37 Practices of the Bodhisattva - Verse 14

Ken McLeod

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Ken McLeod continues his commentary on the 37 Practices of the Bodhisattva with the 14th verse. Watch the other videos here.

Even if someone broadcasts to the whole universe
Slanderous and ugly rumors about you,
In return, with an open and caring heart,
Praise his or her abilities — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Have you been the subject of slander or malicious gossip recently? Did you open yourself up to the pain and acknowledge it? How did you move past it all?

For more of Ken McLeod's teachings, visit Unfettered Mind.

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Patricia.I's picture

Our first reaction to pain is usually a defensive one, acting from within the closed system of a self-centered narrative. This separates you (the offender) and me (the offended) in a literal way, limiting my action as a self-protective “response” to something you to have “done” to me. Whether I act out this response (e.g. by retaliating or by withdrawing from you) or “act it in” (e.g. by repressing my desire to defend myself in these or other ways), I am caught up in “the turmoil of the world projected by experience”.

In this way, Sareen, taking refuge in a morality or an institution, conforming to guidelines or precepts (such as 'the dharma') as a way to deal with someone else harming me, is no less reactive than adopting a punitive attitude to the offender. Why? Because it is just another way of reifying subjective reactions (for example, trying to be good) into codes and systems that look like they are third person objective when in fact they are first person projections transposed to the level of an impersonal organization and ethics.

So, what exactly are the possibilities that open up when one transcends the closed system of a self-centered narrative; when, for example, instead of seeing myself as the victim of slander and gossip, I see perhaps that I have made myself the star of the show, distorted others' motives and relegated them to a supporting role in my personal drama?

By owning my projections, I can see the role I play, I can know that “all the world is a stage” and that I am a mere player in it. With this insight, I become a little bit freer, ceasing to identify completely with my role. This might enable me to face my offender with an “open and caring heart”. But it might not. I might, after all, remain “the same old asshole” (Jeff Shore; Empty Trash Empty Self, an autobiographical essay). If that is my part in the play, insight isn't going to change that.

So I might not become a bodhisattva but I might take myself a little less seriously, becoming more playful and creative in my humble role. I might improvise rather than stick to the script, I might flip the tragedy on its head and turn the whole thing into a farce, or I might just drift along dreamily, opening to and savouring all of the ambiguities while slipping in and out of character as into a dream I cannot control. Maybe I will develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of others facing the same challenges in their own roles and from there feel empathy for their dilemmas without it being such an effort to overcome myself.

But maybe not.

Sareen's picture

I agree that using the precepts on their own is not enough. They are descriptive of a state we can reach when we have become free and having experienced moments of this freedom I know when I stray from them, I am likely in a reactive state.

Over and over again in painful disconnections, it is compassion that heals.

May all being be free from suffering.

Patricia.I's picture

Sounds like you don't need the precepts at all; that you are free, or know when you are not, all by yourself.

fishman.ellen's picture

Don't the precepts (?) Can't say that, but I do feel lighter and freer than I ever have.The many challenges in my life were offset by the opportunities that came my way.Least of these opportunities was being a student of Ken's, through the interactions: workshops, skype, ning etc., I learned a lot. Even learned that transference was happening and needed to question that.
The banana peels are still out there, just sometimes I can laugh when I fall on my arse.

fishman.ellen's picture

I know when I stray from them, I am likely in a reactive state.

Recently I was in a situation where another person was a bit aggressive towards me, verbally as I directed her to a new line that was forming for check out. I calmly did not return any retort, although I did look for support from others, so there was some reactivity. As we continued to be walking forward, the person aggressively in tone, apologized. It gave me hugh pause, and in that pause I was able to feel compassion. Yet reactivity still was bouncing around and I said nothing, did nothing. Later on I tried to find her to say how sorry I was that such interaction caused pain.
It is that shift that one works towards inch by inch because the work is so contingent upon so many variables. I like the following as guides, especailly the laughter one. Ken uses three questions in his book, Wake up to Your LIfe, to help one bring those contingencies into awareness.Here is a link to one of his podcasts that mentions some training that one might develop so that compassion and awareness are naturally arising.

Sareen's picture

Whether or not we have been harmed by someone's actions, when we speak about it to another person, it is helpful to look at our motivation and the intention. Is it in line with the dharma?

I find it helpful to imagine my heart connected with the heart of everyone who may be affected by my words and then say the words that are most likely to be both truthful and helpful, remembering that everyone wants to be happy, we all are prone to error and it is through wise compassion that people are most likely to be able to see themselves clearly and change their behavior. It is also important to keep in balance by increasing our awareness of the role we may have played in bringing about painful results in a situation and pay most of our attention to changing our own behavior.

What is the purpose of punishment? If punishment is the only route to containing the behavior of someone who does not respond to any other efforts(and thus protecting others), then sometimes it is wise. However, it does not seem to work very well in changing behavior, as per the recidivicism rates of convicts.

If we look deeply at the impulse to punish, we may come in contact with pain so profound that we struggle to experience it. The impulse to punish often comes from the absence of the expression of compassion from the person who has perpetrated harm. Therefore an alternative to punishment is a dialogue where there is deep listening and compassion for everyone who has experienced harm. Heart connected to heart. I am interested to hear from others who have been deeply harmed by someone. What do you need in this situation? What will lead to freedom from the suffering you are currently experiencing?