealousy, confusion, and hatred. It spreads out from us and fills up the whole world. But, there’s good news:

There doesn’t have to be shit on everything.

That’s right! Birth, aging, illness, death, etc. don’t have to be shitty because they aren’t inherently shitty, we add that shittiness to them with our clinging, craving, and ignorance. So, if we can ditch those Three Poisons, all the shittiness can be wiped from our lives. Then, we can go onto stop shitting on the world or, better yet, show others how to wipe the shit off themselves as well.

This shitlessness, this cleanliness is called nibbana. All beings have the potential to live shitless lives. Because just as we’re all born with the potential to make a mess of ourselves, we’re also born with the potential to clean ourselves up. The same hands we use to harm ourselves can be used to heal ourselves.

There’s a way to clean shit up, it’s the Noble Eightfold Path

I like to condense this into the Three Pillars of Buddhism: Skillful ethics, meditation, and view.

Skillful ethics is pretty self-explanatory and pretty much mirrors the Golden Rule or the Wiccan Reide: If it harms none, do what you will. This includes self-harm and anything that impedes clarity. Clarity is the most important thing in the universe. The entirety of Buddhism is about nourishing clarity, because it’s a lack of clarity (ignorance) that ultimately causes all shittiness.

Skillful meditation means finding a meditative method and diligently practicing it. In the working world, I recommend methods that can be done on and off the cushion. Since we can’t hemorrhoid sit like the monks do, it’s helpful to make it for it with perpetual meditation. There are hundreds of different methods, so I’m not gonna talk about any of them here.

Skillful view means seeing that all things have the same nature. That nature is dynamic and interdependent. It’s devoid of fixed views, categories, and certainties though fixed views, categories and certainties aren’t separate from it; they’re also impermanent and interdependent.

Skillful view is clarity, it’s a lasting, direct, experiential understanding that all things are impermanent and they come to be, continue to be, and cease to be dependent on other things. Skillful view is equal parts supreme clarity and unconditional compassion.


Buddhism isn’t a pessimistic paradigm; it’s realistic. When Siddhartha, the Buddha, left home to wander as a hobo, he did so because he saw that there was a problem with… everything. He strove for years to find the cause of that problem and then, by practicing those Three Pillars, he solved it.

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