To be honest and not falsely modest,

I must say that I like to be liked—

Just as other people—

But not to the point where I’ll allow

Opinions about me

To paralyze and prevent me

From saying what I feel must be said,

For who will take my place

When it’s time to die?

SOMEONE WHO CONSIDERS HIMSELF my friend has the habit of ‘ear-jacking’ me for hours on end and flattering me outrageously, saying things about me that are not always true. I don't know why he does this, and what he expects to get from it, but I don’t like it; he must take me for an idiot! Fortunately, I know myself better than he does, and so his hollow praise doesn’t go to my head. I would like to tell him the story of King Canute.

Canute (died 1035) was a Danish king of England, Danes having overrun and conquered that uncivilized and defenseless land in the 10th and 11th centuries. His court— hardly a center of civilization itself— had the usual sycophants and hangers-on. But he was no fool, and did not let their flattery swamp his common-sense. Consequently, when the ‘sweet-tongues’ out-did themselves and began to attribute supernatural abilities to Canute, claiming that his power was so great that even the winds and waves would obey him, he decided it was time to teach them a lesson.

Ordering his throne to be carried to the seashore and placed on the beach, he waited until the tide was coming in, then sat there and commanded the waves to come no further. His flatterers stood around uneasily, knowing they were about to be rebuked. The waves came nearer and nearer until they were lapping at the king’s feet, ignoring his repeated commands. When his robes were quite wet, he said to his followers: "You see", he said, "how hollow and meaningless was your praise? In future, restrain your tongues from falsehood, otherwise you will have to be restrained".

If only someone had explained to me when I was young the kind of things that I now explain to others, I would have been so lucky; I might have understood and saved myself so much time and trouble!

But it’s not too late to atone for things that I now regret, and I can try to turn my mistakes and stupidity around, and make something positive of them. Perhaps some others can learn from my experience, and if they do, then my mistakes will not have been in vain.

Following the Way is often an uphill battle, of course, as we must face and come to grips with our mental defilements. Most people don’t even want to know of this and prefer to live carelessly, wasting their precious human rebirth— as Tibetans term our condition— and sliding backwards. But although it often is difficult, there is something built into our mental make-up that is on our side and helps us on our journey upwards; we call it our Conscience, or inner voice. It makes us feel uncomfortable at times, but it is in our own interests.

Because we have set out upon the Way does not mean that we are incapable of doing wrong; we’ve only just begun, so of course we can do wrong, like people who know nothing of the Way. The difference between us and them is that we cannot forget; our wrong-doing bothers us and will not let us live in peace. We either feel remorse and try to correct our mistakes, or ‘confess’ them to someone else, and in this way, put them behind us and try to see it as part of our learning-process. It may be taken as an indication of our progress in Dharma: that we can do wrong, but not feel good about it.

I don’t have to tell anyone about this, and I’m not trying to show off, but I want to ‘confess’ here something I did that has bothered me since. In doing so, it might be useful in helping some others avoid doing the same kind of thing.

While in Kathmandu in 1998, I went to a second-hand book-shop. In keeping with the custom, I haggled about the price of a book, and got it for 300 rupees, instead of the marked-price of 400 rupees, the understanding at such shops being that one may get a 50% refund later. Some days later, having finished the book, I went to return it, expecting to recover 150 rupees, but there was a different assistant in the shop. When he opened the book and saw 400 rupees written there, he asked me if that was what I had paid for it. I regret to say that I replied "Yes"— just one word. He therefore gave me back 200 rupees, when I should actually— and according to our agreement— have received only 150. I walked out thinking, "Well, he made 100 rupees profit anyway, and didn’t really lose on me".

Yes, he made a clear profit, and didn’t lose. It was I who lost. I caused suffering to no-one but myself; I was stupid! Thinking I had gained 50 rupees (about US$0.80), I actually lost much more, and wish I could rewind the tape and undo what I had done; it has bothered me, and I’m ashamed of it.

Telling of this incident, most people have understood and agreed with me, but one woman was aghast, and said: "But you are a monk! How could you do such a thing?!" "Yes, I am a monk", I replied, "but that doesn’t prevent me from doing wrong. And I told this story to illustrate to you how this side of Enlightenment, we are subject to doing wrong. Moreover, I want even my weaknesses— not to mention my strong points— to be a source of strength to others. It is my gift to you, but if you regard it that way, you will benefit nothing from it!"

I am not in the habit of doing such things; in fact, I have written about this sort of thing elsewhere in this book, and I do try to practice what I preach. The very fact that I said try, however, means that I don’t always succeed, which is why I wrote the other article, DON’T FOLLOW ME. I am aware of my limitations, and don’t want others to get involved with them, as they have enough of their own to deal with. But I feel that it helps to know that we are all in the same boat, and not in a position to point fingers at others and feel superior. We are weak, but it is from weakness that strength comes. I don’t want to boast of my successes, but I have had some; indeed, if I had had nothing but failures, I would not be here now talking of it. I’m confessing my lapses, not boasting of my successes.

Although we should be capable of introspection and self-criticism, it should be objective and fair, without exaggeration, self-debasement or self-flagellation. We often expect too much of others, and often too much of ourselves; consequently, we become disappointed. This does not mean, however, that we should not have ideals to aim for, but should accept the likelihood of failure, and not be too disappointed when it happens. It may be seen as an opportunity for further striving and eventual success, instead of an excuse for giving way to self-pity and despair.



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