I’ve just finished the Dalai Lama’s ‘How to see yourself as you really are.’ And a penny has dropped…
Some of the Buddhist ideas: notably Karma, the cycle of returns and the idea that we are all constantly living and reliving; these are not for me.
But I do like the concept of ‘impermanence’. Recognising nothing stays constant; and none of us live forever, is in some ways the sum of all fears. But it also means bad times will pass, and that tricky situations generally resolve. ‘Impermanence’ tells me I sometimes work too hard and worry too much.
But the key insight for me came about two pages from the end. And it’s this – very simply put in the Dalai Lama’s own words:
It is important not to become inclined towards solitary peace, because by aiming merely at liberation for your own sake, you lengthen the process of attaining altruistic enlightenment directed to others’ good – the ultimate goal.
By mainly taking care of yourself, you foster a self-cherishing attitude, and this attitude is difficult to overcome later, when you train in great love and great compassion.
Consequently, it is crucial from the very beginning not to fully invest your strength of mind in your own benefit.
Perhaps an easier way to swallow Karma (whilst dropping the reincarnation bit) is this: in every action we take, or person we help or hinder, we create ripples in the world. Mostly small ripples of course, but when added up, we can all do a lot of good – or ill.
Like the proverbial butterfly flapping its wings – a simple word or deed could help another ‘sentient being’ towards happiness; or push them closer to anger, hurt and despair.
I’ve sometimes thought that one person can’t make much of a difference… And so, given who I am, perhaps one day writing a half decent book, would be about the best contribution I could make to mine and future generations.
But shrinking into one’s self is not taking the Dalai Lama’s point – “By mainly taking care of yourself, you foster a self-cherishing attitude.” and “it is crucial from the very beginning not to fully invest your strength of mind in your own benefit.”
I do believe that everyday kindness, care and compassion can make a difference. And since I have maybe as many as 20,000 days left; that’s a lot of help (or hurt) I could dole out. But ‘impermanence’ says I could have a lot fewer days, so best to get on with it.
‘Great love’ and ‘great compassion’ are worth aspiring to. Solitary peace, however beguiling, is not the point of life.