Friday, August 18, 2017

Is Honesty Always the Best Policy?

In the centerfold of the Summer 2017 catalogue of the Buddhist publisher, Wisdom, there is a whimsical drawing of a bear and raven in dialogue. Their interaction is reported as follows:

"Black Bear came to a meeting late and said, 'I'm feeling frazzled after dealing with my cubs. What if I don't feel compassionate?'

"Raven said, 'Fake it.'

"'That doesn't seem honest,' said Black Bear.

"'It doesn't begin with honesty,' said Raven."

There is no attribution, so I suspect that this is a traditional Buddhist teaching story.

But whether this particular story is traditional or not, in my experience it does represent an important attitude in Asian Buddhism: behave not based on what you are but on what you aspire to be. Or, in other words, fake it 'til you make it.

When I was twenty-two, I lived in a Buddhist temple in Japan and this attitude came up again and again. Once, I was told to write a letter to my mother telling her how grateful I was for everything she had done for me. Like most 22-year-olds, I had my share of resentments toward my parents. Giving thanks to them for what they had done for me while omitting what they had done to hurt me seemed dishonest.  Black-bear like, I complained, "But I don't feel grateful." "That doesn't matter. Do it anyway," my teachers replied.

It actually caused me pain to be false to myself in this way. I don't know whether Asians experience this or not. But I think most Westerners, contrary to Raven, would say that it does begin with honesty. My main teacher was Adyashanti, a third-generation American Buddhist -- that is, his teachers were all American-born. And he definitely stressed honesty -- to the extent that it may have been his most important teaching. 

Why is honesty important? Well, for one thing, it takes a lot of energy to lie and keep track of your lies and make sure that they have had the intended effect -- which is usually to either enhance your ego's standing among other egos or to make sure, at least, that it isn't diminished. If you are using your energy in this way, you are wasting it, and it's running counter to the realization of oneness that a glimpse of egolessness will give you.

So I'm with Adya on this one. That said, I do still tell social lies. If someone invites me to dinner whose company I don't enjoy, I don't tell them that. I usually, like most people, find an acceptable excuse for bowing out. Perhaps this is a cop-out, but I can't see a reason to hurt someone unnecessarily.

With intimate relationships, though, and, most especially with oneself, honesty is essential. Lying in those circumstances will bring one further and further away from the Truth one is seeking.When I find myself lying in those situations, I try to remember to ask myself, Why did I do that? What was I hoping to gain?  And, most importantly, Why am I so lacking in trust -- in myself, in the universe, or in a loved one -- that I felt the need to try to manipulate through lying?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

And One More Time: There is NO Separate Self

Recently, I heard an interview with an engaging, modest man named Robert Wright, who has written a book called, Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. 

One thing I notice when Westerners write books about Buddhism, though, is that they rarely mention the most important aspect of enlightenment, maybe even the only aspect that really matters: one realizes that the separate self doesn't exist.

(I really want to emphasize this because some people imagine that the separate self somehow disappears.
And so they are looking for evidence in behavior in order to decide if a given teacher is enlightened. But the fact is that the idea of a separate self exists in the mind; and once it is seen through, one knows that it never existed in the first place.)

So, as usual, this fundamental fact was ignored in the interview, which, I think, means that Wright doesn't know it.

I decided to look for a review of the book and found a thoughtful one in yesterday's New York Times, by a Antonio Damasio. But the lack of clarity about the lack of a separate self results in this conclusion to his piece:

 "The self appears fragmented, in daily life and in meditative states, but subjectivity does not break down. It never disappears, or we simply would be unable to observe the fragmentation in the first place.

"I would venture that in most meditative states some subjectivity remains, as representative of the biological interests of the individual. As far as I can imagine, the complete disappearance of a subjective view would result in a “view from nowhere.” But whose view would that be, then? And if not ours, how would we come to know let alone seek such a view, such an emptiness? Mindful meditation is no stranger to the world of paradox. Is there anything stranger than discovering the pleasures of not feeling?"

Whose view would it be then, indeed? The emptiness that we actually are is doing the looking (and at the same time IS the objects it is looking at).

Emptiness is form
Form is emptiness
Emptiness is NOTHING BUT form
Form is NOTHING BUT emptiness.