Monday, April 5, 2010

Commentary: Why is the world topsy turvy?

Wisdom Quarterly COMMENTARY
Why is the world topsy-turvy, and what can be done by an indivdual not to get pulled down?

One has to wonder what's happening in the world when the most trusted authorities in a society flagrantly violate that trust. Police, prison guards, Catholic priests, cardinals, bishops, Hindu swamis, Buddhist monks, grade school teachers -- is it any wonder? Everyone is exposed to the same arousing media and the same out-of-control celebrities. And when we think "everyone else is doing it," we have a tendency to want in. We may not. But people in authority seem to be all too eager to jump on board and get away with:
  1. drugs (ingesting and dealing)
  2. lying (perjury and fraud)
  3. sexual-misconduct (ruining and raping)
  4. theft (thievery and embezzlement)
  5. murder (in anger and for hire)

These five run exactly counter to Buddhism's Five Precepts. The Buddha saw that these intentional-actions (karma) led to unpleasant results. They are not capable of pleasant results. Although one may certainly enjoy doing them, that is only because they have not yet borne fruit. When they do the fruit and results (phala and vipaka) of such karma is painful, hard to bear, and unwelcome.

Misunderstanding that intoxication is a serious thing -- that one is not "responsible" for one's careless and heedless actions when high, one heads down a dangerous road. Intoxication occasions every other misdeed. What wouldn't someone do under the influence?

Lying is said to be the worst thing, as people ask, What won't a liar do?

Sexual "misconduct" seems silly. What's the big deal with adultery? Adultery (cheating on one's own partner) might not be a big deal depending on the arrangement. But sexual misconduct has little to do with one's own relationships. It is all about the harm done to others and their relationships. Having consensual sex with an independent and consenting person is not a crime. But harming others -- be they protective parents, relatives, guardians, society (as embodied in local and regional laws), or the other person's partner -- is quite a serious thing. There is no way to justify rape or destroying others' marriages, families, or social standing.

Stealing is the opposite of giving (dana), of being generous, beneficent, and charitable. If understood the benefit of giving, one would not eat a single meal without sharing it if there were someone to share it with. [One might consider sharing it with unseen being or representations of worthy ones so that there is always someone to share it with.] "Taking what is not given," generally translated as stealing, actually runs the gamut from defrauding to robbing. It enhances greed (tanha or craving) -- the very root of woe the Buddha singled out as central to suffering.

Killing or even encouraging others to kill (or abort) -- for whatever reason -- is an indisputably heavy karma. Murdering in the name of war or policing, revenge or plundering (e.g., land, resources, labor, etc.), punishing or protecting is no excuse. The karma may be modified in that one does not immediately become a pariah; one may even be celebrated. But when those deeds (karma) come to fruit, when one "reaps the harvest one has sown," the consequences are miserable and cause for regret.

For a few short lived moments of hate, anger, vengeance, revulsion, or fear culminating in killing or harming -- one suffers "for a long time." It is hard to define how long that suffering will last since the results are not necessarily exhausted all at once. It can haunt one in multiple lives. If one is fortunate enough to be reborn in the human world again, one is short lived, sickly, and (due to hate) unattractive.

If one is reborn in an "unfortunate destination" (e.g., the world of animals, hungry ghosts, ghouls of different kinds, or denizens in hellish realms), one finds the lifespan there incredibly long and the opportunity to do any kind of good in very short supply, which has led many religious traditions to call these realms "eternal." That is not technically correct but it certainly feels accurate.

What to do? The best thing to do is to abandon the roots of unwholesome behavior. All "bad" karma is rooted only in these four motivations:

CATEGORY (manifestation)

  1. greed (lust, infatuation, envy, selfishness)
  2. hatred (annoyance, anger, wrath, revulsion)
  3. delusion (wrong views, doubt, ignorance, ego, misunderstanding)
  4. fear (a form of revulsion)

How to overcome the unwholesome roots of action? There are various strategies. The easiest is distraction or substitution. By taking the mind/heart away from the unwholesome object and placing it on a wholesome object (one that inspires restraint, kindness, clarity, or courage [calm]), one can regain one's composure and avoid remorse and demerit.

Another way strategy is a kind of substitution where the direct opposite is cultivated to displace the unskillful motivation nagging one. For example,

  1. giving, even if it is forced, begins to displace greed and selfishness;
  2. loving-kindness, compassion, sympathy, and equanimity displace hate;
  3. mindfulness (which does NOT mean "thinking" but rather bare attentiveness, looking on without judgment, reaction, or assessment, wakefulness, heedfulness), study, and reflection displace delusion;
  4. all the things that displace hate and revulsion also work to displace fear.

While all these things are talked about separately, they in fact work in tandem. Just as there is no greed without the other unwholesome roots, there is no nongreed without the other wholesome roots. To be most effective, they are co-developed and nurtured as mutually-supportive mental factors.

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