This morning, in conversation, I found myself receiving the admonishment of Shakyamuni Buddha. “There is no need to convince another of Right View. Simply conduct yourself in such a manner, and the world will co-create itself according to the Way.” Ahhh yes. The desire to have a positive influence, to leave a legacy, to be seen as offering discernment – these desires are all simply an expression of the ego self. They reflect a wish to protect some small-minded identity that habitually defines the world in a way which is incredibly petty when placed into the real context of a universe of co-created activity. Wow! Thank you to the vehicle of the Dharma, a long-time practitioner who is himself humbly finding a path amidst mind, small and large and beyond measure.
This offering arose in the midst of a conversation about how to have a conversation. Recently I’d been approached by a person under whom I have worked. She wanted to talk about disappointment and an expectation that had not been shared. She was direct, but gentle about it. Still, I hesitated because I feel that once the decision is made and the first steps are taken, it’s a little too late to offer feedback. It’s a bit like asking someone what they think of your new hairdo. Once the hair has been cut, to criticize can only be painful. There’s no putting it back, at least not until it grows out. Asking for input before the haircut is more likely to elicit a constructive response.
So the question arose: what is a skillful way to talk about a state of affairs which you undoubtedly view differently, and which is not likely to be undone anytime soon? And what my friend suggested this morning is to avoid trying to convince the other person of my view, or to show the other person who I am by expressing my view. This is a great reminder about renunciation, in this case renunciation of the view of self. That is to say, he recommended that I not impose my view of myself on the situation, but simply express the experience of it.
In this way, if I can cleanly describe my feelings and thoughts and perceptions and respond to what arises in that moment – not the moment that is already history – then the self that arises is simply a skillful interaction, and can be characterized but what’s seen and heard. This is a very different self than the one that is a fixed view, set up in advance and defended over the course of many interactions. So, for example, if I think that I am a compassionate person, then I must always be trying to say something or do something compassionate, and I am constantly judging myself against this view. I will want to hear feedback from others about how compassionate I am, and I will want to see myself as behaving in a compassionate way all the time.
Looking backward in the mirror – c. PR Newswire and American Broadcasting
But, if I forgo the fixed view of myself, and simply act in a skillful and compassionate way, then I can be authentic in the moment and know that sometimes I will act compassionately and maybe sometimes I won’t. But it doesn’t define me or define the world in relation to me except, perhaps, in retrospect, as the consequences of my words and actions have their impacts. This is like looking in the mirror backwards. If you want to see who you are, “you” can only be defined arbitrarily as an accumulation of activities of body, speech and mind. Even this activity of looking back is not necessary, but it can be helpful as a form of studying the self in order to forget the self.