March 24, 2011

Me Against The World

Pamela Gayle White, from Week 3 of her on going Tricycle Retreat, which she is leading along with Khedrub Zangmo.

Our unquestioned sense of "self" and how important it is to satisfy it is the basis of negative emotions. We often don't take time to investigate who or what this "self" may be. With this, there is a divide between self and other. There's "me" and everything "I" need, and then everything else in the universe is seen through the lens of whether it can help me fulfill my desires or whether it's going to impede me in this fulfilling. The entire universe become "friend and foe." This is the basis in which negative emotions arise.

In meditation, we learn to see when these emotions arise and catch them. We learn to not act on them and how to let go of an emotion. If we act on a negative emotion our actions are going to be unskillful, clumsy, and potentially extremely harmful. According to the Buddha's teachings, there cannot be an action without a consequence. What is the consequence of harmful unskillful actions? It's pain. It's suffering. It's the whole cycle. The cycle begins with not questioning the validity of self and this arbitrary division between "me" and everything else. It then moves into emotions, thoughts, and concepts, crystallizes into unskillful actions, and leads to suffering. Emotions are right in the middle of this process, so it is very important we learn to work with them.

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Nisi1946's picture

When my children were young, we practiced having "logical consequences" for, shall we say, poor choices instead of punishment. Dumping honey on the floor meant cleaning it up and paying for the wasted food. (True story :-) ) Punishment teaches nothing except avoidance of getting caught. Practicing logical consequences teaches cause and effect. Now that my children are adults with children of their own I'm seeing them repeat their own childhood lessons. It's not that my kids never made poor choices, but they didn't repeat too many of them when they knew they would be responsible for the outcomes. They are considerate adults, perhaps because they see how their actions cause pain.

Monty McKeever's picture

Thanks for sharing this Nisi1946! "logical consequences" seems like a very wise (and logical) method.

richardson.npp's picture

I often wonder why, since most religions teach that there is no action without consequence, we are not teaching children this very important life lesson. I wish more would realize this to be true and act accordingly in any circumstance.

Monty McKeever's picture

Thanks for commenting richardson.npp,

I agree. There does seem to be many us, not just the youth, that do not have a proper understanding of cause and effect. Not that people don't get the concept, but the gap between understanding and ability to live skillfully within the reality of cause and effect has become quite wide. Our societies in general are filled with much misinformation and bad advice—we're taught the key to happiness is materialistic accumulation, that self interest reigns supreme, that we can eat toxic food without getting sick, that there are people in the world that don't deserve compassion, and so on. It's a confusing situation to be a kid in because it's a confusing situation to be an adult in.

Still, I do take comfort in the fact that despite all the misinformation and misguided priorities that exist in the world, there are also many great parents, families, teachers, and communities that work to teach higher and more informed values to the youth. It may be a struggle but wisdom and compassion persevere.

Dominic Gomez's picture

As a parent of an elementary school student, it appears that children quite naturally live in the present moment, neither dwelling on the past (i.e. causes) nor fretting about the future (i.e. effects). The "problem" (to use the term lightly) seems to arise when such children do not (or refuse to) "grow up", as in the case of Peter Pan.
The world then inherits the likes of powerful "child-men (and women)" like Muammar Gaddafi, who "do not have a proper understanding of cause and effect". We end up with adults who don't get this concept, never mastering (let alone comprehending!) how "to live skillfully within the reality of cause and effect".

Monty McKeever's picture

great points Dominic