May 1, 2020
Jenny Hall

Verses from the Dhammapada 97

Impassioned thinking makes us hasty in our judgements and prone to 'fake news'. Truth appears in the space vacated by delusion, Jenny Hall explores this view in this latest verse from the Dhammapada.

A 17th century miniature of Nasreddin, currently in the Topkapı Palace Museum Library... By Unknown - Topkapi Palace Museum Library Cat. No. 2142

He is the greatest of men who is not credulous…

A teaching colleague was called away from her class of small children for a few minutes. As the class was a very lively group she drew a large eye on the blackboard. She warned them to be on their very best behaviour. She then pointed to the eye on the blackboard and said “Although I shall be out of the room, I shall still be watching you.’ When she returned all the children were obediently sitting up straight in complete silence.

Recent concerns about ‘fake talks’ on social media reveals that it’s not only small children who are easily deceived. As the New Year begins perhaps we also cling to beliefs as a bastion against an uncertain future. We may follow a political system, philosophy or ideology. They help to build up a sense of who ‘I’ am. They provide ‘stories’ to explain what is happening to ‘me’. Listening to two friends debating from two opposing political viewpoints reveals how strongly self-identification is linked to our beliefs. They create rifts between ourselves and our neighbours. They are the cause of all conflict in the world.

One day Nasrudin was made a magistrate. During his first case the plaintiff argued so persuasively that Nasrudin shouted ‘I believe you are right!’ When the clerk of the court heard this he reminded him that he hadn’t heard the defendant. The defendant also spoke convincingly and before he had finished Nasrudin exclaimed again, ‘I believe you are right.’ Hearing these words the clerk of the court was forced to step in. He said, ‘Your honour, both men cannot be right.’ Nasrudin cried ‘I believe you are right.’

Like Nasrudin we are quick to judge. We either judge circumstances as being threatening or beneficial to ‘me’. If we judge them as unimportant to ‘me’ we may become indifferent and ignore them completely. Like Nasrudin we quickly jump to conclusions. Unable to see the whole situation we adopt viewpoints. The Buddha taught that clinging to these beliefs creates the illusion of me, a separate, permanent entity cut off from the rest of the world made up of other permanent separate entities. We react to this world through ‘my’ ideas. In this way, prejudice arises.

A new neighbour may fail to respond to a greeting. If I label him as ‘aloof’ this belief clutters the heart in our next meeting. If all preconceptions are emptied out, warmth will be expressed in all future encounters. Eventually he will perhaps smile back.

The Buddha taught that everything is dependent on conditions which are constantly arising and ceasing. Everything, including ourselves, is a process. Reality can only be known from moment to moment. It can only be ‘seen’ when we are totally free from our convictions.

The Zen training helps us to recognise when we are clinging to beliefs about ourselves. When emptied out there is communion with everything occurring.

There was once the opportunity to join a weekend retreat on a daily basis. Over the silent breakfast an inherited tremor manifested. My hand started to shake uncontrollably. Believing that the attempt to drink the midmorning cup of tea would create the same problem, I self-consciously attempted to avoid it. However friendly hands and smiles beckoned me over to the teapot. There was no choice. I gave myself into walking towards it. There was a giving myself into drinking the tea. It was enjoyed without any tremor, with everyone.

Returning home that evening I started to worry about my shaking hand. Wanting to feel ‘in control’ I practised eating out of a bowl with a spoon. However, the next morning at breakfast the trembling started again. I suddenly realised it needed to be accepted. The trembling wasn’t resisted but welcomed. After a while it stopped.

At lunch the main course consisted of red meat which I believed I disliked. I gave myself whole-heartedly into eating it. It was tasted and enjoyed with everyone else.

When we give ourselves wholeheartedly into whatever arises, whether eating lunch or greeting a neighbour, the heart opens and ‘the greatest of men’ also opens. Truth is clear from moment to moment. Krishnamurti said: ‘A mind that is agitated by belief shall not know truth.’

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