It is pretty evident that in our culture we like our lists of Do’s & Don’ts, right and wrongs, sins and commandments. Disagree all you want, but even when taken away we just go ahead and create for ourselves a whole set of new ones. As much as we seem to buck, kick, and complain about this or that religion, or this or that social institution, placing them upon us – when freed from them we just go ahead and create them for ourselves again anyway (Although maybe in a new form.).
You would think that it would be easier to simply say “Be kind to people”; “Have kindness in your hearts towards animals”; or “Be mindful of how your consumption effects yourself and others”; however, this is not so – there is something in this that our minds just refuses to wrap around. Why is that?
When a Teacher tells us to have a heart that is full of charity what do we tend to do? We define what charity is, and we set it up as some kind of a goal or checklist. We may even decide that charity is giving money, and set a required amount that one must give in order to reach charity status. We make a rule that in order to be a follower of this Teacher one must give $10.00 a week to help the poor; thus fulfilling the charity requirement of our faith.
Give money to the poor this week: CHECK
If told to have kindness towards animals what does that mean? We make rules on what to eat or not eat; on where to buy or not buy, on having pets or not… Can we not safely say though that it would be possible to fulfill all of these things to the “T” but never have any love, or change of heart – any new awareness concerning animals or our roles in this Web of Existence? Could we not also assume that a different individual could potentially break every one of our new “rules” but commit every act with loving-kindness and respect for animals in their hearts?
Didn’t buy those leather shoes: CHECK
Do we make it a rule as a member of our new-found freedom that one must hold open a door for a stranger at least once a day in order to fulfill the neighborly love clause? This is silliness, but this is what we do.
We want to be told what to eat, where to buy it, how much to spend on it… even what foods are good for us or bad for us. We are given the freedom of being asked to just be “mindful” of what we consume, but this freedom seemingly restricts us because we do not want the moral and mental obligations it implies – it implies self-awareness, introspection, and self-control. If being mindful you would then be faced with the task of processing: Am I hungry or Not? Do I really need this? If not hungry then why am I turning to food? Is this food healthy for my body? Is this choice wise with my finances? By buying this item from this establishment am I contributing to (perpetuating) a cycle of violence – such as how they treat their land, workers, farmers, animals, etc?
This amount of real-awareness we really do not want. We do not want the responsibility of it, nor do we have the time for it.
Didn’t eat meat today: CHECK… obligation filled.
We are missing the point.
What do these rules result in? They result in an external religion that never does us any internal good in this world. It creates a false world of action without heart, and movement without being moved.
It also creates good vs. bad – the sinful and the pious. We create a checklist and then we are able to compare ourselves to the checklist. “I am good today because I did this many of the list”. “He is bad because he did not.” With this we gain our class of the pious – the self-righteous upholders of the list. These fulfillers of the list at times can both fulfill the list and be so very far away from the original intent of the Master’s wishes – of kindness, goodness, awareness, charity.
This brings to mind the frustration that Christianities’ Jesus ran into with the Pharisees of his day. Their hearts were full of swelling pride of their exacting, even mechanical, adherences to the religious laws of their days. At the same time they have also taken the time to figure out every “loophole” they possibly could in the law so that they could give without giving, be kind without kindness, and be selfless while maintaining self. Jesus rebuked them all and reminded a new generation of people that what matters is the heart. Love your neighbor as yourself.
Give any teaching enough time though and a religion will eventually come out of it… a checklist will surface.
But that is what we want isn’t it? A checklist so we can do the minimal amount of effort with the least amount of introspection or thought? A way to know we are right and they are wrong? Something to define us as good. A reason to be pious. A reason to hate ourselves, and a reason to justify our hatred and exclusion of others? A way to totally miss the point and still get our “gold star” to place on our fridges.
When I say “give any teaching enough time” I do mean ANY. The same thing happens in Buddhism as well. There are those who want to define what Right Action is; or Right Speech, Intention, Effort… Mindfulness. This is what you can eat. This is where you can shop. This is how you sit. This is the way Buddha would have done it! In fact I can’t even count how many times I have been told already that some certain thing was what Buddha would have (or did) said which totally contradicted another thing someone else swears Buddha would have (or did) say or do. This is nonsense.
We were given the task (and right of) self-government but this freedom is actually the harder path – so we look for rules instead.
If we do not put a limit on what “kindness” to another is then our kindness becomes limitless.
Does this scare us because with no limit too much of ourselves will be lost in the process? Out time, our resources, our needs? With no checklist how do we know when we have made it? How do we know when to stop feeling bad about ourselves and start feeling good? With no list how can we judge others?
There is no “self”. There is no “other”. There is no Great Dharma Checklist.
Let me leave you with verses 19 and 20 from the Dhammapada,
19. The thoughtless man, even if he can recite a large portion (of the law), but is not a doer of it, has no share in the priesthood, but is like a cowherd counting the cows of others.
20. The follower of the law, even if he can recite only a small portion (of the law), but, having forsaken passion and hatred and foolishness, possesses true knowledge and serenity of mind, he, caring for nothing in this world or that to come, has indeed a share in the priesthood.
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