People in America today seem to be only concerned with them. They are always looking out for number one. That is a saying that has been taught to us for years. Along with another popular precept: you can’t please everyone all of the time. These are just a couple of examples of how Americans are taught to be selfish. Sure, mom and dad always teach generosity to their young children, but in this society, those lessons diminish with age. We learn that life isn’t always fair and people don’t always have to share if they don’t want to. In this so-called free country, the rich get everything and the poor get nothing. This type of environment has caused a rat race among the people. He who has the most wins. In America it is for the most money, but there are many other people in the world who might disagree. What would they want the most of? you ask. Well, that depends on whom you ask.
When you take a trip half way around the world, the values are totally different. The Eastern religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, to name a few, practice very different beliefs. They are more centered on love thy neighbor than the Christian Religion. This is not to say that Christians are wrong or act wrongfully, it just says that the difference in beliefs generates a significant difference in society. Here in America, our society claims we should love thy neighbor, but it tends to depend on who the neighbor is. We want our neighbors to be just like us. If they are not, then it becomes more difficult to show compassion. The Eastern religions practice compassion for all people, no matter who or what they are. In America, compassion is scarce. It’s predominant in families and in small towns, but in the larger cities, it is hard to see if it exists at all. A movie has been made illustrating this point. It is called “Falling Down”. It is about a man who has come to the end of his rope. He is tired of the way society has treated him, and he begins to fight back. He thinks he is doing the right thing, but he finally comes to realize that to do the right thing you can’t think only of yourself.
The movie opens with a traffic jam; the man’s license plate reads: “D-Fens”: This becomes his name since his real name is never told. It takes place in Los Angeles on a very hot day. This traffic jam is significant because you can tell he does a lot of thinking while in his car. The man’s tension keeps rising the more he sits in this traffic, so he just walks away from his car. You learn he is trying to go see his daughter on her birthday, but everything seems to want to stop him. He goes into a store, to get change for the pay phone, and the Korean owner refuses and tells him to buy something first. It is obvious the owner is being selfish because just moments before, he broke open a roll of quarters. I think this can best be linked to Buddhism. In Buddhism, selfish desire, also called Tanha, is the cause of unnecessary suffering, which is called dukkha. This means people who are selfish cause their own suffering and suffering to others. The owner of the store then tries to charge $ .85 for a can of soda. This infuriates D-fens because it goes against the point of buying soda in the first place – to get change for the phone. He gets upset with the owner for overcharging on numerous items and destroys a lot of his merchandise. Then he pays $ .50 for his soda, takes the change, and leaves. You get the feeling that D-fens is not a bad person, he just wants people to quit thinking of only themselves, which is the main focus of the Buddhists.
Another point in Buddhism that can be connected to the movie is following the eight-fold path. This is how suffering is ended, by extinguishing the self. There are eight rules to follow. Right views, right intends, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. All must be followed at the same time to overcome suffering. The next thing that D-fens has to deal with is a couple of gang-bangers. They claim that he is on private property, but he is obviously on public property. These scoundrels are using untruthful and uncharitable speech, which goes against the rule of right speech. They also go against right conduct, and livelihood. They lie, steal, kill, and day by day live their life going against all the other steps. D-fens fights back against these terrible people and is able to walk away unharmed. They later try to kill him in a drive-by shooting, but fail, and kill many other innocent bystanders instead. These gangsters are the epitome of dukkha. Everything they do is for themselves, and causes nothing but suffering.
Many of the incidents in the movie can also be linked to Hinduism. The Hindus believe that we are all looking for the same thing-an infinite existence. Once we all realize that who we are today is not infinite, then we can achieve Moksha, liberation from the empirical self. They believe the true self, the Atman, is distinct from that which feels and acts in this world. Nothing we go through in this lifetime is really important. Once we truly realize this, then we are no longer subject to Karma. The law of Karma says all actions produce future experiences, good or bad. For example, in the movie, D-fens takes a walk through a park and is bothered by a beggar. He lies and tells D-fens that he has run out of gas and when D-fens calls his bluff, the beggar gets very upset. He acts like he owns the park since he sleeps there, and that D-fens should feel sorry for him. This homeless person needs to realize that this existence is not significant, but that his actions are. He is only making things worse for himself by acting this way because Karma will ensure that he has to suffer from his actions over and over again until he, according to Hinduism, renounces the self. Hindus would believe that all of the problems in the movie are created because the characters have not renounced the self.
I think the movie as a whole can best be connected to Taoism. This religion believes that reality has a natural order and the less you do to change that order then the better off you will be. Taoists practice Wu-Wei. It is the rule that states to act without action, and being non-aggressive is the right way to live. D-fens thought he was doing the right thing by making all of these people pay for what they’ve done, but in actuality, it wasn’t his right to judge. He tried so hard to get what he wanted that it backfired in his face. He damaged property and he even killed a man. True, all of the people he encountered were bad in a way, but who is to say what they deserved. Many people would agree with De-fens’ actions, many Americans at least, but there are also many people who agree that we should not mess with the natural order of things. At the end of “Falling Down”, D-fens is being held at gun-point by a police officer. He is very confused. He says, “I’m the bad guy?” He feels he has always done what he was told and somehow he ended up wrong. The police officer then makes a good point. He says the only thing that makes you special is that little girl. D-fens felt that he was in some way enlightened on how the world should be, and therefore special, but none of us are special in that way. No matter how right we think we are, we can’t judge others. It is not our place. D-fens then purposely pulls out a toy gun forcing the policeman to shoot him. He did it for his little girl. He would rather know his child would receive his insurance money than watch her grow up while he was behind bars. This is the most selfless act he performs in the entire movie.
Some people disagree that selfishness is harmful to society. Ayn Rand , for instance, wrote a book entitled Anthem that defends the view of individualism. It basically stated that the most important freedom is freedom from each other. Therefore, individual existence is the most sacred. She says that all wisdom and science is lost when you eliminate thought of yourself. According to her, when Hindus and Buddhists claim that clinging to our empirical self is wrong, they somehow diminish all creativity. The American society tends to follow this line of thought more than the others mentioned. People are very afraid of losing. It is very hard for the westerners to just be still and let life happen. We have to be in control. Rand would probably disagree with Taoism as well since the Taoists feel we should not fight for what we want. We should be non-aggressive. Rand’s point of view would be quite different. She would most likely say “fight, fight, fight”! Never give up and always try you’re hardest. At least, that is how most of the people in America look at the world.
I find myself agreeing with some of the concepts from all four points of view. I truly believe in the law of Karma from the Hinduism Religion. The fact that life isn’t always fair is reason enough for me. People have to get what they deserve. I just has to work out that way; I’ll be very disappointed if it doesn’t. That’s all part of the unknown, I suppose. As for Buddhism, I contend that selfishness causes problems. Selfish desire is very harmful to yourself and to others. Now the part about renouncing and extinguishing the self, I’m not sure if I agree. I suppose it is that western frame of mind talking, but I can’t just tell myself to forget everything I know. Perhaps I will in another lifetime. I suppose that’s where I agree with Rand. I enjoy being different and unique. It is what I hold most dear. However, when Rand feels all the creativity is lost when you give up the self, I feel she was wrong. I don’t think the Eastern Religions intended for that at all. They still feel you should be educated and express yourself just not with trivial knowledge that encourages you to think of yourself as better than others. I know that is the case with Taoism. I agree with this religion in certain areas. For instance, in the movie “Falling Down”, D-fens definitely tried too hard for what he wanted and therefore he failed. But I feel there are things you do have to try your hardest for. If you want to succeed at school, for example, you have to work; you can’t just sit back and hope nature’s course gives you an A. I suppose that’s where the eastern religions would come in and say that I must be wanting the wrong things. But I know that in this society, in this time, and in this life, I want to be happy. How that will be achieved, I’m still unsure. Some people require many possessions and money to be happy. Others believe happiness can only be achieved when possessions are given up. The world is very different in its beliefs. As I said before, it all depends on whom you ask.