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I wasted my youth. I am 35 years old. I had a toxic relationship with my parents, especially my mother. My career never started and am still looking for a fresh start and finding it humiliating at my age.

What does Buddhism says about wasting your youth? Is redemption possible?

Thanks.

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    Buddhism says a lot of things. On the practical side, every day is an opportunity to start/continue a journey. And, if you want to get there, it's your responsibility to get started and working on it diligently. You missed some time, but life is only going to get harder the longer you wait. – nomen Oct 28 at 21:13
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So Buddhism says a lot of things.

One is that unhappiness is caused by "craving" i.e. by wanting things to be other than as they are (or by wanting impermanent things to continue)

Another is that unhappiness is caused by various types of "self-view", for example, "I will die" or "I cannot have what I want" etc.

One aspect of "self-view" is "comparison" -- comparing "yourself" to others -- for example, "I have or don't have a job", and, "I don't have as good a job as she has" etc.

The word "humiliation" sounds like it's associated with "pride" -- which, is one of the "fetters", one of the canonical problems. There is one way in which "conceit" or "comparison" can be used wisely or productively, which is to say, "That person (maybe a 'spiritual friend') has attained X (i.e. 'enlightenment') by doing Y (i.e. 'practising the way to enlightenment'). Perhaps I too, by doing Y, can attain X".

I guess the Buddhist path might be something like,

  • Be moral (ethical) to avoid hurting others
  • Understand (perhaps by learning Buddhist doctrine on that subject) what kinds of thinking cause unhappiness, then stop doing that

The word "redemption" might not be mainstream Buddhist -- I associate that word with "Christ the Redeemer" i.e. "Jesus dying to save (redeem, buy back, pay a sacrificial price for) Mankind from Sin".

Buddhism is a little more "You're saved by your own efforts" (with due respect, to the three jewels or refuges) -- i.e. it's up to you to learn, up to you to control or not control your mind, and each person is "heir to their own kamma" i.e. it's because of your own intentions/actions that you become happy or unhappy -- go to "heaven" or "the animal word" or become "enlightened".

The fact that you're able to ask this question suggests you're capable -- not too addicted or angry to care, not too confused to even ask, at least have lucid moments.

I don't know your circumstances, but from this distance I might suggest, don't worry too much about "career never started" if you can. Any work you do might be good work, what you volunteer to do as well. The important thing is to do the best you can in the circumstances -- "best" meaning "kind to yourself and others" -- and then be happy, because you're doing the best you can.


I still wonder if all suffering are really from oneself

Canonically it (i.e. mental or psychological suffering) arises from craving, attachment, self-image -- part of which is the idea that there is a "oneself" for it to come from.

you can also be made to feel shame by the community

People might try to shame you, I guess -- there's a sutta SN 7.2 which describes the Buddha's reply to someone trying to "insult" him.

I'm not sure that "shame" is a good way to teach people -- here's a non-Buddhist poem which was semi-famous when I was young:

CHILDREN LEARN WHAT THEY LIVE
--Dorothy Law Nolte

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to be shy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn to be patient.
If children live with praise, they learn to appreciate.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and others.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

It's possible, I don't know, that some people in the community are trying to tell you something worthwhile -- or, maybe they're unkind and trying to shame you -- or maybe you react with shame, when it's not their intention to inflict it -- I don't know.

Perhaps you can't afford to pay too much attention to people who are only negative and not helpful.

I also don't know what they want, maybe they're selfishly trying to sell you something useless -- it's up to you to find wise advice I guess.

isn't there a point where the inner world is not so solipsisitc

Yes and no?

I've met people in whom "suffering", as a result of their "inner world", seemed to me absolutely pathological, and nearly life-long -- and maladaptive i.e. not a "good" response to the current social environment -- like post-traumatic stress.

The whole "self versus society" is complicated, especially when that's seen as "versus" rather than as "cooperating with".

Anyway I think that Buddhism intends to help you become free of negative emotions, like shame (also called "obscurations" in some schools of Buddhism). Perhaps you have to recognise the emotion, and understand how it arises, and remove or avoid or "uproot" the condition[s] in which it arises.

To be fair Buddhism also teaches that "a sense of shame" can be a good thing for a student to have, because it keeps them from doing the wrong things.

A good part of that and a (possibly 'the') basis of Buddhism is ethics -- it's taught that "skilful virtue" (which I think means "doing the right thing well") has a purpose and a result, which is "absence of remorse", from which arises "joy" and so on.

So "absence of remorse" -- having done the best you can, doing the best you can, intending to do the best you can in future -- and not being ashamed of that, not being ashamed because of that.

Note that "ethics" aren't, necessarily, "solipsistic" -- ethics help people coexist, help the person coexist with society. The so-called Threefold Training maybe begins with "Right Speech", which is usefully summarised here -- Right Speech -- which I'd recommend you read ... and then practice i.e. try to speak like that and to listen to "right speech" from other people.

  • Thank you for the answer. Doing good for others and oneself is sound advice. The Buddhist view on unhappiness is insightful, but I still wonder if all suffering are really from oneself, if a situation is humiliating. You can feel shame from your own thoughts and judgements, but you can also be made to feel shame by the community for having wasted your youth. ... – Reeel Oct 28 at 5:44
  • ...If we want to argue that whatever I feel comes from me regardless of the treatment of others, aren't we entering a very unpragmatical territory? To some extent we should control our feelings at the face of how others treat us, but if the situation is permanent and intense, isn't there a point where the inner world is not so solipsistic? In any case thank you for your insights and information. – Reeel Oct 28 at 5:44
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    I added one new paragraph to the answer, about "humiliation" -- I don't know how I'd reply to the comments yet. – ChrisW Oct 28 at 5:47
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    @Reeel I added to the answer to try to address the comments. – ChrisW Oct 28 at 6:46
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    Thank you for the precisions, a lot for me to chew on. – Reeel Oct 28 at 7:02
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35 years old is young. The Buddha attained enlightenment at 35 years old and lived teaching others the path to enlightenment for the next 45 years. The Buddha passed away at 80 years old.

Also, most if not all of the Buddha's famous enlightened disciples, such as Kondanna, Maha Kassapa, Sariputta and Maha Moggallana, were older than the Buddha therefore they started the path after 35 years of age.

That you are 35 years old and looking for the true path and that the Buddha found the true path at 35 years old appears to be a good omen or sign.

Like the two chief disciples, Sariputta and Maha Moggallana, Maha Kassapa too descended from the brahman caste, and again like them, he was older than the Buddha

Maha Kassapa

What is a great tragedy & waste is being born in a Buddhist country, such as in Sri Lanka, yet never understanding what the Buddha taught; including when you are taught the true teachings everyday but still fail to understand because of brainwashed youth.

In my opinion, it is easier to redeem wasted youth but much more difficult to redeem brainwashed youth.

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    Thank you very much for your answer. Your concluding remark is particularly interesting to me. I will have to ponder on it for a while to understand its implications. Cannot upvote from lack of reputation on the site yet. – Reeel Oct 28 at 4:39
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Restore yourself with Metta. I'm also at your age, in the same situation, thinking about how to regain my youth. Metta meditation gave me an understanding of this particular issue. In our youth, we had a much better positive attitude toward all human beings. There was much less negativity in our life. This was the cause of our beautiful life in your youth! By indulging in negative thoughts and other low acts, we strayed away from our path. This is how we have lost our intelligence.

By sending good wishes, and especially to those closes to you, you will regain your youth and the world will be as it was 30 years ago - young and fresh, with much less negativity!

Metta will also deprogram you from so many stupidities and bad habits, especially social conditioning. I think this is the most sensitive issue now. Social conditioning went against our truth. Many young kids were programmed by society to act against their natural spontaneous will. Metta works in favor of your naturalness. By doing Metta, you become less societal and more natural. No real meditator will ever participate in the affair of society as ordinary materialistic people do, knowing well the dangerous consequences of materialistic sinful life.

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Reeel. Would you call all that’s brought you to this personal realisation a ‘wasted youth?’ What an opportunity it has handed you. Best wishes

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I also want to point out that 35 is considered to be relatively young and is a competitive age in many physical sports. I think being 35 your are in the beginning of the middle part of the lifespan and are not really expected to have peaked as a person in general.

Buddha has said this in Dhp 155;

Those who have neither lived the chaste life Nor gained wealth in their youth; Lie around like [arrows misfired] from a bow, Lamenting the past.

Imo living the chaste life is the supreme achievement because gaining material wealth does not free one from lamentation in the ultimate sense.

  • Isn't this quote from Buddha an indication that redemption is not possible? It is an horrible fate to be a misfired arrow lamenting the past. – Reeel Oct 28 at 19:38
  • @Reeel: no, he was describing the feelings of a person in your shoes. You might feel useless, wasted. I know I did when I was in similar circumstances. – nomen Oct 28 at 21:12
  • In your case there is nothing to redeem as i see it you are not misfired. You are still young and strong. Even in wordly terms peak earning years are ~45 for men. – 1231546 Oct 28 at 23:12
  • And yes it seems that those who do waste their life are going to have nothing to show for it and will have to deal with those consequences – 1231546 Oct 28 at 23:13
  • Even old people, seniors, can train and win. Satipatthana Sutta says even 7 days can be enough if practice is correctly undertaken. – 1231546 Oct 28 at 23:21
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I am actually in the exact situation as you are and also have a toxic relationship with my mother .But I know that is just the play of life ,things where good before and bad today ,its a cycle if you are not ready to accept life as it is then you will continually suffer .There is no quality in inhaling if you aren't exhaling ,no quality for anything if you don't pay for it .No quality for life if there is no death. Buddhism says just surrender to life ,its all happening by itself ,no self needs to fix it ,no self is getting attacked .There is only emptiness at the center.No guilt , no blame .

That way every situation for you is understood & your action wise ,Buddha experienced the insight of dependent origination which states everything happens due to certain causes and parameters.So there is really nothing wrong in anything that happened it was all meant due to the existence of these parameters ,you are perfect as you are already,you just don't realize it.

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To redeem a wasted youth, let it go...

First of all, regardless of whom you ask this question, you are likely to receive some variation of the following advice: "Make amends and learn from your mistakes. Don't dwell on the past and instead focus on doing better in the future." This is because the inevitable passage of time is a universal human experience; it is common when you reach your 30's or 40's to start wondering what your life would be like now if you had done things differently. Some (presumably including the OP) regret their decisions enough to feel they need to somehow redeem themselves.

That said, I believe Buddhism provides can provide some unique insight into this question for a number of reasons...

Lessons from Buddhism

Dependent Origination

In some religious traditions, events are predestined and humans have little or no agency. In others, humans have complete free will and bear full responsibilities for their actions and their fate. Buddhism falls in the middle.

The concept of dependent origination is essentially the idea that connected and depend on each other. The here and now that you are experience is the product of many factors, some that are within your control and others that are not. This means you shouldn't regret or feel ashamed of a "wasted youth" as the fault is not yours alone. What you should focus on is identifying what mistakes you did make, do what you can to correct them, and learn from those mistakes so you don't repeat them.

Think of a boat floating down a river. You can't control the current that is pushing the boat forward. However, if the current has caused you to drift in an undesirable direction, you can also grab the oars and steer in a new direction.

Attachment

Buddhism is, ultimately, a path towards the elimination of suffering. One of the primary sources of suffering is attachment, which includes holding onto the past. Worrying about "redeeming a wasted youth" is only likely to make you feel bad and waste energy that could be spent in a more productive fashion. Let go and move on with your life! Focus on the present and what steps you can take towards a better future.

Attachment is also important to consider when others attempt to make you feel guilty or ashamed of the past. It's natural to seek the approval of others, particularly family members. However, if someone continues to bring more suffering into your life than joy, it may be best to walk away especially if they refuse to change.

Enlightenment

"Redemption" isn't really a concept in Buddhism as salvation comes not from calling upon some external power for deliverance but from cultivating a state of mind - enlightenment - that allows you to transcend suffering.

In this light, "redeeming a wasted youth" is a matter of learning to see that your youth wasn't wasted and doesn't need to be redeemed. Instead of ruminating over the bad things that you regret, reflect upon the truth - good, bad, and neutral - in a calm, objective fashion. Doing so can help you overcome the negative emotions that cause you to continue suffering today.

Parting Thoughts

In his answer, ChrisW says:

The important thing is to do the best you can in the circumstances -- "best" meaning "kind to yourself and others" -- and then be happy, because you're doing the best you can.

I couldn't say it better! If there is only one thing you take away from the answers to this question, it should be this simple advice.

Best of luck in your journeys through life!

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