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Friday, November 19, 2004

Right View, Continued

In response to my last Karuna Note, where I wrote:

“What leads to further suffering for us and others (in fact no difference) is considered ‘unwholesome,’ while what leads to greater ease (sukha) is ‘wholesome.’ I could have just as well used the word ‘skillful,’”

someone wrote:"I wish it were that simple! What leads to further suffering for us and others may be different. Example: a close friend has Aspergers Syndrome, where her behavior is extremely verbally abusive on the parents. The choice in those circumstances may be a or b [living hell or evicting the person]. Sometimes it is not that clear cut - between 'wholesome' and 'unwholesome.' Perhaps one takes the steps needed - the lesser of two evils."

To this, I must respectfully point out that in this example, as throughout life, we tend to not see the "larger situation." When we talk of sukha and duhkha, we are not talking about "pleasant" and "unpleasant." It is "simple," but "simple" is not "easy," nor always immediately evident. If I take away the matches from a little child playing with matches, she will most surely cry. But the action, performed out of compassion, has led to the lessening of duhkha. (A more extreme example is taking away the heroin from an addict, and remember, we are all addicts, addicted to self, so the dharma itself can be "unpleasant" to hear, even if liberating to practice!). Are we so sure that the choices in how to respond to such a situation are limited to a "living hell or evicting the person." If it isn't possible for them to "change their minds" (which is a phrase referring to the understanding that how we react to situations creates the duhkha or sukha), then maybe eviction is best for all involved as their suffering must definitely impact the family member with Aspergers as well.

Now, I am not denying that sometimes it is really difficult to know for sure what is the best thing to do. And that is exactly why we need to cultivate "Right View" (aka Right Understanding), knowing full well that not all our actions will indeed lead to the elimination or lessening of duhkha. Can we then learn from this and move on with increased understanding?

It was also asked, “Would Buddha have stopped to consider the dukkha caused to his wife and son and family, by leaving them? Sometimes doesn’t one just have to do what feels right and necessary for oneself – knowing that it may not be pleasant for others?”

The Buddha, as a bodhisattva, left his son and family for them (and for all beings). As noted, it wasn't immediately "pleasant" for any of them, yet all of them eventually became liberated from duhkha once the Buddha rediscovered the way and shared it with them! His wife and stepmother both became bhikshunis and arhats, while his dad also attained awakening just before dying. I think we also need, as part of cultivating Right View/Understanding, to become clear about our intentions. The Bodhisattva of Compassion is said to have killed a ferry operator he knew was planning on sinking a ferry carrying 500 people. This was not primarily even to save the 500, but to prevent the ferryman from suffering the karmic consequences of killing 500 people! As we are not the Bodhisattva of Compassion, we live as awakened a life we can, just as we are, where we are and how we are. And I would simply add this that the skillful action is one done with love and compassion rather than hatred and anger in the heart. This is also a point that lies in the teaching story regarding the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the ferry operator.

In continuing our dialogue, my correspondent added:

“So the right view is also accepting that while we may have 'unwholesome' reactions such as anger, it may also mean learning to accept that these reactions are what one will sometimes have to live and work with [this is where I find Thich Nhat Hanh's writings so practical and powerful].”

Yes! Right View sees the anger (and all 'unwholesome' reactions) as empty (non-substantial, impermanent and conditioned) so there is no grasping at it and identifying self with it, nor pushing it away as other! From the "perspective" of Right View (which is empty of self) anger is transformed into wisdom itself! (And for the record, the other two "poisons" greed and ignorance, when transformed with Right View become compassion and awakening). So, as Thay often points out, we do not try to destroy these "unwholesome" energies, but with mindfulness we transform them. They are the compost for an awakened life!

Finally, someone else wrote:

“You say that ‘Right View means seeing how we suffer, how our life is out of kilter, and seeing that we can really do something about it! Sometimes Right View is referred to as the 'Mother of all Buddhas' as it is this which gives birth to the liberated 'view' free of all narrow and constricted conceptual views.’ If someone does not see life as suffering, but more as a 'learning experience' does that mean the person already has the 'right view?'"

Well, it’s nice that one's perspective on life is that it’s a "learning experience," but this is not "Right View." I think your question reveals that you may be misunderstanding what "life is suffering" really means. If you remember my posts on the First Noble Truth, I said that duhkha, which is most often translated as "suffering" means "out of balance" or "miss-aligned" as when an axle is not in the center of a wheel. All Yoga traditions -- not just the Buddha -- teach that the way unenlightened people live is "out of balance" with Reality. The following is a quote from Georg Feuerstein’s commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, where he translates duhkha as "sorrow."

“Patanjali affirmed the possibility of agreeable or pleasurable experiences... He shifts his stance and proposes an analysis of world experience, which is more penetrating than the simple pleasure/displeasure model of common sense. He, in fact, argues that the experiences of pleasure, joy, happiness, are all deceptive. In truth, life is sorrowful. He does not deny that we can experience moments of pleasure. But by casting his net much wider than does non-philosophical understanding, he shows that the very impermanence of pleasure is itself experienced as sorrowful.... Below the surface of pleasant or unpleasant experiences lie a basic anxiety and anguish which are common to all men -- an insight which contemporary existentialism and the psychotherapeutic schools of thought have rediscovered for the 20th century.”

The problem is, most people hear this and say that Patanjali and the Buddha (and most of the Yoga Tradition) is pessimistic, missing the whole point of what they are saying which is that they are telling us we can be freer than we can imagine if we align ourselves with Reality as it is. Without this deep understanding of duhkha, there really is little or no hope of liberation/enlightenment/awakening or whatever you like to call total freedom.

pobsa frank jude

.: posted by Poep Sa Frank Jude 5:35 PM

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