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what’s ‘not right’ about yesterday’s post?

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The moment I read B’s comment that she too had been disturbed by the US Supreme Court’s decision (see yesterday’s post), I realized that I’d made a mistake. Looking back, I wrote to express anger and sadness; and I did so from a posture of superiority, as in: look at those Americans and their guns; at least we don’t have similar attitudes where I live; no wonder they … bla bla.

Two things are not right about that. One: by expressing my self-centered views I may have contributed to readers’ sense of unease about living in a world where abundant handguns lead to deaths and injuries — thus acting contrary to my vow to “cause no harm.”  Two: by speaking about others in ways that implied their moral inferiority, I acted against two of the guidelines (precepts in Buddhist practice) which I want to live by. They are:

Not to speak of others’ faults but to speak out of loving-kindness.
Not to praise self at the expense of others but to be modest.
[Norman Fischer’s versions NB: this link has now been fixed] 

Lest you think I’m beating myself over this, I assure that I’m not. Making mistakes is essential to living an ethical life. Becoming aware of potential harm done to others (and self) directly leads to the resolve to act more skilfully in the future. No guilt — only awareness and intention.

Does that make sense to you?


13 responses »

  1. I think you are over-analyzing the last post. It was a statement of facts – what I and 300 million + others live with in the U.S. My nation is more dangerous than many others because we, collectively, seem to have some “issues” with guns, gun laws, and gun usage.

    Staying silent about the very real and pervasive damage that comes with liberalized gun laws, a society that often glorifies violence, and a Supreme Court that routinely has caved to the soundbytes of organizations like the NRA is akin to supporting all of the above. Following the precepts is more complex than just “doing exactly what they say we should do.”

    Now, I can agree with your precept assessment of the internal process that was going on – i.e. “look at those Americans and their guns” – however, the actual post you made is a valuable reminder of the basic facts and the challenges that can come from them in the future.

    Please don’t choose to remain silent about such issues, thinking it’s not kind or following the precepts.

  2. It makes perfect sense to me — thank you for this thought-filled post.

  3. Thank you for this, Peter.
    For being willing to be vulnerable, so that I in turn can recognize and express my won vulnerabilities.

    Yes. I was uncomfortable about the posting.
    It didn’t ‘sit’ right with me.
    But I simply deleted it, not wanting to sit with the feeling of discomfort; not wanting to appear to be disloyal by being critical or judgmental of you, and so on, and so on.
    So by fessing up, you have given me the opportunity to re-examine the challenge that you offered.
    And to learn from it.


  4. Oh dear! There was no way you contributed to my sense of unease about living in this violent world! I commented because I felt reassured that there was someone else on our planet who felt the same disappointment over the ruling. I didn’t detect any “superiority” in your comments…

    I’m not very familiar with Zen practice so I’m going to do some thinking about the two guidelines you mentioned. I believe in kindness and you’ve given me some food for thought. What you’ve expressed here does make a lot of sense…

  5. Thank-you Peter for being willing to do this self examination in public. It is helpful to us all. I think we often make this little judgements a myriad of times during the day. They are habitual and unconscious. And how can we change our behaviour except by shining the light of day on it.

    It’s an interesting and difficult situation. And I think we have to examine each instance separately. What’s the comment about Hitler’s Germany (can’t remember who said it) “I was silent and then they came for me”.

    Perhaps it is (as you have shown) about examining the motivation of our speech.

  6. I’m sorry if I come off as overbearing about all this, but I see this so often amongst Zen folks – this sense that if you can’t say something nice, or kind sounding, or if your motivations aren’t perfect, then you best be quiet.

    There’s something very off about that.

    What is kindness anyway? Does it always look the same? If I’m doing something terribly destructive and it’s never commented on, I may never get a chance to see it. If no one even comments on the destructive behavior of national and internation leaders, then there may never be a chance for public pressure to change things until it’s “too late” for many folks.

    I’m more than willing to say I err too often on the side of saying something in these cases, and could use a little more tempering. But what I have seen in many Zen communities, including my own, is too little willingness to examine social and political issues through a dharmic perspective. If we never talk, never risk breaking precepts around this stuff, then no one learns how be more engaged socially, using what they’ve learned in the dharma to possibly support the development of more healthy, sane communities.

  7. Very interesting post, Peter.
    I didn’t pick up on any particular sense of superiority in your first post, though I think this was a deeper post. (Sorry, I’m not quite expressing myself well today).
    Someone else this week posted about the topic of compassion towards those whom we perceive as behaving badly, and I think this also applies to the situation here: What’s going on with so many people that they think they need a gun? Some people just enjoy shooting, but I don’t think that’s what’s moving things here. Just guessing, but I suspect it’s a sense of fear and powerlessness,

  8. I want to juggle a bit between Nathan’s observations and Peter’s two post by retelling a story I have heard, and which you may have heard as well. It might be germain.

    A samauri was under moral obligation to avenge the death of his lord and so sought out his lord’s murderer in order to kill him (a requirment of his samauri vows). When the samauri encountered the killer and was about to strike him dead, the killer spat in his face. The samauri resheathed his sword and did not kill the man. The reason? The samauri got angry at the killer for spitting on him and thus could not do the revenge as he cannot act honourably while being angry. According to the samauri code, if you are going to kill someone you had to do it with compassion not hatred.

    Think what you will about the historic martial-zen use of weapons, what I got out of Peter’s two posts is that an emotionally disturbed reaction to an event can never be compassionate. On the other hand, plain statements of fact are always correct, but more importantly they are a necessary precursor to compassion. A feeling of superiority is not compassionate. A plain statement (free from negative emotional content) that there are too many guns in the hands of too many people who cannot control their suffering, nor refrain from ourwardly projecting their anger, is the necessary basis from which to tackle the problem about too many guns and killing. Peter’s first post was equivalent to the samauri’s anger. His second post was equivalent to resheathing the sword in order to correct the anger. Once we correct the anger, then we can attempt to address the sad suffering that engenderes and causes violence.

  9. interesting arnie. thanks for taking the time to write what you did. i think you’re points are very accurate.

  10. Dear friends,

    thank you for your thoughts and suggestions. I’m moved close to tears from being surrounded by sangha (Sanskrit community of people with similar/common intentions) — no wonder it’s considered one of the three pillars (or jewels) of buddhist practice.

    My two very young and ever so delightful god-daughters are visitng from Scotland with their parents. I’m thus preoccupied with picnic feasts, beach outings, and pool frolicking … plan to respond to individual posts when the dust of fun settles.

  11. What is it about Scots and Vancover Island? Must be the rain! 😉

  12. irene monroe

    After reading this post of Peter’s, I realized that I, too, was reactive. I made a mistake in misjudging (maybe all judging is misjudging) the tenor of the post.
    all the above comments gave me good food for thought and I thank you all.

  13. in response to irene monroe (and for the xtians out there): Christ said that no one had the authority to judge another, that judgment was god’s alone, oh, except for Peter who could judge other people but only after he died and was sitting before the pearly gates.

    jocularity aside: this would mean that the only appropriate response to even the most terrible crime, or criminal, is compassion. but compassion is not blind. one always has to have the best and most full analysis of the real causes and possible outcomes of any act in order to limit any further disaster.


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