Thursday, August 1, 2013

Rules, guidelines and the real teacher.

A large statue in Bangalore depicting Shiva me...Image via Wikipedia
When we are lost, it's normal to think about finding our way. In such a frame of mind the first order of business seems to be formulas, techniques and guidelines that will help us. Once we do find our way, interest in such things falls away. Therefore knowing whether or not we’re lost determines how useful these measures are.

Conventional wisdom suggests that we are all lost and can’t manage without the provision of rigid beliefs, firm rules, oppressive laws and harsh punishment. We have become crippled by the notion of inadequacy and thus require the crutch of rules and dependencies. Rather than develop internal resolve and strength we creep along shackled by abstractions. As a human family we are quite fearful that civilization will collapse into a state of immorality and anarchy without these guiding factors. The evidence of living, however, contradicts this view. The fact is that we are overflowing with legal constraints, rules and guidelines yet society becomes more debased. Prisons abound and wars have become common.

How very different this conventional view is from genuine insight. In the 18th stanza of the Tao Te Ching it says this...

“When the great Tao is forgotten,
Kindness and morality arise.
When wisdom and intelligence are born,
The great pretense begins.

When there is no peace within the family,
Filial piety and devotion arise.
When the country is confused and in chaos
Loyal ministers appear.

Give up sainthood, renounce wisdom,
And it will be a hundred times better for everyone.

Give up kindness, renounce morality,
And men will rediscover filial piety and love...”

On the surface this seems bizarre but the disparity between these two views alone deserves further consideration. What Lao Tzu is pointing out here is the difference between presumption, expectations and reality. When we aspire to conditions, the presumption is that we are lacking such things. The aspiration toward wisdom and intelligence produces the opposite. By relinquishing the notion of lack we discover fullness. Anything at all—Sainthood, wisdom, peace...even the Tao—when held at arm’s length denies us of the very thing we seek.

The danger here, however, is thinking that insight is automatic. It isn’t. What is missing is the fruit that grows from the experience of awakening to our abundant, already adequate, true nature. Henepola Gunaratana clarifies the matter this way:

“There are three integral factors in Buddhist meditation—morality, concentration, and wisdom. Those three factors grow together as your practice deepens. Each one influences the other, so you cultivate the three of them together, not one at a time. When you have the wisdom to truly understand a situation, compassion towards all parties involved is automatic, and compassion means that you restrain yourself from any thought, word, or deed that might harm yourself or others. Thus our behavior is automatically moral. It is only when you don’t understand things deeply that you create problems. If you fail to see the consequences of your own action, you will blunder. The fellow who waits to become totally moral before he begins to meditate is waiting for a ‘but’ that will never come. The ancient sages say that he is like a man waiting for the ocean to become calm so that he can take a bath.”

So are we really lost? Maybe weve just swallowed the message that we are inadequate and in need of formulas, when what we really need is to awaken to the reality of our unified nature and inherent abilities. Lao Tzu shares with us a rare jewel—an insight that transcends conventional wisdom. In our desire to secure a better world we place too much hope in perfect conditions without an appreciation that out of chaos comes order; out of family discord comes piety and devotion and by renouncing the abstraction of kindness and morality, we rediscover what has been presumed to be lost. When we seek a teacher we stop looking for the real teacher—ourselves and our response to life.
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