NellaLou, who writes the blog “Enlightenment Ward" recently had a post that realy resonated with me.

I would like to encourage anyone reading my journal here to go read it here: A Dialogue with Cruelty

OK, go read it really. I’ll wait….

Done yet?


Now the thing that I saw in this post that I liked so much is that for me it is totally spot on. I recognize not only that I have the capacity to be cruel but that I am cruel more often than I would care to admit.

I’ll even go out on a limb and say it can come up pretty much when anything I find disagreeable comes up. A little more softening is still required. While I have been working on not being disagreeable to a myriad of circumstances there is another angle here that I want to address.


Now the root of responsibility is response, or respond. I have found it useful to look deeply into how that response comes into action.

1. I have a tightly held view or opinion. (a preexisting condition)
2. Something comes up to confront my tightly held view. (My Buddha is better than your Buddha)
3. I respond, not out of compassion, but out of defending my tightly held view.

Now I know those are not the best examples for everyone in everyday life, but I think it gets the point across.

I take a little longer to respond nowadays. Not so much thinking abot the actual responce, but where that responce is comming from. I know this frustrates my wife as I take a little longer to answer, but I am pretty certain it is for the best.


NellaLou said...

Your analysis of your response is really insightful. And tying response to responsibility is as well. Thanks for that and for the mention of my post as well.

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Jordan,

Thank you for linking NellaLou's post. I agree, it is spot on.

Thanks also for sharing your own experience here.

First, to add something to your observation that, "the root of responsibility is response, or respond." The "ability" part is instructive also. There are people that considered "resonsible" because they "respond" with "ability." The ability to respond skillfully can be deepened and refined through study and practice. In fact, that could be considered the primary aim of "spiritual practice" (of whatever tradition). Buddhism says, when we see the truth, our ability to respond skillfully improves. Truly seeing that "the other" is no other than myself makes the desire to "control" them meaningless.

Now, on a couple of your three points:

1. I have a tightly held view or opinion. (a preexisting condition)

The monks of the west hall, and the monks of the east hall were arguing about a cat.

2. Something comes up to confront my tightly held view. (My Buddha is better than your Buddha)

Nansen snatched up the cat and said, "If you can say something the cat will be spared, if you can't I will cut the cat in two."

3. I respond, not out of compassion, but out of defending my tightly held view.

The monks responded with silence. Nansen cut the cat in two.

Later, Nansen told Joshu about what happened. Joshu removed his sandals, placed them on his head, and walked out. Nansen said, "If you would have been here the cat would have been spared."

Too bad all those monks were so stuck to their positions. How wonderful that Joshu responded with such ability!

Thanks again!


SlowZen said...

Thanks as always for your kind words of encouragement.

Good call on the ability part. I pulled a Joshu last night!


Barry said...

Thanks for bringing out the role of responsibility, Jordan. As Ted so clearly describes, responsibility may well be the heart of all spiritual practice. We cannot place enough emphasis on this point.

I left a long comment on NellaLou's post, so I'll just summarize it here (and echo your thoughts).

Our attachment to certainty - fixed views, beliefs, concepts, constructs, etc. - means that we can never respond (responsibly) to the constant change around us.

Thus our words and actions frequently carry a tinge of cruelty and sadism. And sometimes blossom into total annihilation of the other.

This is the deadly play of the 3rd poison - Ignorance - that corrodes our life. In this view, ignorance is not lack of knowledge, but attachment to certainty (which is, of course, a lack of knowledge about how things actually are).

SlowZen said...

Thanks Barry,
I read your commonts over on NellaLou's Bolg too. Good stuff.

I am truly greatful to have such wonderful readers.

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Jordan,

Thank you again for the inspiring post on this difficult, but vastly important topic.

Hi Barry, your reply here (and at NellaLou's bolg) addresses some important points on the Three Poisons, ignorance, and attachment to certainties. I agree with the thrust of your observations although, in my view, defining ignorance as "our attchment to certainty - or certainties" is a bit too narrow. I would mention that doubt and/or confusion is also characterized as ignorance in Buddhist teachings, which frequently exhorts practitioners (and offers detailed instructions) to achieve authentic certainty (in which "attachment", of course, is absent).

Because of its diversity in Buddhism, it might be of some value to elaborate on ignorance a bit.

While ignorance (avidya) stands on an equal footing (more or less) with desire, and anger in the doctrine of the Three Poisons, it also plays a crucial role on its own in many other Buddhist doctrines. Ignorance is posited by all schools of Buddhism (that I know of) as the very reason, or cause, of suffering. The erradication of ignorance is often treated as synonomous and simultaneous with Buddhism's goal, liberation. That is to say that ignorance is the keystone, the primary reason, the defining factor between samsara and nirvana, between being bound to suffering (ordinary mortals) and being liberated from it (Buddhas, Arhats).

While anger (and moreso) desire play vital roles in key teachings, ignorance is on a different level - which is probably another reason (besides familiarity with the other two) you singled it out. Although portrayed as equal in the three poisons, ignorance is often portrayed as the cause of desire and anger. Ignorance is listed as the first of the twelve links of conditioned arising (pratiya-samutpada) one of the central teachings of all schools of Buddhism (though with a variety of interpretations).

Okay Jordan, I won't linger too much longer. Just a bit more from the Shambhala Encyclopedia:

Avidya, Skt, (pali, avijja), lit. "ignorance, nescience."

...is, noncognizance of the four noble truths, the three precious ones, and the law of karma... It is one of the passions and... the ten fetters.

Avidya is considered as the root of everything unwholesome in the world and is defined as the ignorance of the suffering-ridden character of existence... Ignorance occasions craving (desire), and is thereby the central factor binding beings to the cycle of rebirth.
Shambhala Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion

Okay, okay. I will stop (but I hate not mentioning some Dogen here... Hey, sounds like a good topic for my own blog!)

Thanks again!


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