Post relating to Buddhism
The subject of imperfections has been on my mind for quite a long time due to work and gym challenges. This has provided food for thought and of course, the thoughts on my mind have been largely questions of imperfection, flaws, faults and so forth.
We are not perfect beings, the lessons life has had for me in the last couple of years have been about recognising my own faults and trying to make an honest effort to address them. It seems to me that there is so little genuine effort to do that in both public and private life, we are all so eager to cast stones that we ignore our own glass houses. The trainer for the group session I attended the other week made the point that most of the people they get there are full of excuses, reasons why they aren’t at fault. This leads to the point I want to make that an honest effort to recognise our own flaws and faults can only lead to greater compassion and understanding of the flaws in others. So just as we develop our awareness of our own flaws and forgive ourselves, we build the capacity to forgive the flaws in others. The Buddha made the point that the being most worthy of your compassion is you, as the saying goes “charity starts at home”.
A person has both good and bad within them. So where a person may be loyal to their friends, kind to those less fortunate than themselves and honest; they may also hold extreme racist views. My argument is that these views don’t invalidate the person, they are just one part of a greater whole. We also probably know nothing of the pressures and stresses that the person is under, we know nothing of their personal history. The question is, do we write a person off because they have flaws or is it (as I feel) more appropriate to take a more subtle view, one that takes a compassionate account of the context of the whole person?
I was introduced last week to the limitations of our ability to see, reminded that looking is one thing; perception quite another. A group of us was shown a picture containing a number of pens and we were asked to count them in 2 seconds. We were then given 4 seconds, the result? Our perceptions were off both times.
This reminded me of the warnings in both Buddhism and Taoism about judgement, my understanding is that this is because our reality is shaped by our perceptions. As my recent group experience proved, those perceptions are woefully inadequate. On further reflection, our abilities as observers are very flawed. Clearly, time pressure takes a terrible cost; but in a constantly changing world, how can our observations ever be complete?
It gets worse, we are limited in what’s available to be seen by both time and location. Our nature means that we can’t see or hear everything, we’re bound by the limits of our senses and the limits of our ability to perceive the sense data; we can be overloaded by the world. At the last, everything we see is interpreted in light of our preconceptions and biases, which returns to the chapter above. We might well see, but lack the background to understand what we’re seeing.
I found myself realising that the main message of where I was, which was to slow down, is applicable in so many other places. Can we improve the above situation? I think we can. Be slower to judge, wait for evidence, take time to observe more fully. This comes back to my own long standing view that the world we’re in is too rushed. The question I’m left reflecting on is how best to combat this?
Recently, I was browsing through some torrent sites. It’s a truth of life in the UK that the various attempts at filtering things are ineffective, for all the government might try. Of course my own views on this are that it’s Orwellian, but more of that another time. So, there I was looking at the site and fighting the urge to grab the latest TV when the urge lost and I decided not to bother. This led to a moment or two of introspection, when I realised I was stopping myself because I knew it to be wrong. Not because of an anti-piracy campaign, not because of a law or a commandment. It was because of the effects of a precept.
This comes down to what I’ve been saying for a while about the difference between a commandment and precept. It also comes down to why I think that precepts are a far better way to go. The Buddhist precepts are rules that are voluntarily assumed, not commands that you’re forced to follow. This means that it’s not enough to simply obey, you must understand why, you have to know the path not merely follow the signs. Accepting the precepts means you begin to slowly internalise them, eventually, you may even grok them. This comes back to a comment in Buddhism about the teachings being a raft and the individual eventually having to leave them behind. This process seems to me to be a wholly natural and unforced releasing of the raft. Not so much that you have to force yourself to stop clinging to the teachings, but that eventually you will grow to the point that you simply release them naturally.