Robin Williams: Depression Isn’t the Point…

There’s a man I see, roughly every other day, whenever I ride the bus. I doubt that I would have noticed him at all, except for one thing: He is always smiling. And that smile is warm, beautiful, and exuberant – almost to the point of hilarity. Normally, that would be a positive quality.

Now, at the risk of appearing ‘slow,’ I must admit it took me a good month to realize that I had never seen his face, which is now forever engraved in my mind, without a smile. In fact, if he wasn’t smiling, he was either laughing raucously or giggling childishly. And this morning, upon boarding the bus, he paid his fare, giggled like the stereotypical gay man screaming “Fabulous!” and literally skipped down the aisle of the bus laughing and conversing with himself.

I thought, “I’ve got to get to the bottom of this!” whipped out my cell phone, and Googled “condition when you are always laughing or smiling.” Here’s what I found: Angelman Syndrome. But before I explain, I must first give you a brief, physical description of this man. I won’t get detailed out of respect for his privacy, even though I am quite certain it’s not one of his major concerns. What I can share is that when he’s not skipping, he’s definitively masculine in carriage; taller than the average man; well-proportioned, and middle-aged. This is why he was particularly notable as he giggled and skipped down the bus aisle…

Angelman Syndrome is categorized not as a “disease,” but rather as a genetic disorder. Perhaps, unlike you, I’d never heard of it until today’s Google search. Those born with this disorder are always, as in unceasingly, smiling and/or laughing. Additionally, though they actually do feel the full spectrum of emotions, including anger and sadness, they cannot physically convey or portray those feelings through their facial expressions. They also have awkward, “jerky” movements, often flinging their arms, shaking their bodies, and stopping and starting, suddenly; and they suffer from a number of developmental disabilities. So, even if they were telling you that they hate you and wish you’d drop dead, it would be with the most radiant, warmth-engendering smile you’d ever seen. But that would not be likely to happen because like people with Down Syndrome, those with Angelman Syndrome are often very loving, warm individuals… This man has warmly greeted me, directly, on a number of occasions, and is always quick to point out that my bus is arriving —  and I’m not quite sure how he knows it’s my bus because I ride more than one line…

We spend our entire adult lives trying to be happy. When that doesn’t happen, we spend about 50% of our time trying to look happy. And when that doesn’t work, we get “depressed,” or worse… I’ve wondered if life would be any less exhausting if we didn’t have to try so hard to look happy, strong, unperturbed, and in control. In one respect, Angelman Syndrome would save us a great deal of energy; but, as mentioned, the disorder is not without its negative aspects. This man, who is always giggling, smiling, and moving spasmodically, still experiences the normal complexities of the full range of human emotion – perhaps, even embarrassment?

From a karmic perspective, which will no doubt offend those who either don’t believe in, or understand, karma, this raises a few questions, even for me, a Buddhist who believes in the laws of karma. For example:

  1. Was the man on the bus, in another life, someone who was never happy with what he had? Or,
  2. Did he expect others to act happy when he knew they were unhappy? And,
  3. If there is any truth to either #1, or #2, what, or how, can this man, with obvious developmental disabilities, learn anything from having this condition?
  4. So, is this man being punished? Or is this disorder the result of something someone else did?
  5. If  contracting this disorder is the result of past negative karma(s), could this be the way he expiates that karma? (Mind you, people often base claims of “No God,” on the “fact” that “innocent” babies suffer for “no reason” in this world; but in a world where karma is ‘law,’ few if any are truly “innocent,” hence the ‘justice’ of karma… Or,
  6. Is the man on the bus, strangely, blessed?

Yes, I realize that many people would tell me, “Some people are born ‘normal,’ and some are not. You’re the one who’s nuts!” But Buddhism teaches us that not only can we live many lives in the future, but also that we have already lived many lives in the past, and that our every ‘karma,’ i.e., ‘action,’ including our state of mind at the moment of our death, will determine the circumstances of our next re-birth. For a Buddhist, every death is a rebirth, and every birth the start of another round of dying.

Another thing to consider, here, is that in the **caste system of India, people are thought to be born into certain castes, or ‘classes’ as a result of their actions in previous lives. So, if you are born into the caste known as the ‘untouchables,’ whose “career path” might be cleaning latrines, or retrieving the dead bodies of animals, and sometimes people, with little or no hope of escape (upward mobility), there’d be no sympathy for you because you are simply getting “what you deserve.” The assumption might also be that your current state is an expiatory condition, i.e., the working out of your negative karma. And “karma,” more properly referred to as ‘vipaka’  (specifically the ‘fruit’ of your actions/karma) is always ‘just.’ In fact, the Buddha, who was Hindu, was born into this culture. And it is quite obvious, from his teachings, that he went the way of compassion.

**I want to make special mention, here, that while issues of caste are still relevant in Indian communities (in and outside of India), the confines of this belief system have become much less stringent. Discrimination based on caste, in India, is now illegal, but this doesn’t mean that it has been completely eliminated. The concept of caste is relevant to Buddhism because Buddhism was born from Hinduism. Nonetheless, just as Jesus of Nazareth never used the word, “Christianity,” the Buddha never coined the term, “Buddhism.” It’s important for us to keep in mind that nothing and no one exists in a vacuum.

All I really know is that neither money, nor family and friends (whether they love and support you, or not) can make you happy. The late comedian, Robin Williams, probably owned a tuxedo, or pair of cuff links, the value of which could have paid off my student loan, including the mind-numbing interest I’ve incurred from several forbearances. But Mr. Williams still wasn’t happy. For Robin Williams, there wasn’t enough money, love, cocaine, alcohol, comradery, family, friendship, recognition, or even “God” to make him “happy.” And when you look at the aforementioned string of “happiness triggers,” it’s fairly easy to see that they are all rooted in what the Buddha defined as ‘impermanence.’ Nonetheless, I’ve known people with Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other devastating diagnoses, with much less fame, money, and influence than Robin Williams who did not commit suicide. My own Daddy was one of them. And he was a physician. He could have written himself, or procured a prescription for a ‘death cocktail’ any time he wanted. And though I didn’t want him to do that, I often wondered, during his considerable suffering, why he did not do this. I neither fault nor criticize Mr. Williams for what he did. The choice is always ours, and few, if any, know another’s true circumstances or motivations.

Sometimes, we have to lose “it” all to discover that instead of being left with “nothing,” we’re instead in possession of the only item of true value we’ll ever own – the ‘say’ that we have in the creation of our own futures. The excruciatingly hard part is dealing with that initial loss. The past is gone; the future is not yet here; so, all we have is our ‘now,’ and what we decide to do with it.

Dear Mr. Williams, our Angelman of nearly half a century,

Thank you for imbuing some 20 years of our lives with gut-busting, body-wracking laughter. Our Mork from Ork, you were a blazing, breathtaking meteor shower across some very dark skies, fulfilling your promise, beautifully, and burning out, probably less suddenly than it seemed.  From the minute we are born, we are always dying; and death is but another beginning. All your good will be returned to you, and may your next life be your last. Happy goodwill hunting…

Namaste.

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Related Reading:

The boy who can’t stop smiling: Genetic disorder means James, 11, always looks happy – even though he can’t speak from Daily Mail Online

Caste Is Not Past from Sunday Review/New York Times/The Opinion Pages (Website)

Why Many Americans (Buddhist or Otherwise) Should Reconsider Their Misconceptions About Chanting…

I recently published a post titled  Chanting: What It Is, And What It Ain’t.  When I published that post, my goal was to proffer an ‘objective,’ brief discussion on this topic. So, I somewhat less than briefly shared my own feelings, and instead, offered several examples of how other people feel about chanting. In addition, I posted my longest “Related Readings” list ever, hoping folks would do a little independent reading. Unlike birds who chew (premastication), digest, and then regurgitate that food to feed to their newborns, human adults usually don’t do that for other human adults. And in the arena of intelligent thinking, no one wants another to do their thinking for them, either.

Imagining I was finished with the topic of chanting, I moved on, only to find myself strangely unsettled by that post. I even mentioned, in a subsequent post, that I regretted not having said more about the fact that I chant every day, and believe in it whole-heartedly. Then, today, I woke up, and the first thought that flashed through my mind was that horrible, horrible chanting scene from the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I’m including a link to this scene in my Related Readings section below. I am American born, and consider myself to be quite a fan of American Culture, but I must admit, until a few months ago, I’d never seen an entire Indiana Jones movie. A friend of mine was watching Temple of Doom  when I walked into the room, and it was there that I witnessed what has famously come to be known as “Temple of Doom’s Heart Removal Scene.”

To summarize briefly: Indiana and his latest squeeze, along with a few other flunkies, are observing a bunch of “savages,” in some huge, (underground?) mine/cavern that nonetheless contains a deep shaft filled with fire and molten lava. Except for Indiana and his crew, they are all chanting something about ‘Shiva’ (usually a blesséd name), and the focus of the scene is a “medicine man” who is chanting something else, and quite obviously preparing to do no good to a man, bound, fearful, and suspended before him. After a little “mumbo jumbo,” the “medicine man” (please forgive the terminology – that’s why I use quotation marks), makes a grotesque claw out of his hand, places it over his victim’s heart, plunges it into the man’s chest, and rips the heart out. He then turns around, facing the crowd, and exhibits the man’s heart for all to see. The beautiful blond screams in horror, and the manly men are just really and truly disgusted.

I believe I got that right.

Anyway, even as a chanter, myself, it never occurred to me that others would view this scene (an amazing cinematic feat of the truly disturbing), simply as further proof of the “fact” that people who chant are deranged “followers” of deranged “leaders.” In all honesty, there are some “black arts” known to Buddhism, which involve such practices as praying with malas (rosaries) made from such enticing materials as human bones, but I know nothing of that. And we do know that in certain civilizations, Mayan, for example, human sacrifice was quite prevalent. Nonetheless, human sacrifice, hanging out in dark caves, and black magic is not what chanting is “about.”

Though chanting is not “magic,” it is nonetheless, magical. The practice of chanting, a form of sacred meditation, can not only change your ‘mind,’ it can change your life. People chant for such reasons as seeking protection; desiring to ‘quiet’ and focus the mind; and out of devotion to a particular ‘deity’ or personage through feeling a connection to that exceptional being through veneration, imitation, and dedication so as to, perhaps, become more like that being. The chant known as the Vajra Guru Padmasambhava [chant] is a beautiful example of a chant that inspires beautiful, benevolent, worshipful (remember, Christians ‘worship’ too!) behavior that is nothing like the “gonna-rip-yer-effin’-heart-out” behavior depicted in the chanting scene of the movie  Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Chanting isn’t just a form of meditation; it’s also another way of ‘praying.’ Chanting can be practiced in a seated position, while using a mala (rosary); it can be practiced alone or in groups; it can be practiced without a mala (rosary) while standing, walking, driving, or even washing the dishes. Chanting can also be practiced aloud, or silently. We chant for joy; we chant in despair; we chant for encouragement; we chant to overcome discouragement; we chant for people we love; we chant for people we don’t so much love. We chant to connect to whatever our conception of the divine may be.

I recently came to realize that even American Buddhists, as well as Americans who practice Buddhist meditation, but not the “religion,” itself, aren’t always thrilled with the concept, much less the practice of chanting. One day, after visiting a Buddhist meditation center and completing about an hour of silent meditation which included both ‘sitting’ and ‘walking’ meditation, I gathered with a group of practitioners afterwards for tea. There is always “chanting” at the end of the meditation period from “chant” books. After the second or third visit to this Center, it occurred to me that something seemed ‘strange’ to me. I finally figured out what it was. Their “chanting” consisted of reading some names of deities, along with a few poem-type prayers that appeared to have been translated from another language.

Unlike the chanting to which I had become accustomed (briefer ‘texts’ recited from memory instead of pages-long stuff read from a book) this was a fairly quick, dry reading of words which obviously referred, and deferred, to the Divine. I’m not saying there was no love and devotion there, only that there did not appear to be. And in all fairness, I also have experience in chanting, from memory, rather large excerpts of chapters of Buddhist texts. But again, it was not in an “Oh, let’s just get this the hell-over-with way.” So, as we discussed chanting while having tea, I asked, “Is the ‘reading’ you do after the meditation session is over what ‘you all’ call… chanting?” Someone responded “Yes, it is. We don’t really do much with chanting here. And that’s probably not good, but to me, at least, chanting has always seemed so… creepy.”

Another thing I’ve noticed is that ex-Catholics are often turned off by chanting – even if they’ve “converted” to Buddhism, because Catholics chant and burn incense just like Buddhists! Well, maybe not “just like,” but close enough. And there are “tons” of ex-Catholics now practicing Buddhism, as well as practicing Catholics who practice Buddhist meditation. So, aversion to past practices, a little too much Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and ignorance of the deep, rich, so movingly and beautifully devotional aspects of the practice of chanting add up to… nothing.

The Catholic prayer, ‘Hail, Mary,’ repeated over and over again, is ‘chanting, ’ and can be considered a ‘mantra.’  The practice of reciting the word, ‘peace,’ is chanting, and can be considered a mantra. And usually, when one chants “Om Namah Shivaya,” a mantra,  it doesn’t mean “I’m gonna’ rip your heart out!” A closer approximation of its meaning is: I bow to Shiva (for numerous and exceptionally beautiful, loving reasons). Also known as “the great redeeming mantra,” it expresses a love and devotion for the Divine that is for all practical purposes, inexpressible. And that’s the magic of mantra(s). Chanting is a way of connecting to the inexpressibly ‘good,’ by saying ‘it’ in a way we couldn’t possibly, humanly, or adequately say by ourselves. Some people ‘say it with flowers,’ we say it with chanting. And I deeply regret having made the decision not to delve more deeply into this topic when first writing about it.

Namaste.
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Related Readings:

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’s “Heart Removal Scene” from YouTube

Good Vibrations — Jois on Mantras from Irish Ashtangi (blog)

Chanting: What It Is, And Ain’t… from Mindful Ejaculations (this blog)

Chanting Man Forces Flight to Kona From Seattle to Return from Huffington Post.com

Om — The beginning of all creation from Shamballa: A space for sharing and being

Chanting: A Basic of Buddhist Practice from About.com/Buddhism (Website)

Chanting: Why We Chant from Kwan Um School of Zen (Website)

Living the Dead Life: Vampires Who Don’t Totally Suck – A Buddhist Perspective On Knowing Versus Realization…

Have you ever felt that your life is like one of those stunningly spectacular traffic accidents where pedestrians and drivers, alike, literally stop in their tracks to gawk in horrid fascination? Of course, nothing restores normalcy and order like a police officer motioning and admonishing the stunned onlookers to “Move along, folks! Nothing to see, here!” Honestly, I’ve never heard a real police officer say this – only in the movies; but then, I’ve never stopped to gawk.

Whether or not police officers actually say this, I recently discovered the equivalent of a personal police officer, or better yet, bodyguard, to direct traffic in the sometimes-seeming collision of my own life. I’d like to share it with this caveat:

Depending on where you are, or are not, in your meditation practice, or if you don’t have a meditation practice, you may or may not find value in this offering. I know this because just three months ago, after reading what I’m about to share, I would have said, “What the hell?” Really.

The following quotation is from the book  Meditation On Perception: Ten Healing Practices to Cultivate Mindfulness  by Bhante Gunaratana. I’ve never met this man, but I love him, and I love his work. And I was amused to learn that he is commonly and affectionately referred to as Bhante G, which seems like the Dharma equivalent of such celebrity names as Sheila E., Kenny G., or Heavy D. And mind you, I mean this with all metta and respect. So, let’s get to business. The following quotation is from the book chapter titled, “Perception of Non-Delight in the Whole World”:

As we discover, the mind purified of greed, hatred, and delusion is naturally free from excitement when perceiving anything in the world. There is nothing special in the entire world for such a mind to delight in. Nor is there anything to be disappointed by. Nothing is extraordinary. The same problems of impermanence, suffering, and selflessness exist everywhere. Recognizing this truth, the mind becomes relaxed, peaceful, and calm (pp. 81-82).

Waitress! I’ll have one of what he’s having! Can you imagine what a deep realization of this ‘truth’ (as opposed to knowledge about, or agreement with) could accomplish? First, it calls us to task regarding the alleviation of our own delusions; then, it causes us to question whether or not we are alone, extraordinarily, or otherwise, in our sufferings. Of course, we are not; but it often feels this way. Finally, it calls into question our core values or beliefs regarding that which is important, singular, or even remarkable about what might be happening to us – if anything. It’s about detachment (as opposed to indifference). And in a strange and tragic sense, people who resort to watching television 22 hours a day (which Buddhism considers an intoxicant, or form of ‘intoxication’), or abusing substances to numb the pain actually sort of “get it,” but their methodology is unhealthy and rooted firmly in ignorance. There’s another way! Another caveat, here, could be that this ‘other way’ could take years.

If it’s true, as the Buddha said in his Four Noble Truths (the very foundation of Buddhism), then it is only our ignorance of what constitutes “reality” that makes us suffer. The Second Noble Truth reveals that it is ignorance that is the cause of our suffering – not that someone might actually be racist, sexist, stupid, unfair, or __________ (fill in the blank). Isn’t it funny that when we invest in stocks, we want something stable but profitable, but when we invest our hearts in people, or situations, entities that are often not stable, and never un-changing, we wonder why we aren’t getting our money’s worth… We also learn, eventually, that we are usually our own worst enemy in the worst of situations, not to mention the best…

Finally, we learn that there is a way to “suck it up,” all up, without faking it, or becoming a closet addict, or having a nervous breakdown, and we can do it with discernment, objectivity, and uncommon sense, as well. But, it ain’t easy. It never is. As the First Noble Truth says, ‘Where there is life, there is suffering…”

Namaste.
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Related Reading:

Gunaratana, B. (2014). Meditation on Perception: Ten Healing Practices to Cultivate Mindfulness. Wisdom Publications: Boston, MA.

 

 

 

Are Some Lives More Sacred Than Others?

In the American classic novel, Animal Farm, author George Orwell famously writes “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” I first encountered this novel in the 1970s. I believe it was on most high school ‘required reading’ lists at the time. It was the absurdity of the statement that struck me as a girl in my mid-teens; now, some 40 years after first reading it, I only find it absurd that I found it absurd.

I recently read a newspaper article in the July 6, 2014 New York Post by Maureen Callahan titled “Is Your Dog Mentally Ill?” The article begins by discussing world-famous Gus, the polar bear, who in 1986 was diagnosed with a “mild neurosis,” and prescribed Prozac, an [human] antidepressant. Callahan then introduces us to a new book by Laurel Braitman: Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves. Braitman’s thesis: Animals’ emotions run the full spectrum of human emotion. Callahan writes: “Increasingly, research is showing that animals – from flies to falcons, emus to elephants – have feelings, behaviors and rituals that we humans would recognize, from joy to OCD to burial rites.” So, if this is the case, could it be problematic that we treat animals… like “animals,” and other people worse than animals?

Callahan also writes about Culum Brown, a professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, who published a paper on the complexities of fish culture. Not only do fish have a culture, but they also feel pain! Could it be that chomping down on a fishing hook is not truly the fish version of water skiing? But what really ‘got’ me was reading about David Foster Wallace’s 2004 essay, “Consider the Lobster,” in which he questions the ethics of boiling lobsters to death. Yes! Ethics! Callahan comments on Wallace’s “logical observation” based on comparative neuroanatomy:

The lobster, when placed in boiling water, scratches and thrashes and attempts to get out. “In other words,” Wallace wrote, “[it] behaves very much as you or I would behave if we were plunged into boiling water (with the obvious exception of screaming).”

No, I have not yet retrieved Wallace’s essay, but I plan to do so once I am able to remove this wincing grimace from my visage, so as to re-enter the world of gentlefolk less obtrusively. And the lobster being unable to scream shall be my jumping-off point.

If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? If dogs, cats, deer, and fish cannot speak our language, and we cannot immediately understand theirs, does it mean that we are superior to them, or that they couldn’t possibly have languages? Are poor people, who can’t afford to retain high-powered attorneys, less likely to see justice? And when a woman, who is permanently bedridden, possessed of limited speech capacity, and unable to feed, bathe, or otherwise take care of herself, is forced to engage in sexual intercourse with several men, has she been gang-raped? Yes, there’s something to be said for being able to articulate one’s needs in ways that others can easily understand.

Callahan further quotes Braitman’s book regarding our treatment of “non-human animals”:

It’s inconvenient for a lot of our daily life,” she says. “If we really internalized this idea that other animals are as complicated and individual and as quirky as we are, there are things we’d have to change that would be really uncomfortable.

Many children learn about responsibility, reciprocity, and love, by taking care of animals. Other children use the same opportunity to express their potential for becoming serial killers. If, as research has revealed, even fruit flies have emotional lives, Laurel Braitman’s assertion that we might have to change our lives in some very “uncomfortable” ways could be true. I thought about this the other day as I observed a young mother watch her 10-year-old daughter use a stick to bat some type of ‘roly-poly’ bug back and forth at the bus stop, and later stomp on it for “fun.”

Of course, we don’t all mistreat animals. I’ve seen tiny animals, riding in Gucci handbags, wearing little outfits much more fashionable and ornate than anything I’ve ever owned. I’ve seen dogs eat steak off of dinner plates, and grown men and women eat ground mystery meat from dumpsters. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong in pampering an animal we love. It’s pleasurable to have someone so ‘into’ you. They hang on our every word. They lick our faces. They rarely argue with, or contradict us. And if we run out of room to house them, or time to take care of them, we can always drop them out the car window as we truck on down the highway, or leave them locked in the garage when we move. If only wives, husbands, and children could be so… convenient.

For Buddhists, the first precept, admonishes us not to kill because  all  life is sacred. But it’s not as simple as that. It’s usually not the person with 150 cats living in her house who’s a ‘people person.’ We worry about keeping creatures, with fur, warm during winter months, while the authorities are, quite literally, recovering the frozen remains of human beings from back alleys and abandoned buildings. It’s possible to kill both people and animals by doing nothing. It’s possible to kill opportunity, hope, dreams, and visions, too.

If bugs and animals are so much more complex than what we’d imagined, or had been willing to admit, could the same be true for human beings? It’s an arbitrary and dangerous practice to deem some lives as more valuable than others. De-valuing someone, or something, is always the first step towards domination, degradation, and in some cases annihilation. This was true for the antebellum American South, Nazi Germany, and more recently, the Rwandan Genocide. The difference with animals is that once they’re near extinction, we almost always initiate some type of conservation effort.

How perplexing it is to note that when we take care of animals, we are, at once, at our best and worst. We are so much the better for taking care of helpless creatures; yet, so much the worse for not being capable of extending the same mercies to other human beings. I seriously doubt that we can fully love each other until we reconsider the value of life — from insects to pachyderms. This is not to say that should we find ourselves in a lifeboat, having to decide between saving a cockroach or a human being, that any extended period of deliberation need take place.

“All [beings] are equal, but some [beings] are more equal than others[?]”

Namaste.

Of Doormats and Compassionate Beings…

We’ve all had the experience of someone simply looking at us and hating us. We, too, have experienced immediate repulsion upon meeting someone “new.” The reason for this repulsion could be as obscure as a kalpas-long karmic connection (or dis-connection), or it could be a reason rooted in ignorance. Mind you, here, that the denotation for the term ‘ignorant,’ does not mean “stupid,” but rather and simply, ‘uninformed.’ Most of us are not all-knowing – even if we don’t realize it.

One of my favorite verses of the Dhammapada (17:227) says:

“O Atula! Indeed, this is an ancient practice, not one only of today: they blame those who remain silent, they blame those who speak much, they blame those who speak in moderation. There is none in the world who is not blamed.” –The Dhammapada: Chapter 17, Anger

So, we really don’t have to do anything to offend someone. Just being there, and alive, is enough for some folks. An example of this is when someone is offended by everything we say, then offended when we give up and stop talking to them (because then, we’re “stuck-up”). These are the instances when we “can’t win for losing.”

Currently, I’m deeply considering how to deal with someone who has repeatedly inconvenienced me. I honestly don’t think she intentionally means me harm, but rather that she’s simply self-absorbed, inconsiderate, and lacking in compassion. A few months ago, she asked me to do her a favor which required my getting up at 6:30 AM and going somewhere to meet her. I agreed. The next morning, upon arriving at our agreed-upon designation, she wasn’t there. The next time I saw her, I said, “Where were you? I waited for some time!” She said, “Something came up.” End of explanation. Recently, she did the same thing, again. Her excuse: “It was only a little favor. What’s the big deal?” Again, there was no apology for the repeated rudeness and inconvenience. Admittedly, and for reasons I haven’t space to discuss, I, alone, put myself in the position to have her do this to me again.

This woman is not ignorant regarding what it feels like to be mistreated, as evidenced by her constant complaints about how others have “screwed [her] over.” Nonetheless, she’s completely incapable of acknowledging that when she “screws someone over,” they might feel the same way she feels. In fact, part of her excuse for acting the way she does is, “Well, everyone treats other people badly.” Additionally, she has no concept of the laws of karma, even though one of her favorite expressions is, “What goes around comes around.” Of course, this applies to everyone but her.

This last time, I told her, “I won’t give you the opportunity to do this to me again.” I don’t believe that being a “good person,” or a “good Christian,” or a “Good Buddhist,” or simply “good,” requires being a doormat or an idiot. I won’t refuse to help her if she falls down and needs help getting back to her feet, but I’m not going to go out of my way to do her any personal favors anymore, particularly if it means doing any kind of traveling when she won’t even bother to show up.

When I was a little girl, my mother taught me the following prayer to say each night, as I knelt by my bed before going to sleep:

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,

Look upon this little child,

Pity my simplicity,

Suffer me to come to thee.

Amen.

As an elementary school-aged child, I didn’t understand this prayer. Once I reached adulthood, I reconsidered it and wondered at how anyone could think of Jesus as “meek and mild.” He was bold, engaged, outspoken, dynamic, and though not fearless (as evidenced by his “Father, if you can take this cup away from me” prayer), obviously impervious to that fear. Surely this big, strapping carpenter’s son was not some sniveling, 100-pound weakling-at-the-beach. But this is the image that domineering, manipulative people like to call to mind when you won’t let them walk all over you; and it’s also why many folks tend to eschew “turning the other cheek” in this “dog-eat-dog” world.

As I work to develop compassion, I’ve found that it’s crucial to understand the role of ignorance in the human equation. About a year ago, I was appalled to discover my own ignorance regarding a relationship with a family member some 30 years ago. This understanding has tempered how I view others who try to harm me, especially because the biggest difference between us might be that between the two of us, I, alone, am aware of the disease of ignorance. Perception is everything. My awareness does not make me better than that person – only more fortunate. Often, people don’t realize that the way they treat, or have treated, others has something to do with why their own lives aren’t quite what they’d wish. And I am ever mindful, as so many Buddhas have stated, that “it is a fortunate thing to be born a human.” Just as the Christian Bible reminds us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), so many Buddhas have advised us to do the same.

In his book, Meditation on Perception (2014), Bhante Gunaratana says:

“Under the control of ignorance, our cognitive faculties filter the world in such a way that things that are really impermanent, deficient, empty of self, and repulsive appear to us as their exact opposites: as permanent, as enjoyable, as our true self, and as desirable….Thus we not only conceive things in a distorted manner, but we even perceive the world around us, and most intimately, our own being, as testimony to these flawed notions of permanence, enjoyment, selfhood, and sensual beauty.”

Admittedly, I have problems sending  metta  (lovingkindeness) to some folks. So, all I can do in the present is keep reminding myself that I cannot judge someone for not yet realizing what it took me a good hard 40 years to realize, myself. And this realization requires me first, to have compassion on myself so that I can then extend that same compassion to others. A prime motivation for this is so that I don’t continue a (bad) karmic connection with someone, or create a “new” one (if there’s anything “new” under the sun).

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Related Readings:

The Dhammapada, Chapter 17:227 from Buddha.net

Gunaratana, B. (2014). Meditation on perception: Ten healing practices to cultivate mindfulness. Wisdom Publications: Boston, MA.