When “Friendships” Are Merely Factions…

Nobody knows you when you’re down and out
In your pocket not one penny,
And your friends, well you haven’t any
Soon as you get on your feet again,
Then you’ll meet your long lost friend
It’s mighty strange, without a doubt
Nobody knows you when you’re down and out
I mean when you’re down and out.

-Lyrics by Jimmy Cox
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I’ve made no secret of the fact that I consider friendship to be a rarity. I have “Facebook Friends” with whom I’ve never spoken, and others with whom I have spoken, but except for an occasional [like] or comment, that’s as far as our “relationships” go. I consider most people to be acquaintances. This does not mean that I do not aim to value and respect everyone. I just understand that friendship goes much deeper than mere acquaintance. The result is that I have come to know the value and beauty of people who play a demonstrative and interactive part in my day-to-day existence, and I in theirs, even if we do not physically interact every day. In just the past few days, I can honestly say that without two of my closest friends, I would not have been able to achieve a recent, life-changing goal. And for that, and them, I am so grateful! The Buddha said that a good spiritual friend is “all of the holy life”; yet, if we cannot find a true friend, it is better to walk alone…

Some time ago, I  relocated to a new city where I knew no one. I soon became involved in a volunteer project in my apartment building and found myself working consistently with “Donna.” We discovered that we had much in common and could discuss almost anything. Her best friend, “Beth,” lived nearby, and she and I got along swimmingly, as well. Then, one day, I noticed that Donna and Beth would pass each other in the hallway of our building without so much as glancing at each other. Donna told me that Beth had stopped speaking to her for “no reason at all.” She showed me a “snippy little text” that Beth had sent her, went on for several minutes about all Beth’s negative qualities, then said, “F**k her! Who needs her!”

The next day I saw Beth in the hallway, I wished her good morning and asked how she was doing. She seemed shocked that I had spoken, but then smiled and we engaged in a few minutes of pleasant chit-chat. Later that day, Donna, Beth and I converged in the foyer of our building, and again, to the obvious surprise of Donna, I said “hey!” to Beth. It had not occurred to me that based on what Donna had told me about Beth, that I, too, should stop speaking to Beth. It’s not that I’m such a great person, but rather that I considered it their fight, not mine. Additionally, if you add our ages together, the sum is just a bit over 175. So, I’d gotten over the whole junior-high-schoolyard-faction thing years ago, baby…

This situation went on for three weeks until Donna got angry at me for dropping out of the volunteer project and we stopped speaking to each other. Immediately, Beth started speaking to Donna, and they were, once again, best friends. Then, the next time I saw Beth, with whom I had never stopped speaking, I said, “Good morning!” and she did not respond. Giving her the benefit of a doubt, I assumed she had not heard me and again spoke to her later in the day. Again, she did not respond. Another woman told me that I should keep speaking to Beth and “force” her to say hello. Instead, I chose to stop speaking, as well, because I do not believe in trying to force anyone to do anything. I also understood that I was dealing with people who consider friendships to be “factions.”

The primary definition of “faction” is “a group of people in an organization working in a common cause against the main body.” For Donna and Beth, I had become the “main body.” Also, due to my prior experience with Donna, I knew that she was probably now referring to me as a “b**ch,” and complaining about all my little annoying habits, imperfections, and fatal flaws. I’m thinking about this as I read the book, Divergent. If you don’t know the story, it’s a fascinating and disturbing piece of fiction about a society comprised of factions much more pronounced than we have yet to experience.

Remember Denzel Washington’s role as the attorney in the movie, Philadelphia? Whenever he wanted to understand something, well, he’d say, “Explain this to me like I’m a two-year-old.” Well, dear reader, I’ve got some bad news for you. Explaining this to you like you’re a two-year-old is not what I’m about to do because I don’t quite get it myself. I do understand how a man might stop speaking to his wife’s friend after she stops speaking to her. He doesn’t want to find himself “cut off” for several weeks or months… But in general, why would all, or most, of this woman’s grown-ass friends stop speaking to the object of her disaffection, as well? And mind you, I’m talking about adult women, not junior high girls. That, I get.

If I have a choice, I don’t let others make up my mind for me. If a conversation takes place between two people, and I was not anywhere in the vicinity, or one of those two people conversing with each other, the only thing I can “assume” is that I don’t know what happened, or what was said. Also, if I have an ounce of intelligence, I know that when someone is angry with someone else, they will often try to make the object of their anger look wrong, stupid, or unworthy, and expect their “friends” to support them. And with reference to the Noble Eightfold Path, this violates Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Effort, and Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration i.e., like, all but one step on the Path…

Obviously, there are exceptions. The object of someone’s anger could be a former abuser; a well-known busybody; or someone who has established him- or herself to be insane, a criminal, or dangerous in some other way. I “get” that. What I don’t get is why people shun others for no other reason than that of being told that they should do so… Even in our courts of law, which often fail miserably, a person is supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Perhaps besides criminal and civil courts, we need “friendship” courts…

Though we may not all believe in karma, we do all believe in “seed technology,” the theory that if one plants a certain type of seed, given the right conditions, a certain type of plant will grow. If we plant a seed of hate or discord, and the tree thrives, we might find ourselves freezing to death in its shade. And even if we, ourselves, do not plant that seed, we share responsibility for “watering” it. Forming factions is divisive, dangerous, and just plain childish; and any friendship based on faction-forming is a fatally-flawed encounter, not a friendship. The wise understand that everyone comes into their lives to teach them something. Some of those people will stay; others are just passing through. In Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, by Jack Kornfield, he says (in a quotation often erroneously attributed to The Buddha):

Imagine that every person in the world is enlightened but you. They are all your teachers, each doing just the right things to help you learn perfect patience, perfect wisdom, perfect compassion.

If we can remember this, we have less of the feeling that our lives are constantly under siege. We can even feel thankful for the opportunity to progress in our practices.We will be less likely to say, “S/he makes me so angry,” and more likely to realize that we, instead, often allow ourselves to become angry. Personally, it is the people who have “hurt” me most that have shown me my own large-scale weaknesses and foibles. Additionally, people who already know this “secret” have an option for dealing with their so-called “enemies.” They  can choose to take a close look at themselves before running out and seeking to recruit all their “friends” into committing a “hate crime” in support of their own overblown egos and hurt feelings.

Today, I will remember that just as “friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” friends do not require each other to take on the added burden of another’s hate or insecurity…

Namaste.

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Compassion is a Compass…

It only recently occurred to me that the word “compass” comprises most of the word “compassion.” This has been very helpful to me in my own daily endeavors to become a more compassionate being. I’ve come to realize that compassion isn’t about looking down on another being from one’s own lofty height and feeling sorry for them. More often than not, we have more in common with the homeless person, or even the deer caught in a thicket, than we’d care to admit or imagine.

Compassion is the ability to comprehend that we are all looking for the same thing: happiness — albeit in different ways. If you work at a drive-in window at a fast food establishment, the middle-aged executive in his Lamborghini, screaming his head off — at you– because he got the five-piece chicken nugget meal instead of the seven-piece, is truly only trying to be happy. His spouse is cheating on him; he hates his job; it’s an election year and X is probably going to become president; and now, he can’t even get the right number of chicken nuggets! Is that fair? How much more is he supposed to bear? Is asking for seven pieces instead of five so much to ask?

It’s very tempting, when someone verbally abuses us, to want to shovel the abuse straight back in their direction. We think that it might do them some good to realize the impact of being subject to another’s rude and angry words. Don’t they know that being rude accomplishes nothing? Yes, we’ll yell right back, give them a taste of their own medicine, and perhaps save them from ever treating anyone so rudely again. Yep! Tough love! Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way because if we truly understand the nature of compassion, we also understand that someone else’s inability to understand the nature of compassion is no excuse for us to act in a retaliatory fashion. It is we who bear the greater responsibility if we do not let compassion be our compass. It is we who shovel the greater amount of negative karma onto our paths by yelling more loudly to ensure that that “idiot” will be sure to “hear” us, thus understanding how rude they are… And the Universe has not provided any type of GPS for determining alternate routes around these types of self-imposed “road blocks”…

It is the height of hypocrisy to become angry at someone for being in a space that we, ourselves, once occupied. How can we stand there, with the compass of compassion in our hands, and do everything but try to assist a faltering being in finding a better direction? Did we act any better when we were lost? Do we not, yet, understand that the people who annoy us most are the ones who have the audacity to act as we once did and occasionally still do? If we do not understand that there is a significant difference between telling people “where to go” (because they’re “idiots”) and assisting people in finding a better path, we do not truly, yet, have the compass of compassion in hand. Of course, there will always be those who are “tripping” in ways we’ve never seen, much less imagined. But that’s another post…

Compassion is how we find our way back to each other. It never leads us to believe that we are better than, or more deserving of happiness than, any other being…

Today, I will practice using the compass of compassion to help myself, and others, find a better path. Today, I will meditate on the thought that if my compassion is not a compass that leads me to my commonality with all beings — it is I who am lost…

Namaste.

 

Detaching by Debriefing: Life as a Part of Meditation…

Release through discernment begins by pondering various events and aspects of the world until the mind slowly comes to rest and, once it’s still, gives rise intuitively to liberating insight (vipassana-nana): clear and true understanding in terms of the four Noble Truths (ariya sacca). In release through stillness of mind, thought, there’s not much pondering involved. The mind is simply forced to be quiet until it attains the stage of fixed penetration. That’s where intuitive insight will arise, enabling it to see things for what they are. This is release through stillness of mind: Concentration comes first, discernment later. –Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo

I recently participated in a mediated discussion with a group of women. Some of the women were offended that other women in that group were, seemingly inexplicably, not speaking to others in that same group. Interestingly enough, the majority of the women who often don’t speak when spoken to, eventually synopsized the situation by claiming that the women who were offended by not being spoken to should “stop taking things so personally.” One “non-speaking offender” said, “My life is complicated; I have problems; and I don’t always feel like speaking. It’s nothing personal. You should just understand that I don’t  have  to speak to anyone when, or if, I don’t want to.” Yet, this same woman was upset that the people to whom she formerly refused to speak, simply because  she  was in a bad mood, later refused to speak to her once she felt like speaking!

Please, don’t apologize. Take a few moments to reread what you just read. I have ruthlessly edited for simplicity’s sake; yet, I, myself, still can’t understand, or believe, what I’ve just written…

Now, for the really freaky part: There were two group facilitators, and each of them agreed with this woman. They claimed, that they, too, often had bad days where they didn’t feel like speaking, and because of this, it made them more “compassionate” when they encountered others who were not speaking because, obviously, they were in a bad mood. And because of their ability to be understanding and compassionate, if someone who refused to speak to them yesterday speaks to them today, they speak – because they’re just that “big.”

I had a problem with that – and I said so. I think they’re driven not by compassion, but by self-indulgence or Self-ishness  (in the Buddhist sense of the word). It seems to me that the women who were upset, if they were truly “compassionate,” would have been much more understanding, rather than complaining about being treated as they treated others. They were offended that certain people no longer spoke to them after they had previously squashed those people’s sincere greetings, or inquiries as to their health, or worse, stared them down with utter hostility because of being in a “bad mood.” In other words, they want the right to be rude, simply because, like a toddler, they don’t “feewul gwood,” but once they feel better, they believe it is everybody else’s responsibility to make sure that their happy state of mind continues by indulging them – even though they are incapable of paying anyone else the same courtesy. Additionally, they lack the understanding that other people’s words, actions, prejudices, etc., should not ever be the foundation for our “happiness”…

Compassion is complex. It is much more than “feeling sorry for someone.” In fact, I believe that ‘compassion’ would be concerned for another’s feelings at all times, no matter how it was feeling that day. I also believe that compassion would not want to hurt someone in a way that it truly understands “hurt” can be conveyed. So, this experience got me thinking about the sinister power of emotion. What follows is my actual post for today, the one I would have liked to have written without this seemingly circuitous introduction. This is what I would have liked to have said had we not all had to simply agree to disagree and drop the topic…

I have worked in the retail industry for the past four years. If a customer walks up to me, needing either information, or just feeling like shooting the breeze, and I am in a bad mood, I don’t have the option of pouting and not speaking. I didn’t have that option when I taught in the classroom, or when working at a service desk, either. I believe that most people would agree with me, here, and say that obviously, the whole “not-speaking thing” doesn’t apply to professional situations. Consequently, my question is “So, we can only abuse the people we love, or with whom we live, or upon whom our financial security does not depend?” Please. Think about it.

Emotions (how we feel) are not “us.” They don‘t have to color our lives. We can observe, but yet not be or become, those emotions. Emotions are not inescapable or inevitable; yet, if we treat them as if they are, they become not only “habit,” but also our prison. And ironically enough, we, too, can become the prison of emotion. We “store” these emotions/feelings (particularly the destructive ones) in our backs, arthritic fingers, necks, shoulders, and even breathing capacities.

Meditation facilitates our learning how to distance ourselves from emotion/feeling in a direct, purposeful way. I’m referring to detachment, not psychosis. Through the practice of meditation, we learn to conduct that same kind of observation in our daily flight; in the waking moments of a fitful sleep; and even as we are doing the seemingly most un-meditative things, like participating in an unfriendly discussion, or actually confronting, with scientific objectivity, our own pain, depression, fear, bitterness, or feeling of having been wronged. Oh, wait a minute, the latter is actually very “meditative!” It’s just not possible to do it in a detached manner until one first learns to meditate. And after benefitting from the discipline of meditation, when one feels wronged or hurt, they are less likely to want to hurt back, or to feel their hurt in a self-destructive way. Non-meditators call this type of observation or internal review “obsessing,” “brooding,” or “perseverating on the negative,” and rightly so, because in their case, that’s exactly what it is.

And then there’s the day, sometimes only after years of meditation, that you realize that the former “you,” when faced with a particularly trying situation, would have literally killed yourself, or most definitely “acted out” in ways that would have brought numerous and immense complications to your own life, as well as the lives of others, thus increasing your karmic debt load, exponentially…

Now, you are, at least, a little bit freer to be more compassionate; less judgmental, and poised on the precipice of promise…

Yep! That’s it for today! If it helps, I’m glad. If not, that’s understandable because as the Buddha said, each person must travel his or her own path. So, I’ve written this only to reach out and communicate the lessons in a personal experience, not “save” anyone — no one can do that no matter how hard they try. Liberation is a blossom of personal experience. Or so I have heard…

Namaste.

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Reference:

Dhammadharo, A. L. (1979). Keeping the breath in mind & Lessons in samadhi. Valley Center, CA: Metta Forest Monastery.

 

 

 

 

Election Seasoning…

Election years are probably my least favorite years, with the year prior to them ranking a close second. No! Actually, it is the year after election year that is my least favorite because it takes me that long, and then some to recover from the previous two years, and then it’s about time, again, for the same insidious cycle to commence, once again. Obviously, there’s a bit of clinging going on, here…

During election years, a type of lynch mob mentality suffuses the atmosphere, and we spend a good deal of time finger-pointing and harshly criticizing others for doing and saying things that even we, ourselves, do and say. Nonetheless, we often feel justified in our critiques because it is not we who are “public officials”…

But what good is having decent, ethical elected officials in office if we, ourselves, don’t religiously practice those same purportedly valued ethics? We want them to “be there” for us, but can we in our own, however unintended, hypocrisy, be there for them when their time of testing occurs? And knowing that they, too, are aware of this dilemma, can we blame them too harshly when they decide to play for keeps instead of standing for justice?

Like many people this election season, I have my causes and candidates — favored and least favored. What I hope will make a difference for me this year, as I walk the fine line between Engaged Buddhism and insidious, silent consent is this:

Though karma guarantees our just desserts, it is only self-reflection and compassion that can cleanse the palate of our shared, conditioned existence, thus preparing us for a next and better course…

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.

 

Who Are You?

Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?
[I really wanna kno-ow!]

Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?

—The Who (Who else?)

I regularly visit a Community Center in which there are two rooms: one with two PCs, a printer, and a television; the other with a lone television. The use of these items is restricted to members, but their guests, particularly if they are young children, are allowed to use them within reason. Despite signs limiting users to 30 minutes, and requesting the use of headphones when listening to music on the PCs, this doesn’t happen. In fact, the signs usually disappear or, at least, get torn down. So, lately, the World Cup has been blasting on one TV while country and rap are blasting on the two PCs adjacent to that TV. Two YouTube videos and one large television, all blasting, so that no one can really hear anything struck me not only as impolite, but imbecilic. I’ve often wondered why this seems to bother no one but me…

Yesterday, I entered the community room to find only one other person there. He was listening to a music video, without headphones, and the television was on, loud. I sat down at the other computer and began typing. The young man immediately cranked up the volume of the music video. Nope! Nothing personal. We’ve never met. I got up and turned off the television; took out some ear buds; went to YouTube, and found one of my favorite recordings of Mozart’s Requiem. Which one, you ask? Well, it’s the only one he ever wrote — and he never finished it because he died. Nonetheless, it makes me feel… happy.

The man listening to the video got up and left as soon as it finished. Immediately after, another man entered the room. And he doesn’t like me very much because I’m not “friendly.” With him. He was with his son — one of the most adorable post-toddlers I’ve ever seen. About six-years-old. Once Rocky had set up his son on the PC next to mine, with a very loud video game, he went over to the television, turned it back on, and cranked up the volume to capacity. This was personal. And he does it all the time. I didn’t’ even bother to turn around. In fact, I started swaying to the beat of Mozart’s “Offertorium.” It  really  rocks. OK. Not really. But I’m sure you get the drift.

Rocky and I have had our disagreements in the past. That no longer happens because I do my best to avoid him and keep my mouth shut no matter what he says. He’s a blatant heterosexual — who hates women (yes, I meant ‘hetero’). And all women are stupid: from the mother who gave him away, to the wife who left him for someone else. If you don’t stop doing what you’re doing to give him your 100% attention because he feels like shooting the breeze, right now, even if you’re filling out a job application on a computer that could crash at any minute (and he  knows  this), you’re a female canine. And if you won’t turn around and talk to him while he “walks” his cute son, he’ll get your attention another way — like by turning up the volume of the television — to capacity. It’s all about “him.” And believe it or not, I don’t mean this in a critical or disparaging way.

If Rocky can’t get your attention in a positive fashion, he’ll settle for it in a negative one. If you and he are not able to politely chit-chat about the shape of your behind, he’ll settle for being yelled at for having had the gall to even imagine that topic was up for discussion. Without my attention or venom, or anyone else’s, Rocky does not “exist.” He has no “identity.” He needs our praise, or our derision, because either way, we are engaging with each other. Without that engagement, he is alone. Doesn’t matter. Isn’t “somebody.” Honestly, I’ve gone from hating this man, to feeling sorry for him, to realizing that in my pity, I was actually being arrogant. Because I am still miles away from figuring out how to have a civil, decent, respectful, or sacred discussion with him about the shape of my behind, I have elected not to speak to him, at all.  I’ve come to realize that Rocky thinks that his noticing my behind is what makes me  somebody, in fact, a woman. And this is not  meanness, or evil on his part. It’s ignorance. He believes that it is other people who make us “somebody,” and that there is “somebody” (contrary to Buddhist philosophy). Truly, if we can cease to exist because someone, anyone, looks the other way, depending on how one interprets it, that says a lot, or very little…

We all suffer from some type of ignorance – even if it’s just ignorance about the existence of our ignorance. The Buddha taught, in the Four Noble Truths, that there is suffering; a cause for that suffering, a way out of that suffering, and that that way is the Noble Eightfold Path. Conquering ignorance is the only way to end suffering. And when we suffer, others suffer, by default. This is why we ‘hurt the ones we love,’ as well as everyone else.

I can’t yank Rocky out of his suffering any more than the Buddha could have yanked me out of mine. Though someone can show me the ‘Path,’ it is I who must walk it. It is I who must do the work.  And I have work to do. I suffer every day. But one thing is different. I no longer think that yelling at Rocky to turn down the volume will make me “happy.” Yes, it would make Rocky “happy” for a minute or two; and it would make the room quieter, but that’s nowhere near being a permanent solution — for either of us. So, I offer Rocky my silence because it’s as close to acting lovingly as I can get right now, and much more compassionate than blasting him for his ignorance – a malady from which we both suffer. How can I hate someone for suffering from a disease, a disease from which I, too, suffer? This is why I suspect that ‘compassion’ is very personal, and in no way related to ‘pity.’

Mahatma Gandhi said:

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

[An interesting note about the preceding quotation: The bumper stickers that say, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” are, apparently, a bastardization of this].

In closing, I’d like to share a brief excerpt, here, from the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh. It has helped me grapple with the sometimes confusing concept of personal meditation as public activism, i.e., working on oneself as a way of changing the world for the better (or as I secretly like to think of it: “being an effective ‘meditation cushion quarterback'”):

“MEDITATION IS NOT TO GET OUT OF SOCIETY, TO ESCAPE FROM society, but to prepare for a reentry into society. We call this “engaged Buddhism.” ….How do you expect to leave everything behind when you enter a meditation center? The kind of suffering that you carry in your heart, that is society itself. You bring that with you, you bring society with you. You bring all of us with you. When you meditate, it is not just for yourself, you do it for the whole society. You seek solutions to your problems not only for yourself, but for all of us.”

Hanh, Thich Nhat. (1993). Engaged Buddhism In S. Bercholz & S. Chödzin (Eds.), Entering the stream: An introduction to the Buddha and his teachings  (pp. 247-249). Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Namaste.

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Related References:

The Four Noble Truths: A Study Guide by Thanissaro Bhikkhu from Access To Insight.org

What is the Eightfold Path by Dana Nourie from Secular Buddhist Association

The Noble Eightfold Path by Walpola Rahula from Tricycle.com

Falser Words Were Never Spoken from The New York Times Opinion Pages

Mozart Requiem in D minor (K. 626) from YouTube