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Driving and Buddhism

One daily activity that can literally drive us crazy is driving.  

I don’t have to drive a long, daily commute like many people. I don’t know how they do it. I know some people drive up to three hours to go to work. They leave at the wee hours of the morning and don’t return home until the evening. They spend a good portion of their lives in their cars. Traffic jams, rude drivers, road rage … they have to deal with it every day. 

Just a few weeks ago, we had our BCA National Council Meeting in Sacramento, California. I had a pleasant conversation with Troy Watanabe, the delegate from the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple. He is a really funny guy who I have known for a long time. We were talking about driving for some reason. Troy said, “I always think of myself as the worst driver.” I replied, “Huh?” I knew he couldn’t be that bad of a driver.  

Troy explained: “If I consider myself the worst driver, then I am always careful when I drive, and other drivers don’t bother me either because I am the worst driver. Whatever they do on the road doesn’t really phase me. If I think of myself as the best driver, then everybody else’s driving would bother me — ‘What’s the matter with that guy!’ ‘Doesn’t he know better?’ ‘What a stupid driver!’ But if I consider myself as the worst driver, then nothing bothers me and I find that I always try to drive safely.”  

I thought that was a very “Buddhistic” way of looking at driving. Even more than being Buddhistic, it reflected a Shin Buddhist sense of spirituality.    

Shinran Shonin considered himself the worst person, the most ignorant person, the most unenlightened person. He did not consider himself the best person, the wisest person, or the most enlightened person. He stood at the bottom and looked up at all others around him with admiration and reverence.  

That is a very hard thing to do. We all compare ourselves to others. We might look up to some people, but we also look down on others. We can even rationalize it, thinking, “I might not be as great or as smart as that guy, but I am definitely not as bad as that guy.”  

Shinran Shonin looked up to all people. Or, maybe more accurately, he truly saw how he looked down on others, which made him stand at the very bottom, the very ground of humility, to be able to look up to all people. 

We normally think of this assessment in moral and ethical terms, or maybe, in terms of etiquette or behavior. 

The worst person breaks the laws instead of obeying them. The worst person is the rudest and the most vulgar person. Shinran Shonin did not break laws and he wasn’t rude or vulgar, but he regarded himself as the worst person. He didn’t compare himself to others and say he was the worst. He compared himself to the human ideal, Buddhahood.  

In comparison to a truly awakened human being, a Buddha, he was the worst. In comparison to great wisdom and great compassion, he was nothing but ignorant. In comparison to being selfless, he was nothing but egotistical. In comparison to being kind to others like a Buddha, he was the most unkind person.  

But how does a person who has such a depth of understanding of oneself actually live? They live with wisdom and compassion. They live selflessly. They live with kindness, but only because they are aware of their ignorance, self-centeredness, and not being kind to others. It is the epitome of contradiction, but it is the core of Shin Buddhist spirituality.    

Are we the best driver or the worst driver?  Are we the best person or the worst person? It’s something to think about as you drive.  


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