When I first started listening to Buddhist teachings I felt that they were like a breath of fresh air coming under the door into the room where I’ve been sitting, breathing stale air for a very long time.
However, being ignorant of their meaning at the time, some of the things that were said really surprised me –– the world is a burning up place! This had me looking out of the window and wondering…. really?
Some years later I began to really look at the world, I looked and I looked. I looked at the people around me and started noticing what was motivating their actions. Seeing how friendships could evaporate at the first little friction or unmet, often unspoken, expectation. How people could kill each other with looks and words, or a lack of looks and words, and not realise what they were doing to themselves as well as to the other by their behaviour. How pride and jealousy, hatred and desire, really were having a ‘burning up’ effect on people and the environment.
On the most basic level harshness expressed externally has to be an expression of harshness held internally, with an impact on health – both physical and mental; reactions can become a habitual.
I was helped to see how those keen to slap judgements on others are also often not clear about how they also censure themselves with verdicts from their own ‘internal formations’, judges imported from the past.
At the age of eleven becoming a judge was my first ambition. Perhaps this was a little unusual in a family with no connections with the law but i had seen injustice and its effect with my little eyes and relished the idea of dishing out appropriate sentences to the ‘guilty’… having calmly considering all the evidence (whilst wearing an imposing gown, wig, and if called for, the appropriate hat!).
Later I looked at the cheap way of putting oneself up by putting others down and how deep sadness and hurt can be behind a desire to be seen to be always right, to always get things right, to be on the right side – how small that person might feel inside…and how we can project the emotion from any experience that we have not been able to digest or integrate, onto another from our shadow side without realising what we are up to.
I saw how the inner attitudes of individuals are reflected in the larger attitudes prevailing at this time and vice versa; that there can be a presentational, acceptable, mask often overlaying a shoddy infrastructure with much that’s not at all ‘great’ about it…with an underlying attitude that ‘I’, and my…. desires, beliefs, pleasures, ‘ stuff that I have’, groups that I identify with, my relations and my friends, and my pain and suffering – and maybe that of those close to me – are the most important things in the world. [Putting the bodhisattva vow into practice turns this one on its head… and leads you to despair for a while, until things become clearer…]
Actually it would be hard to really convince one other person of the truth of this, let alone the eight billion or so other humans….because, mostly, each one believes in the centrality of their own position… a position so vulnerable that it allows for little genuine peace or ease. Our apparent ‘supporting structure’ changes along with everything else, so everything could be reminding us of the given dynamic nature of impermanence yet this fact of life is often taken instead as a personal attack eliciting a push-back or collapse in response.
So with this egocentric attitude – there is I… and then there is you, others who are a bit like me – and then there’s the rest. And it’s usually a human-centric position, where we treat many of the other living organisms as though we were in dominion over them. If they seem useful we use them… often unkindly and with little respect, if they seem useless we ignore them, and if they seem to have a negative impact then, usually again showing no respect, we kill them…. forgetting that they are like the blocks in a ‘Jenga’ tower. What will happen if one piece is removed?…Can we really know the full extent of the impact of our actions as they reverberate through time and space?
Then using the Internet I looked around at what was going on ‘under the covers’ in many different places of the world. What governing powers were doing and saying in order to stay in place, what individuals and companies were doing in order to maximise their own position, how women, ‘outsiders’, the weak, and the young were being maltreated and exploited in many areas of the world.
I saw how the annexations of the world’s resources – of water, of that provided by nature, and that to be found in the Earth – was a driving factor for the efforts of many countries corporations and individuals, and how they would lie and cheat and steal and kill in order to get what they want.
At this point ( like ‘Chicken Little’ in the story, but with a little more evidence) I thought it was my job to bring the sorry state of affairs of the world to the attention of those who could make a difference so I wrote letters, sent emails, made phone calls, and talked to whoever would listen. I found that those who would listen were not those in power and they were often already anxious and distressed. Then all of this ‘looking and looking’ led to my computer being hacked and such distress… very hot and bothered…headaches, sleepless nights and the proverbial rash!
Yes, i had heard the wise words in one of James’ Macclesfield talks that ‘if you want to be an engaged buddhist best first to become a disengaged one’…but i had not imagined that i would get so caught up and had forgotten. Being calm and clear – saying just what is helpful to the entire field – to the right person at the right time, was way beyond my capacity at that time.
So what to do… I briefly considered going to London and setting fire to myself but realised that, even if what I had to say was printed in a newspaper (and it would have had to be a very big newspaper! ) the next day something more dramatic and interesting would be found to capture the imagination and anyway… I would likely be considered just another nutter…. which at that time would certainly have had a strong element of truth to it!
Eventually I realised that kicking hornets nest is less than wise and that I was being completely ridiculous in thinking I could somehow just wake up the world and have it be fine, just put all the operating forces to sleep and then what…but what could I do?
The answer was to waken up myself and apply my dharma understanding; I had been so busy being shocked then trying to fix relative reality by acting upon it in a strongly judgmental way that i became completely lost in a hell of samsara.
I had to see the context, the bigger picture – how interconnected everything that happens is with everything else, going backwards and leading forwards in time. How each event fits exactly, could not be otherwise, due to the multiple causes and conditions prevailing.
In other words I had to understand how dependant co-origination and also karma operate in relative reality… to realise my ignorance.
Still thinking practically, I told myself that it would be more useful if I somehow… instead of becoming a ‘charger up’ of people.. could help to discharge some of the tensions around me.
I once saw this modelled very beautifully on a tube train by an older lady with a smiling nut-brown face with lots of wrinkles and a trace of shiny green eyeshadow on the edge of her eyelids. There was a ‘ranter’ in the carriage and she sat next to him. I watched her as she lent in, towards him…he was very angry and it was hard to make any sense of what he was saying… she didn’t try to correct him or ‘calm him down’ in any overt way but she let him feel he was being heard and not ignored…she was just beautiful!
Later my own prejudices and aversions, my absolute notions of ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’, were exposed as the fruits of my oppositional and dualistic thinking. The wisdom of the Heart Sutra had to really sink in and I had to pay attention to the generative action of karma based on a sense of an entitative self and bring my experience of openness or emptiness into the centre. The root of the tree of ignorance had been cut but the tree was far from dead.
I could see how a sense of spaciousness increases through practice and had good reason to believe that if i kept looking, noticing without whacking in with a big judgment, my own attachments and ‘knotted-upness’ would be gently resolved in time.
So slowly I came to accept that changing my relationship to what i took to be ‘me’ and becoming more at home with the truth was key… and that by staying present, not continuously caught up in chains of thought, inevitably other wholesome changes would flow from that.
For everyone at every step along the way there are people to walk towards and away from, people who encourage and inspire and touch your heart or shake your seeming foundations while others show quite clearly how not to be.
Sometimes people ask me ‘well what can I do? Nothing I do makes any difference!’… but in a relative sense everything we do makes a difference – a difference to us and a difference to the environment, to those around us. Despite all the ‘hot air’ mercifully my contribution to global warming is slight and some of our communications can be the very warmth of compassion. At other times an easy silence is warmer still. We all do something which changes the world as we bring ourselves to it with our gestures, speech, touch, thoughts, intentions and actions and we can act according to our sense of capacity. The less ‘internal’ stuffing we have the easier it is to make room for the other who is not really ‘other’ but part of us as the arising field of manifestation, sharing the same ground.
So we may be able to offer anything from practical altruistic generosity as an outer practice through to the generosity of a tolerance which can discriminate without judgment. This might be shown by activity (maybe the lady on the tube or something much less sweet, depending…) or it may not show at all but it is nonetheless effective – hard to achieve but priceless. We can pray…that has an effect, we can meditate initially perhaps to calm ourselves, later to get to know the truth of ourselves. And there is certainty, because others have exhibited this, of the wonderful possibility of being with the world just as it actually is, no overlay, no veneer, with any activity arising being situationally attuned… without striving, without grasping…not full of ‘stuff’, so with plenty of room for everything and less ‘maintenance’ effort for ourselves….sounds good eh!
The view of dzogchen is that of non-duality, of openness receptivity and creativity, of working with circumstances. So if you are practising with this ‘view’ may all go well for you… and if things go well…will that be just ok without the razzmatazz?… and if things go not so well, is there a possibility of allowing this experience also to be just ok, as it is, a part of the flow of the experiences of openness? can this be just another flavour of the same openness? …with equanimity as the fruit.
I remembered a zen saying:
The two exist because of the One,
But hold not even to this One;
When a mind is not disturbed,
The ten thousand things offer no offence.
If you like, there is more along these lines on this site Manual of zen buddhism: IV.From the Chinese Zen Masters.