I was reading the story of the bedouin and his three wishes in the Magic Fairy Exercise at Dragos Roua the other day. It struck me how so many of our problems come from this constant wanting for our self and wanting our wishes to happen right now.
May I be so bold as to counter the whole notion that wishing always makes it so ‘here and now?’ The power of intention and one’s motivation is indeed of vast importance. I take issue though with the rapid timeframe that is sometimes touted. It is so like our fast paced, fast food culture to want results right now.
In Buddhism, it is said that the effect of your current intentions and actions are likely to occur in your next life or lives thereafter. You can wish to be rich till the cows come home, but if your past actions have been motivated primarily by greed, it’s simply not going to happen until you change. When you do change both your mental attitude and your actions, creating a different trend of generosity, the results are more likely to occur in your next life. There are caveats to this, but this is the basic principle.
It might be a stretch to believe in multiple lifetimes, however this is also a fundamental principle in Christianity: what you reap is what you sow and your reward generally comes in the afterlife. You can also easily observe for yourself how bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Why is this? Is life so arbitrary? Didn’t they wish right? The answer in Buddhism is that all that occurs is the fruition of our previous positive or negative actions encountering current conditions and producing a result.
Is always wanting for oneself the wisest choice?
The mind is the sole originator of good and bad and the producer of our consequent actions. The advice to “be careful what you wish for” is indeed judicious. This brings me to the question of whether always wanting for ourself is really the wisest choice. Having strong expectations can bring about all sorts of disappointment, untoward emotions, and suffering when life dishes us up a different plate. In addition, people are often put off by those who are overly self-centered whereas they are naturally drawn to those who show kindness and concern for others.
In Mahayana Buddhism, the emphasis is always on wishing well for others and having less focus on all the needs and wants of self. This is what ultimately leads to genuine and lasting happiness. Of course, you take care of yourself, but you are not obsessively self-centered. Your sense of caring comes from a state of balance not from a neurotic state of perpetual martyrdom. It’s fine to make wishes for yourself, but when you do at least also make a wish for others to be well, happy, and safe too.
On a personal level, I’ve been observing how my own wish to be well perhaps does more harm than good, keeping me away from simply being present in this moment and leaving a stain of discontent. “Surrender” is the word that came strongly to my mind—surrender to what is instead of always wishing for something different.
The story of the bedouin and his three wishes introduces Dragos’ article on goal setting. Goal setting is a useful tool and this is a helpful article. Dragos knows that “life is not pink.” He says, “Life is not pink. It’s rough and challenging and filled with tests and temptations. And this is what makes it beautiful, after all.” So please don’t let me dissuade you from goal setting! I just surrendered to a different track. I couldn’t agree with Dragos more—intention is powerful. It’s clearly wise to reflect deeply when we set intentions and to always remember to wish positively for others too.