UNIVERSAL DHARMA

Because I Care ~ BEYOND PREFERENCES

THE FACT THAT I’VE written of this subject elsewhere will not deter me from writing about it again, as it is important, and the more people we can inform about it, the better. It is this: How to love people and things we do not like.

In your life, as in mine, there might be at least one person you really do not like, and though you might be unable to explain exactly why you dislike that person so much, this is not surprising, as the roots of many of our feelings are hidden from us, and seem to have come with us at birth. We can see how siblings, raised in the same way and the same environment, have different likes and dislikes. Can we ascribe this to genes or chemical reactions in the brain? Personally, I find that idea rather repulsive, as it implies we are little more than machines or automatons, with almost no choice or control over our lives. Shall we then suppose our preferences are a carry-over from previous lives? We may, if we like, and if we believe in such, but the reality remains that we have these feelings, which, if not accepted and understood, often lead us into trouble and can sometimes cause a great deal of harm. Also, for those who have set out on a spiritual way, it can be disconcerting and disheartening to find one’s likes and dislikes not crowded out and overcome by altruistic love and compassion for all, but remain with us, and even appear to grow stronger; we may seem torn apart and divided in ourselves by base and lower feelings of self and higher aspirations. Is this always the outcome of turning towards the light? Enlightenment is not easily won; we should understand this from the start, and be prepared for all kinds of hardships and set-backs. This is why we need different ways of looking at things.

Our life may be compared to a tree, which has two main parts: the part above the ground— trunk, limbs, branches— which we can see, and the part below the ground— the roots— which are out of sight. But, just because we do not see the part below the ground, it doesn’t mean that it is not there; indeed, if the part below the ground were not there, the part above the ground would also not be there, as it is dependent upon the former. Likewise, our present condition, with our preferences, tendencies, habits, and so on, has grown up out of the past, although we are unable to see much of the roots or underlying causes.

Now, we like to be able to explain things as we feel uneasy about things we cannot explain; unexplained things might endanger and threaten our sense of well-being and security. But instead of always trying to explain things, it is sometimes better to say "I don’t know," though this is not easy and requires a bit of courage, as it is an admission of ignorance and weakness; however, if we are sincere in our quest for knowledge and enlightenment, it is unavoidable and has to be done; if it doesn’t satisfy our curiosity, at least it is honest, and leaves us open to learn.

Now, if there is someone you strongly dislike— perhaps someone at work or even at home— you might try this: Be honest with yourself and accept your feelings toward that person, without pretending they are otherwise or trying to justify them, and say to yourself: "I don’t like this person. I don’t know why I don’t like him, but I really can’t stand him. However, he is a human being, with hopes, fears and aspirations, just like myself. Life for him, too, is probably a struggle at times, and he wishes to be happy and free from suffering, as do I myself. I am not really happy with the way I am now, with my faults and imperfections, and he is probably no different. So I won’t let my feelings of dislike towards him lead me to do anything harmful to him, and, if I have an opportunity, I will do something to help him, as that is how I would like him to behave towards me, even if he doesn’t."

If we can look at things this way— and it is quite different from the way many of us look at things, with feelings of resentment, ill-will, jealousy and malice— we may go beyond our selfish feelings of like and dislike, and reach the level of Love— Love that grows from Understanding. Our dislike towards that person might remain, even while we love him, but this is not a contradiction; no-one likes everyone. It just means that we have put our lower and limited feelings to one side in order to deal with the situation— like rolling up our sleeves to wash the dishes. I am not speaking from hearsay but from experience; I know it works; so I am qualified— Qualified By Experience (Q.B.E.)— to speak of it, otherwise I would not be.

Let me use the story of the Buddha’s cousin, as an example: from childhood, Devadatta had been a jealous rival of Prince Siddhartha, probably because he perceived in him qualities he himself did not possess. Later, when Siddhartha attained Enlightenment and became a Buddha, Devadatta became a monk and, as a result of his propensities and meditation, he developed certain psychic powers like the ability to fly, walk on water, pass through walls, and so on. But in spite of this he was not enlightened; his powers were only psychic and not spiritual. Moreover, his pride only increased thereby, and his jealousy intensified.

Uncontrollably ambitious, he started to think thus: "I, too, am a prince of the royal blood, just like Siddhartha. Why should he always have first place? I am just as worthy as he is!" Day after day, such thoughts gnawed away inside him until he could contain them no longer and went to the Buddha and said: "You have been leading the Order of Monks for a long time now and must be tired. Why don’t you retire and let me take over?" But the Buddha knew Devadatta’s evil intentions and so rejected his request.

This enraged Devadatta and he resolved to kill the Buddha. So he enlisted the aid of a gang of ruffians and instructed them to wait above a narrow path in the hills where the Buddha used to pass after His alms-round in the nearby town of Rajagriha, and when He came beneath the place where they were hiding, to push a huge rock over the cliff to crush Him. The ruffians did as they were told, and when they saw the Buddha coming, got ready behind the rock until He was just about below them, pacing calmly along. Whether or not He knew what was about to happen, I cannot say, though some people, believing the Buddha knew everything, would declare, without hesitation, that of course He knew. Whatever, the would-be assassins put their weight behind the rock and pushed it over. It seemed that the Buddha must surely be crushed to death, but suddenly, the rock struck another rock and split into two, falling on either side of Him, only a small fragment striking His foot and drawing blood. The plot had failed.

Undeterred, from the depths of his jealousy and malice, Devadatta thought of another way to kill the Buddha. He knew a man in the town who had a fierce elephant that was always kept tethered up; approaching the owner, he asked to borrow the animal. Because Devadatta was quite widely-admired— and maybe also feared— for his psychic powers, the man agreed. Then Devadatta, knowing that the Buddha came down the street for alms every morning, told his men to intoxicate the elephant with liquor, and when they saw the Buddha coming, to enrage it by beating it with sticks and prodding it with knives, and then release it.

This they did, and the elephant charged onto the street, trumpeting and bellowing. The townspeople scattered and ran for cover wherever they could, until only the Buddha and some of His monks were left exposed. Seeing them, the mad elephant charged towards them, and Ananda, the Buddha’s favorite disciple and personal attendant, realizing the danger, moved between the Buddha and the elephant, thinking: "Let me be killed instead of my master." But the Buddha said to him: "No, Ananda; stand aside," and raising His right hand, with palm turned towards the elephant, He radiated His Loving-kindness to it. And such was the power of the Buddha’s Loving-kindness that the elephant was immediately pacified and fell to its knees in front of Him, its rage extinguished. So, again, Devadatta had failed.

Not long after this, Devadatta became very ill, and when the Buddha heard of it He said to some of the monks: "Let us visit Devadatta." Surprised, one of the monks said: "But Devadatta is your enemy; he has tried to kill you several times before." The Buddha replied: "That is no reason for me not to love him, and if my love for Devadatta equals my love for Rahula, my son, let Devadatta recover." So they went to see Devadatta, and soon afterwards, he did indeed recover from his illness. Unfortunately, his jealousy and resentment towards the Buddha was not so easily overcome, being more deep-rooted than his physical sickness.

Now, it is clear from this story that after all Devadatta had done to harm Him, the Buddha held no thought of resentment towards him, but loved him unreservedly. But do you think the Buddha liked Devadatta? Do you think He approved of what he had done?

My sister in England, speaking of her eldest daughter, once told me that she loves her, as she is her daughter, but doesn’t like her because of her character and behavior. I told her I understood what she meant and admired her perception and courage in making such a statement, which, for a mother, must be very hard to do. It is an excellent example of what I’m talking about here, and while my sister was talking about her long-term opinion, perhaps every mother knows how it feels to dislike their children at times when they are naughty, though they never cease to love them.

This side of Enlightenment, our personal likes and dislikes will always be with us in one form or another, but there is no need to be divided in oneself over them. What we need to do is understand them and control them rather than them controlling us, to be prepared to put them aside at times in the interest of higher things, rather than always giving way to them and letting them rule our lives. We can, and often do, blame other people and things for our shortcomings— our upbringing, society, lack of opportunities, and so on— or we can see that they are part of our conditioning and can be understood, outgrown and left behind. Nor must we be perfectly enlightened in order to understand and put aside our selfish feelings; we can try to do it now— and somewhat succeed— if we wish. But if we try to be completely without ego, we will never succeed; it is not within our capacity, and our efforts will only be a further confirmation of ego. Ego is overcome, uprooted, destroyed, or seen for what it is— unreal, an illusion— only by the arising of Enlightenment. Consider the case of the Buddha Himself: right up until His Enlightenment there were still thoughts of self— egoism— in Him.

This side of Enlightenment, however, we must learn how to use ego, but in a skillful and non-harmful way, free from conflict and competition with other egos, must learn how to put ego aside when necessary; without ego, and the skillful use of it, we would be spineless, like jellyfish, and not even be able to stand upright. Properly used and harnessed, it is very useful for a long part of our way. Needless to say, we should not promote ego, as that is just as bad as constantly putting ourselves down.

Egolessness, like humility, is a result, and cannot be practiced or done. We cannot run before we can walk.

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