My favorite aspects of Buddhism were not brought forth by SickestBuddhistgate and the winding rhetoric of comments that followed.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy getting down with analysis.  I do. But I’m not fond of when awareness practitioners are seemingly unaware that their desire to tear apart someone else’s conceptual framework can easily veer toward malice if care is not taken.  (I felt care was mostly, but not wholly, taken)  This, I realize, is a dangerous statement to make – given that by addressing the stream of commenting (in a position of greater visibility) I am contributing to the arguments.  Also the fact that my contribution criticizes the intent rather than the content gives some false moral hierarchy to the statement.  And if my intent was pure, I would probably keep my mouth shut and appreciate the varied validities of arguments brought up in the thread, of which there were many.  And that by thus disclaiming, I am attempting, through my awareness, to excuse myself from any argument, and by disclaiming my disclaiming I am further attempting to avoid argument and on an on into infinitum.

But, to requote Ethan Nichtern quoting Daniel Ingram, “a personal mixture of awakened compassion and selfish confusion forms the basis for everything we do.”  In other words, my imperfect no-self self has got a column to write.  And the comment thread reminded me of the emotional tsunami that was recent dinner with my ex-boyfriend.

I’ll skip the context and details, but basically, throughout this dinner with aforementioned ex-boyfriend I became extremely agitated by his “wrongness.”  Some of it had to do with our past relationship, some of it had to do with theoretical disagreements about morality, most of it had to do with battling egos.  I found myself desiring to summon up all my incisive and cutting verbal one-liners to reduce him to a slumping pile of surrender.  I wasn’t fully conscious about how desperate I had been to dismantle his ideology until last night following Hardcore Dharma, taking my requisite walk over the Williamsburg Bridge, thinking about the Four Immeasurables.

The Four Immeasurables are Equanimity, Love, Compassion and Rejoicing.  The teaching Ethan gave on them is one of my favorites, in which he breaks down the Immeasurables by their definition, their opposite, the near enemy to the Immeasurable and the result to be avoided whilst pursuing Immeasurable.  Because I think this teaching is rad I will list it, in very pithy entirety, here:

The Four Immeasurables:

Equanimity (Upeksha)
Definition: One Taste
Opposite: Anxiety and stress
Near Enemy: Indifference
Result to be Avoided: Apathy

Love (Maitri)
Definition: The wish for someone’s happiness
Opposite: Hatred
Near Enemy: Conditional Love
Result to be Avoided: Attachment

Compassion (Karuna)
Definition: Willingness to be present with suffering
Opposite: Cruelty (the wish for someone to suffer)
Near Enemy: Pity
Result to be Avoided: Sentimentality

Rejoicing: (Mudita)
Definition: Joy in other’s good fortune
Opposite: Envy or Jealousy
Near Enemy: Affect
Result to be avoided: Spaced out bliss/ignorance of suffering

So I want to talk about compassion.

In class, Ethan mentioned that he really didn’t have much experience with the opposite of compassion, cruelty.  He surmised that most of us in the room probably didn’t either.  Maybe when we were children, or in middle-school or even high school, but probably, at this point in our life we don’t ever really wish for someone else to suffer.

Well, maybe not consciously, but I was thinking while walking that the desire to prove someone wrong, can be, in a way, a form of cruelty.  Wanting my ex-boyfriend to realize how he is completely wrong about his view of life was unnecessarily cruel.

There’s this exercise in acting in which you create an “action” to play (an action is the motivation behind the words that you pursue while acting a scene).  Let’s say your action for the scene is “to get Polonius on my side.”  When you come up with an action, you also think of what is called a “cap” – which is the desired physical outcome if everything goes your way (i.e. Polonius takes off his hat and bows deeply to you). 

When I think about it, if my action was to “get Ex to see the light”, then the “cap” in the Scene in an Italian Restaurant would (again, sub-consciously) be for my ex to slump over the table, pride-stripped, confidence lost and admit that he was completely in error, then go home to darkness and attempt to reassemble the scattered structure of his belief system.  When I put that image in my frontal cortex, I realize it is not the outcome I desire.

In fact, I find when I’m able to think about my desired “cap” of most any argument I’m having, I can then step back and realize true and wise compassion.  Because more than wanting to be right, I want my ex to be happy.  I don’t want to hang out with him, but I want him to be happy.  And consciously I really don’t want anyone to suffer.  When I have a disagreement with my current boyfriend, who I’m crazy about, I try to remember that my “cap” is us laughing and kissing and loving the hell out of each other.  My cap is not for him to wave a white flag of surrender, or, god forbid feel in any way bad about himself.  It doesn’t mean I can’t express my feelings, arguments or desires.  It means I have to do it with the “cap” of our mutual happiness in mind.

So how can we keep challenging each other with different and varied viewpoints while remember our goal is the cessation of suffering, not logical TKO’s?  As Shantideva said: “We, like senseless children, shrink from suffering, but love it’s causes.”  Most of us, as practitioners, don’t have to worry about conscious desires for others to suffer.  But how can we develop the awareness and clarity of mind to catch our unconscious undermining, our subtle dismissals and our whisper’s of self-righteousness?  While still being able to find our inevitably imperfect voice?  How can we bring compassion to our passion?

In other worlds, it’s my second to last day at my day job, which I’m leaving to attend graduate school full time. 

In bocca al lupo! 


Julia May

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