Notes on a Buddhist path

Fear less

November 21, 2020 By | 2 Comments

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.
 
Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.
 
~ Madame Marie Curie

Each afternoon a COVID news update from the New York Times arrives in my virtual mailbox. And each day I read of more and more people who have contracted and perished from this indiscriminate disease. Yet this virus which has killed 1.34 million people around the world is not the cause of the suffering that has inundated nearly every corner of our planet.

One need only look south from my home in Canada to witness a pestilence that has no vaccine, no antibodies, no protective outerwear, or inner quarantine that can abate its reach. Fear, hate, and greed are rampant. Vitriol and lies of epidemic magnitude have infected the minds and hearts of people across the US. What all of these symptoms boil down to is this: the unrelenting scourge of delusion.

Delusion is the status quo of samsara, the constant round of mundane existence we beings must face. Its tentacles can reach into all areas of our lives and this pandemic is just one of its arms. The recent presidential election and its ensuing aftermath have cast a pall across every social and political institution, challenging how we relate to our fellow human beings. Left and right, conservative and liberal, all in the grips of an absurd expression of the haves and have nots: those who have wisdom and those who do not.

The Buddha tells us that the cause of suffering is quite simple: wanting something we don’t have. Whether it be the desire for sensual hits of sights, sounds, tastes, touches, smells, and ideas, or the desire for something to continue or to end. This craving defines delusion because it is through the course of our insatiable longings that we have fallen for YouTube sound bites of all that is ephemeral, Tweets which are ultimately unsatisfactory, and Facebook caricatures of empty truths lacking in substance.

Whenever I find myself lured into the mire of all that is subversive or unwholesome, I remind myself of the Sallekha Sutta. It is here where a disciple of the Buddha speaks to him about the many different views of the self existing in the world. The Buddha tells him to practice self-effacement, the quality of not claiming attention for oneself, and offers him a valuable list of ways to accomplish that state of perfection, of fearlessness.

The final instruction from the Buddha’s list seems to encapsulate what is most needed now in our precarious world:

‘Others will be attached to their own views, holding them tight, and refusing to let go, but here we will not be attached to our own views, not holding them tight, but will let them go easily.’

Perhaps not all, or even most of us, will reach this level of virtuosity that can inure us to boundless happiness. Yet we must all start. To fear less than we do now is the first step. To treat each other with respect and kindness will propagate our innate longing to be at ease, to fear the other less and to trust our selflessness more.

To be fearless is not to be reckless. It is rather the opposite. It is to see all things with an expansive understanding of what the world is made up of, and to live a life of virtue in spite of it all. To know that the cancer of ignorance festering in angry divisiveness and repugnant conceit has always been in the marrow of existence. It is only by extracting ourselves from delusion’s primal pull that we can come to wisdom. And only by following wisdom can we find our way to true health and lasting peace.


Excerpt from Sallekha Sutta (Self-Effacement) (Majjhima Nikaya 8):

‘Others will be cruel, but here we will not be cruel.’

‘Others will kill living creatures, but here we will not kill living creatures.’

‘Others will steal, but here we will not steal.’

‘Others will be unchaste, but here we will not be unchaste.’

‘Others will lie, but here we will not lie.’

‘Others will speak divisively, but here we will not speak divisively.’

‘Others will speak harshly, but here we will not speak harshly.’

‘Others will talk nonsense, but here we will not talk nonsense.’

‘Others will be covetous, but here we will not be covetous.’

‘Others will have ill will, but here we will not have ill will.’

‘Others will have wrong view, but here we will have right view.’

‘Others will have wrong thought, but here we will have right thought.’

‘Others will have wrong speech, but here we will have right speech.’

‘Others will have wrong action, but here we will have right action.’

‘Others will have wrong livelihood, but here we will have right livelihood.’

‘Others will have wrong effort, but here we will have right effort.’

‘Others will have wrong mindfulness, but here we will have right mindfulness.’

‘Others will have wrong immersion, but here we will have right immersion.’

‘Others will have wrong knowledge, but here we will have right knowledge.’

‘Others will have wrong freedom, but here we will have right freedom.’

‘Others will be overcome with dullness and drowsiness, but here we will be rid of dullness and drowsiness.’

‘Others will be restless, but here we will not be restless.’

‘Others will have doubts, but here we will have gone beyond doubt.’

‘Others will be irritable, but here we will be without anger.’

‘Others will be hostile, but here we will be without hostility.’

‘Others will be offensive, but here we will be inoffensive.’

‘Others will be contemptuous, but here we will be without contempt.’

‘Others will be jealous, but here we will be without jealousy.’

‘Others will be stingy, but here we will be without stinginess.’

‘Others will be devious, but here we will not be devious.’

‘Others will be deceitful, but here we will not be deceitful.’

‘Others will be stubborn, but here we will not be stubborn.’

‘Others will be arrogant, but here we will not be arrogant.’

‘Others will be hard to admonish, but here we will not be hard to admonish.’

‘Others will have bad friends, but here we will have good friends.’

‘Others will be negligent, but here we will be diligent.’

‘Others will be faithless, but here we will have faith.’

‘Others will be conscienceless, but here we will have a sense of conscience.’

‘Others will be imprudent, but here we will be prudent.’

‘Others will be uneducated, but here we will be well educated.’

‘Others will be lazy, but here we will be energetic.’

‘Others will be unmindful, but here we will be mindful.’

‘Others will be witless, but here we will be accomplished in wisdom.’

‘Others will be attached to their own views, holding them tight, and refusing to let go, but here we will not be attached to our own views, not holding them tight, but will let them go easily.’


Photo credit: Marc Riboud, The Ultimate Confrontation: The Flower and The Bayonet, copyright 1967

Comments

  1. Donna White Steele says

    Thank you! Deeply appreciated.

  2. You seem to know just the right message to bring, both to the world, and to each of us personally.

    Thank you again, dear Piyadassi, for the love and the light. From your heart, from your compassion, and from your loving-kindness.

    May this winter bring a softening to all of our hearts.

    (P.S. What, no news feed from the CBC? 😉 )

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