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Buddhadharma : Fall 2006
buddhadharma| 23 |fall 2006 one with all beings, and if we experience this nonseparation when we are with the suffering of this being, we will know what to offer that can actually be of benefit. Compassion might be described as meeting each being in each moment with the ques- tion, “How may I help?” We Buddhist practitioners are constantly working with the edges of our ego or idea of self in the world. The great teacher Dogen Zenji said, “To study Buddhism is to study the self.” This work is how we come to know the nature of ego, which is essen- tially a reactive phenomenon. Reactivity is just that – a result of our feeling some kind of impingement, whether internally or externally. In the extreme case, when we are feeling overwhelmed and not sure how to act, it is OK to take a step back, to remove oneself, and let the feelings, thoughts, and body settle. The whole process can then be quietly examined. It is not necessary for you to connect with everyone you meet, nor should you feel that this is a condition of your practice. You are completely free to choose whom you wish to spend your time with. What you are describing, though, is a particularly painful situation. A spiritual friend might be of great benefit in helping you to further explore these issues. narayan liebenson grady: What is required in the situation you describe is genuine com- passion combined with wisdom. Remaining in an unhealthy situation is not wisdom. An example of this would be an abusive marriage: using the dharma as a reason to remain in such a situation is misguided. This is false equanimity. Cooperating with the unskillful actions of another won’t benefit you or the other person. Everyone has buddhanature, but for some, buddhanature is quite obscured. Devi- ous and manipulative qualities surely do exist. Pretending otherwise is naive. Our intention is to wake up, not to be naive or foolish. Self-knowledge includes being able to discern when something or someone may be harmful to us. However, because of our conditioning, this may be difficult; we may need to experience a kind of awakening to learn how to protect ourselves. The Buddha, recognizing how easily influenced we are by others, said that we should spend time with those who have the qualities that we want to have: so if we seek to learn patience, be with people who are patient. If we want to cultivate wisdom, be with those who are wise. Of course, this does not mean judging or shunning those whom we perceive as not having the qualities we admire. Nor do we want to delude ourselves into thinking that our happiness lies in the hands of those who possess those admirable qualities. If we think that someone else can make us happy or unhappy, we are caught in delusion. Skillful avoidance is one of the four kinds of wise effort. For instance, if the dif- ficulty lies at work, we may want to look for a new job. Since our choice of friends is within our control, we may choose to spend time with different friends. With fam- ily, it may be best to take a break, with the commitment to come back when we feel stronger. Please remember, however, that the intention with which we take action is of utmost importance. If we break off contact with someone out of aversion, the result will be a greater degree of aversion, suffering, and contraction. If actions come out of wisdom, the result is more wisdom, clarity, and compassion. Every relationship tests our limitations. It is important to know these limits if we are to remain inwardly free even in the face of provocation. We may let go of physi- cal contact with those whom we feel are toxic to us yet find that we are still inwardly in contact because of our negative thoughts and emotions. So letting go of the outer contact doesn’t negate the need for inner work. Some of the most difficult work in life is taking complete responsibility for each and every reaction that we have – without blaming ourselves for the fact that reactions do arise. The inner work is to learn how to love all beings unconditionally. This is very difficult! As the Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba said, “Don’t throw anyone out of your heart.” Sometimes the only way we can remain loving is to let go of contact with particular beings. Sometimes the best and wisest thing to do is to send loving-kindness from afar. But we still need to do the inner work at some point or another in our lives, otherwise the cost to our hearts is very high.