1) In our life, there is suffering.
2) The cause of our suffering is desire.
3) It is possible to end this desire.
4) But certainly not at Disney World.
The Noble Truths are the foundation of Buddhism, and what the Buddha actually said, in the First Truth, is that dukkha exists. The Pali word "dukkha" has been translated in various ways, but most commonly as either suffering or discontent. I think of it as malaise, that persistent feeling so endemic to modern man and woman. You know the attitude: Is this all there is? Am I missing out? Why does everyone else have it better than me?
The Buddha addresses the cause of our discontent in the second Noble Truth. Dukkha is caused by our constant craving for something more. Look at the size of our homes, our wallets, our cars, our entertainment budgets, our restaurant portions, our constant impulse to acquire new things, and you will see that this is true.
Or look at Disney World.
I did, two weeks ago, with my 11-year-old daughter, Maria, and I have never seen a more troublesome concentration of longing and desire in my life. For much of my week at Disney's Dukkha Kingdom, I was horrified.
The World, as they call it in Orlando, is of course precisely designed to assault our senses, to make us feel less and want more. Disney is, after all, an amusement park, and amusement parks are based on thrill rides. The idea is to take our senses to an extreme, setting us up for the next ride, the next extreme; the idea is that only through the experience of being mere inches away from perceived death, on some roller coaster, can we feel truly alive. Obviously, some basic element of human nature responds well to such an idea, because amusement parks generally, and Disney specifically, are popular attractions.
Disney has simply taken this idea and pushed it even further. Along with the thrill rides, Disney provides fantasy after fantasy, for child and adult alike, erasing the lines between real and perceived, alive and animated, artifice and actuality. Then they pile on a disturbing amount of commercialism. Nearly every ride, every attraction, at Disney World channels the long lines of guests into a gift shop on exit, so that we may take the experience home with us. This is illusion, too; Maria and I succumbed, in our state of high adrenaline, to more than a few souvenirs. Amazing how necessary they seemed at the moment, and how small, useless, and unimportant they seem now, tossed into a corner.
Am I sounding cranky yet?
At Disney, we were pushed toward the opposite of mindfulness. I began to notice that those in line with us were rarely discussing the line, or the ride we were waiting for, but rather the ride they would rush to when this ride was over.
Let me paraphrase a conversation I heard repeatedly:
"After we get this (pleasant experience) out of the way, what (pleasant experience) should we rush toward next, and not even really experience because we will be obsessing about the (pleasant experience) that may come after that?"
"I don't know. Let's try the Tower of Terror!"
At lunch, patrons were discussing where to go for dinner. By early evening, when the fireworks were starting, people were planning strategies to reach the bus to the hotel before the rest of the crowd. On the bus, they were busily planning the next day's assault. Maria coined the term "Disney daze" to describe our numbed state.
The heart of the Disney experience is perhaps what horrifies me most. You find it clearly in the advertising: the suggestion that it is somehow not enough to spend time with our kids in our home, in our backyard, in our community, in our lives, but that instead we must spend time with our children in this artificial place for the time to be worthwhile. Behind the ads, the subtext is clear: Your kids won't really like you if you don't bring them here.
I grew up watching Uncle Walt every Sunday evening, and I grew up believing Disney magic to be something good--"When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are...."--but the World that has been created by the new corporate Disney is not about wishing, and it is not about using our imaginations, it is all about buying. And it is not about who you are--it is about manufacturing an illusory you, the "good parent" who can afford to buy a memory or two. It is a world based on discontent and distraction, and an expensive one at that.
But of course, Buddhism also teaches us not to become attached to our negative feelings.
So Maria and I wrestled the Disney koan for two days, then let go, relaxed, avoided the lines, and for the most part wallowed contentedly in the many hotel pools and water parks for the remainder of the week.
We tried our best to live in the Disney moment. After all, sometimes the path to enlightenment can seem downright Goofy.