In the May issue of the auto club magazine, Westways, there’s an article about road safety in Sweden. It seems that the Swedes are finding ways to reduce traffic-related deaths, which is also relevant to us, given the high mortality rate on our roads and our dependence on cars here in California.
In essence, the Swedish government has decided to focus its efforts on eliminating collisions that lead to serious injuries and fatalities rather than trying to spread its resources to mitigate all infractions. Fender benders are going to happen no matter how careful a driver might be. However, studies show that ninety per cent of accidents are caused by human factors such as speeding, inattention, and intoxication, all of which are avoidable. We know the rules when we get behind the wheel and we know what the consequences can be, but when the phone rings, how do we react? It’s difficult to focus all of our senses all of the time. Have you ever missed a road sign while you were adjusting something in your car?
While we have devices like laws, seat belt requirements, tickets and other penalties to keep us safe and deter bad driving behaviour, all of these depend on us heeding them. We know that they exist for our benefit, but it isn’t always convenient and there are so many things to do besides focusing on staying alive. We need a little help.
In Sweden, not only do they rely on legislators to encourage people to drive safely, but they also involve engineers and city planners. Speed bumps make people slow down and pay attention. Roundabouts are found to be far better than four-way traffic lights because running red lights results in impacts that cause drastically more fatalities and serious injuries than accidents caused by merging. Drivers are even warned of upcoming speed cameras because the point isn’t to increase revenues but to get people to slow down. Safety experts are working with car manufacturers to deal with accident-causing smart-phone usage and some school buses will not start until the driver blows into a dashboard Breathalyzer. The article mentions how costly all of these measures are, especially given that they wouldn’t be necessary if everyone just paid attention to their driving.
In a similar way, people often observe that the dharma makes sense to them when they hear the messages, and they can understand how they might find lasting peace of heart and peace of mind and really flourish if they followed the teachings. But somehow, the moment they leave the hondo, everything goes out the window and their minds are generally on a million other things. We have so many distractions in our lives, whether we’re driving or walking or sitting or even trying to sleep. Add modern technology and the distractions at our fingertips increase exponentially. We never have time to just sit and be with ourselves, reflecting on who we are or what life is about. Even though we know it would be good for our wellbeing to follow the dharma, we need help. Have you ever been able to live by the Eightfold Path to perfection? How about the Six Paramitas? And the moment you think you have greed, aversion and delusion conquered, it means you haven’t.
We would be figuratively crashing all the time if we didn’t have a little help from the rest of life. The speed bumps of our lives, like setbacks, illness, or separation from a loved one, cause us to slow down and take stock of our surroundings. We may be brought to realize how much we have taken for granted, or how much we have to be grateful for. Usually, we aren’t mindful of the compassion we are constantly receiving and we just speed around in every direction. Fortunately, whether we realize it or not, we move in the great flow of life which operates much like a round-about. If it were up to us to pay attention to the traffic signals of life all the time, there would be a lot more tragedy and grief because as human beings, we’re so self-absorbed even when we don’t mean to be. We don’t have the single-mindedness that Shinran often speaks of, but we receive its benefits because it refers to the Oneness of all life and we are enabled to rely on it and simply relax in its light. Namo Amida Butsu.
Rev. Patricia Usuki