Recently I went into my neighborhood convenience store and recognized the cashier who typically worked nights. The roughly 20-year-old man behind the counter, was, as usual, listening to blaring heavy metal music. That night it was AC/DC.
Like every other time I saw and talked to him, he also seemed blissfully happy, without a care in the world.
So I said to him, “You always seem so happy. That’s great. What’s your secret?”
With a serene smile he replied:
“I’ve already given up.”
I chuckled, but then, I was speechless; dumbstruck even. I didn’t know what he meant by it. Was it just amusing self-deprecation, or profundity at the highest level? On the drive home, I came up with two possible interpretations.
1) He was someone whom all too many people would cruelly dismiss as a “loser” with no ambition who wound up at the bottom of the employment chain, numbing his pain with loud music (and perhaps. assuming the worst, illegal substances) that drowned out even the possibility of sober, constructive self-reflection.
2) He was a Buddha. (Yes, you can be a Buddha without being THE Buddha).
It all hinged on what exactly the cashier had “given up.”
I’m not a Buddhist, but I do consider Buddhism a great wisdom tradition.
As this PBS blog outlines, "Buddhists refer to craving, pleasure, material goods, and immortality [as] wants that can never be satisfied. As a result, desiring them can only bring suffering."
Contemporary Buddhas don't teach people to necessarily change what they do in life. The Dalai Lama doesn't even recommend that people raised in other religions become Buddhists. The desire behind what you do is the focus.
I reached the conclusion that the cashier was indeed a Buddha; that he had tried to fulfill his desires in the world and at a tender age had "given up" on the notion that they could give him any more than fleeting satisfaction.
I inferred that, among other things, he focused deeply on awareness -- of his joyful "Buddha nature" and his desires, thoughts and emotions, which he apparently mastered. Along the way, he applied for a job at the convenience store.
In other words, I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Here's why I chose the "He's a Buddha" interpretation:
1) It’s more fun to reach that conclusion. If I went the other way, there would be no point in writing this post, in which case I would be folding my laundry right now.
2) It’s almost unheard of for someone to be so defeated by age 20 that he "gives up on life" in the conventional sense of the phrase without a powerful, underlying alternative.
3) It’s completely unheard of -- a contradiction in terms -- for “defeated” people to be happy all the time, as he seemed. And he never seemed stoned.
4) Buddhas don't care about status, or people looking down on them for being at the bottom of the employment chain.
5) Buddhas reject materialism, so minimum wage would suffice.
6) When I asked him why he was always so happy, he didn’t say, “I’m a Buddha.” A real Buddha would never say that. If anyone ever tells you they're a Buddha, you'll know right away that they're not. So the fact that he didn't is consistent with him being a Buddha.
7) AC/DC rules. They don't care if anyone looks down on them, either. They just love singing "Hell's Bells."
As it happened, I never saw the cashier again. I’m guessing he moved on to something less ambitious, or maybe he’s holding retreats, or made a lateral move to a 7/11.
No matter where he went or what he meant, I believe “I’ve already given up” is a good reminder to seek deeper meaning beyond worldly satisfaction, no matter what you do in life.
Exploring awareness is a great place to start, especially if enlightenment sounds good to you. When you have 20 minutes, the enlightened teacher Rupert Spira, (who is not a Buddha) explains how awareness and enlightenment go hand-in-hand.
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