(This is a rant. If you don’t like reading a rant, then please don’t bother reading on!)
Hello friends in the dhamma,
It’s amazing how some things affect us in ways we don’t expect, isn’t it? Today started as an ordinary day until I went to a gas station. I prepaid for gas (gasoline for my car, for those who might misunderstand what I’m saying), went back to my car, and noticed that the amount wasn’t registering on the pump. So I go back inside and let them know. So I go back to my car: still nothing. So I go back inside, then back to the car: still nothing. So I go back inside, they “reauthorize” the amount on the pump, and one of the employees comes out with me. She gets combative and tries to blame the whole thing on me, claiming I took too long to pump out the gas, then claiming we were wasting time having the conversation in the first place. But finally it did register on the pump. She was going to have the last word and argue with everything I would have said. So I just said “Thank you” in the end, and that was it.
For whatever (ridiculous or valid) reason, I felt dominated in this interaction and it almost totally screwed up my day. Then I seemed to come back to my senses, but only after insisting that I would not let the day get too screwed up. I guess the issue was that I felt like my Buddhist practice would prevent me from really fighting this woman. On the other hand, I have a fear of being taken advantage of. So there’s some internal conflict there.
So instead of letting this fester, I feel it’s better to rant on here with candor than just develop more defilement around this episode. Yes, I fully admit I’m ranting, but what’s the point of a sangha without a bit of ranting sometimes? We’re all human, and I’m guessing some of you have had experiences that raised similar issues. Now, there are people in the world who are having to deal with much worse. I realize this: truly debilitating things. But, as I said earlier, isn’t it strange how the slightest perturbation can set everything off? You think “I’m a Buddhist!” I should be beyond it. But you’re not.
Just as a human, what do you think? Have you felt like this? As someone who understands the suttas, what do you think? Can anyone relate?
Join the club.
This morning I am annoyed.
The women in the coffee shop did not want me to sit in the cafe. She served me in a take away cup.
I thought I was treated like that because I am black.
I wanted to fight back again by going back to the cafe and recording it. Then take legal action.
But I decided not to. Because for some reason I felt very happy today.
I am trying to work out the reason.
My meditation this morning
My exercise this morning
Vitamin D tablet I am taking
I fast 12 hours last night. In the morning I had some sweets and a coffee
This is why I am rather scrupulous about referring to my Buddhist practice. In English, “practice” can mean a regimen, but it also means working on something in order to perfect it, as in practicing scales on a musical instrument.
As someone new to my Buddhist “practice,” I am careful to remind myself during challenging moments that my “practice” is practice. I am working on my practice to practice getting better at it.
But, of course, when practicing any practice, one is going to face challenges. Just today I encountered a driver problem on my tablet computer. I called tech support and was given the brush-off. In the end, I solved the problem myself. That felt good.
But what felt better than actually solving a tech problem seemingly beyond my knowledge base was to face the problem with the equanimity I am striving for in my Buddhist practice. Obviously I was frustrated by the problem and gratified by solving the problem. But those feelings are as impermanent as the computer problem itself. That I can realize this represents a confirmation that the more I practice at cultivating equanimity, the better I get at it.
I’m glad to hear you are happy! I’m speaking generally. I have heard monks say, to drive home my point, that self-defense is required. But I’m not sure if that includes verbal self-defense, and if so what that would actually entail, and how it would not lead you into some kind of pit of defilement.
I think to live as lay person, and probably as monk too, some level of ‘defence’ is valid- this is not to say to be defensive… or to ‘strike the first blow’ or some other defilement driven reaction to an incident. To me, I always weigh up instantaneously whether a fight is worth it and what the consequences are. I don’t automatically discount ‘harsh speech’ and be pacifist. So for example, in this incident, I might decide that I’m not going to further the situation materially, and that I might lose out from being late for where I am trying to get to. I think whether this person is going to benefit in any way, from hearing what I have to say, or at least that I need to express my frustration. We see lay people in the vinaya complaining all the time. The Buddha never said stop complaining and be peaceful! Rather he looked for solutions, which often involved stopping the offensive behaviours. While not immediately applicable to this situation, it helps to naturally express but with minimised anger/frustration, what needs to be said. Otherwise it become passive-aggressive response, with an outburst much later down the line, at a person who has done nothing to deserve it. It’s better IMHO to give the natural response to the person who needs to hear it. Otherwise you are encouraging negative attitudes and behaviours, and they may feel they can get away with being nasty. Hiri and otappa shame and fear works at a societal level only if people are willing to speak out and they can become the ‘guardians of society’. Otherwise if no one is willing (or able) to slap down irresponsible behaviour we are left with Trump scenario and everyone suffers, including that person, as they have little insight into themselves -they may not have much regard for you and in which case the only way to get your point across in a limited time span is to let it out, bit stick to the point. Don’t get carried away by your own emotions (if you are prone to do that, better to avoid) but be firm and bold. No one in society is obligated to like you! Even if you are Buddha himself, you cannot make everyone like you or treat you justly. So do not have that particular expectation from anyone! That will make it easier to say what you need to say, as only you will stand up for yourself. Get rid of your self -otherwise a narcissistic injury will continue to simmer away.
I can relate to that feeling of “I’m a Buddhist, I should be handling this better”. On the one hand I don’t want to beat myself up for not being perfect, but on the other hand it’s often an accurate observation.
On the positive side, such thoughts do demonstrate there is some mindfulness present.
Indeed do I relate to this, as do we all for there are none among us beyond suffering at the presentation of one of those nasty defilements that are inevitably triggered when someone displays there dysfunctional emotion.
Every encounter I have with another human, or myself, reveals a mirror or incalculable benefit as a window into my own self. When my self is threatened, hurt, defensive, angry, jealous, greedy etc. I am in my own hell. When I regard my self as temporal, constructed…conditional I then am able to put these emotional reactions in proper perspective.
In the contemporary Mahayana and Theravada Buddhist traditions, the three kleshas of ignorance, attachment, and aversion are identified as the root or source of all other kleshas. These are referred to as the three poisons in the Mahayana tradition, or as the three unwholesome roots in the Theravada tradition."
It’s not a failure of the practice that your defilments come up now and then, but rather a sign that it is a healthy practice that you are able to discuss about it and reflect on it with everyone here!
Mindful self-defence tempered with compassion for the other one?
A wonderful opportunity to practice compassion.
I was very grumpy yesterday. I didn’t have any interactions with others, fortunately for them, as I stayed home all day. The proximate cause of my grumpiness was doing housework. The distant causes would be harder to tease out and at the time were quite out of reach. Thinking about it today, at least one distant cause was the maintenance of a self-view that is quite embarrassingly distasteful when I look at it more closely. Anyway on Sutta Central I can substitute rumination with a sutta reference:
“When form exists, because of grasping form and insisting on form, view of self arises. When feeling … perception … choices … consciousness exists, because of grasping consciousness and insisting on consciousness, view of self arises. What do you think, mendicants? Is form permanent or impermanent?” ref
Maybe some reflection on how impermanent my situation was would have lessened my suffering. Maybe generating some compassion for people similarly constrained to do unpleasant tasks would have lessened my suffering too.
Also there’s no self, nothing to defend or ‘save face’! Housework is just the five aggregates and so is doing your favourite meditation on a cushion. If we can do mindfulness of unpleasant feelings, while engaged in a task that we don’t like we can learn to detach. ‘The Buddha dreamt of walking on a muddy earth without getting his feet dirty’. Throw as many methods as you can at it and start modifying your reaction, because you don’t want housework to be the reason you don’t become an arahanth!
That’s the best reason for giving up housework I’ve ever heard.
Seriously tho, I didn’t run away from the unpleasant vedana. I managed to observe it and get the job finished. In the past I’d have thrown up my hands in despair and gone and done something distracting.
Yes, it’s falling off the bike and getting on it again - we know the Arahanth’s standard. Can we get there two steps forward, and sometimes one step back. The step backwards is good too if we can learn something from it.
It’s difficult to accurately assess anyone’s spiritual development especially one’s own.
Sometimes in springtimes I end up colder than in winter because I begin to go outdoors without a coat. Part of spiritual growth requires dismantling internal defenses, becoming more vulnerable; then we get affected more by others’ harshness - and may react more strongly. It’s all part of the process. In the long-term we become more calm & tolerant in a wider variety of circumstances, but this is very hard to see on a day to day basis.
The Buddha gave the metaphor of the slow wearing of handprints into the wooden handle of a tool (maybe an adze?), taking place so gradually that one cannot say when the worn marks happened; even so, we can’t point to one moment when spiritual growth happens, as it occurs gradually.
We develop at our outer edge of capacity to maintain calm balance, so when we get challenged into new growth, it can be an upset that we mistake for a relapse to our very worst functioning - overlooking that this time our reactions lasted only minutes instead of days, that it took a lot more provocation before we lost it, and that we now look within to understand our trouble instead of grousing continually about that other guy and what he deserves.
By the way, if PTSD is part of one’s history, it can obscure signs of spiritual growth, for the excessive reactivity of PTSD is a brain dysfunction, not a moral shortcoming. It may cloak a saint. (A few surprisingly harsh or accusing comments from a gas station attendant could easily trigger PTSD in, say, someone whose trauma related to a non-protective authority figure who turned on them when they sought help long ago.)