Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wise choices.


Leaving school behind.
Wise choices: something we all want to make. The trouble is choices are measured after the fact, not before, and since none of us can know results before causes (or so it seems) making choices always entails risk. If we choose right then the assumption is that things will go as we predicted and the report card will read, “Wise choice.”

Today I want to talk about what wisdom means from a Buddhist perspective. If I were writing in Sanskrit (one of the ancient languages used for Buddhist scriptures) and was writing of flawless wisdom I would use the term Prajnaparamita which is a special category of wisdom. It is non-attached wisdom that arises from an enlightened mind. And what is an “enlightened mind?” It is a mind free of attachment and by attachment I mean being intractable—having a hard-hearted, dug-in, no changing opinion which doesn’t conform to emerging reality. Attachment in short means an unswerving desire to cling to one thing and resist another. Attachment is an ego-based function, the polar opposite of an enlightened mind.

In a metaphorical way our primordial mind (e.g. our true nature) is an empty container. It has no beginning and no ending. Anything can be placed into this container without preference. In its un-contaminated state, our original mind works like a mirror reflecting all points of views, without preference. That, however, is not the case with a mind contaminated with an ego, which is of course our “self-image”—the person we imagine our self to be. This image is construed to have definite and intractable points of view, to which the ego clings as a badge of virtue. The ego finds it very difficult to contend with no preferences and thinks that people who have no preference are wishy-washy. Look at the word “definite” and really pay attention to its meaning. “Definite” means decided or with exact and physical limits—intractable. Someone who is definite and unswerving is out of touch with evolving reality which undergoes continuous change. Such a one is immovable and clings to the way they wish things would be and ignores the way they are.

On the one hand we admire such people and think to ourselves, “That is a strong person who doesn’t change course.” And since we lust for stability, in a slippery world, we gravitate toward such apparently strong people. On the other hand, people who change course or change their opinions to reflect evolving circumstances are conversely considered to be disingenuous. Very odd! Think about this...Since we can’t know the future we are constantly challenged to take a risky stand on an unending array of unfolding events. And we admire others (and ourselves) for taking up intractable stands and then criticize those who adapt and conform to actual circumstances, rather than imagined ones. Does anyone see the problem here?

Our egos demand being “right” because we equate identity with righteousness. Nobody in their “right mind” (curious expression) wants to consider themselves as “wrong.” The term “self-righteous” is a pejorative expression—a label, which nobody wants to wear. Everyone understands what this expression implies so we play tricks with our self and pretend that when we take up intractable positions we are somehow simply right without being self-righteous. Very peculiar!

Please understand that from the perspective of prajna (wisdom) “right” means something entirely different. It means expedient means—choices which adapt to evolving circumstances and reflect (the mirror) the necessity of the moment. Choices which change, as life unfolds are wise choices and people who exhibit this capacity ought to be considered wise people—adaptable to changing conditions. This is why martial arts such as kendo, Tai Quan Do and jujutsu are so effective. These arts are based on continuous adaptation to evolving conditions and only work when the mind is not stuck. And the opposite is true: people who don’t conform, but remain intractable should not be admired, but instead be considered with compassion.
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