In the Marine Corps. we had a saying, "Play stupid games, win stupid prizes." It was a nod to the creative ways that senior Marines would punish junior Marines if they broke a rule or did something to make the unit look bad.
An example of a stupid prize might be cleaning a toilet with a tooth brush or digging a trench with a garden trowel.
I won several "prizes" while I was enlisted, but there's one incident that really stands out. My squad had done something horrible by military standards.
I think we didn't clean the bathroom well enough, but I could be wrong. Anyway, our squad leader decided that we needed to learn a lesson. So he called for a "health and comfort" inspection at 11pm on a Saturday when we were all supposed to be out on liberty.
So, we took all of our worldly possessions out to the parade deck, laid them out in an orderly fashion, and waited. But our squad leader never showed up. After 30 minutes of waiting we sent a junior Marine to go find him.
A short time later, he came back with a message. The PG version of that messages goes as follows,
I [squad leader] will get out there when I damn-well feel like it, and every single one of you better be on that [expletive] parade deck when I do.
At that point, we realized the horrible truth. The surprise inspection was only part of our punishment. The rest of it was making us stand outside for hours on a Saturday night while the rest of the base was either sleeping or partying.
So we waited, and waited, and waited some more. At precisely 1 am our squad leader appeared out of the darkness, and began our inspection with out saying a word. Thankfully, everyone passed, and he dismissed us for the evening. But before he let us leave my squad leader imparted some wisdom on us that I'll always remember. He said:
Life in the Marine Corps. sucks, but it will suck a lot less if you just follow the rules.
The wisdom of those words didn't fully hit me in that moment. But looking through a Buddhist lense I finally understand what he was saying. Because life in samsara sucks. It can be difficult, and there are many disappointments in daily life.
But it sucks a lot less if we just follow the rules. In this case, the rules would be the teachings that Buddha gave us 2,600 years ago. Meditation can help us in this regard. A daily meditation practice helps us to clearly see the consequences of our actions and make choices that end suffering for ourselves and others.
That's what my squad leader was trying to explain to us on the parade deck. That's what Buddha tried to explain in his teachings. Choices have consequences. And if we train ourselves to makes better choices that aren't influenced by greed, anger, and ignorance, then life will inevitably get better.
If not, life will continue to give us stupid prizes in exchange for the stupid games we choose to play.
Willard Park Meditation Society: Every Saturday at 4:30pm, join us in Willard Park/ Free Stamp Plaza at the corner of 9th street and Lakeside Ave. in downtown Cleveland, OH. We'll practice 30 minutes of seated meditation, followed by a Dharma talk, and Q&A. More information can be found by clicking here.
The Official Animal Rights March | Columbus, OH: The march started in 2016 in London with 2,500 participants. And it grew to 5,000 participants by 2017. This year, I will participate in the Columbus, OH portion of the march, and deliver a Dharma talk afterwards. You can RSVP for the event by clicking here.