I have been thinking a lot about Buddhism lately. Perhaps I am trying to cultivate greater peace in a household with two highly active, destructive and lovable toddlers. Or, it could be the recent photo I came across of a college friend who traded in his legendary libido for the shaved head and brown robes worn at the Buddhist monastery he now calls home.
Whatever the reason, Buddhism is on the brain. And since my brain cross-pollinates, it has naturally asked the question -- what can Buddhism teach us about college admissions?
Let me introduce you to the Buddha as admissions officer. He sits at a circular table, jolly and big-bellied, a fellow officer next to him, a stack of fat applications before him. The other casts a raised eyebrow in the direction of the Buddha's exposed midriff, and waits for him to speak.
The Buddha opens the first application. He scans the list of perfect scores and extra-curriculars, and erupts in laughter.
"Is something funny?" asks the other admissions officer.
"This student is telling me how intelligent she is. If her head is so full of knowledge, how will she ever be able to empty it when she gets here?"
"Why would she want to do that?"
"To find truth." Seeing a blank stare, the Buddha explains, "It is only with a beginner's mind, free of preconceptions, that we can see the truth."
"Well, we can't reject a student for working too hard."
"Why use this word 'work'? I look at this application and see unlimited joy. The joy of scientific discovery, speaking a new language, helping the community and being part of a team. Even this application process of yours, there is such joy in it -- meeting new people, traveling to interesting places, even the joy of finding the right words to express yourself in a personal essay. How could you ever call that work?"
"I'm not sure our applicants would agree. For them, joy means being accepted."
"That will not bring them joy."
"Excuse me? You don't think our applicants are happy to be accepted?"
"They certainly think they are, but if they are chasing happiness they will not find it here. They must stop chasing, and find it within. Then they can take their happiness with them wherever they go to college. We are irrelevant to their happiness, actually. Isn't that wonderful?"
"Buddha, these students have worked so hard for years to be accepted at our college. Is there no joy in the act of accomplishing a goal?"
"Not if they missed the joy present in every moment along the way."
"Well, we need to make a decision on this applicant."
"What is the rush? We have months before the fall semester arrives. Why force these students to live in the future? Let them enjoy the precious present with their family, friends and teachers."
"Then what should we tell her?"
"Tell her to sit with herself, listen, and be at ease with whatever comes."
"Hmmm... we usually go with accept, reject, or waitlist."
"Then reject her. Reject them all."
"But Buddha, you teach about alleviating suffering, not causing it. Why do you want these students to suffer?"
"It is just the opposite. I am shaking them free of their attachment. That is how we Buddhists end suffering."
Now, I am a novice when it comes to Buddhism, and apologize if I have misrepresented its teachings. I only share this cross-pollination experiment because when it comes to college admissions, we can all use a little enlightenment.