Behind The Mask ~ INTRODUCTION

I have chosen for the cover of this book a painting by a Renaissance artist entitled Old Man and a Child, to illustrate that, even though the outside might be quite ugly, inner qualities can and do shine through. It is my own interpretation or evaluation, of course, and is open to challenge, but in this picture, I see a wonderful rapport taking place between the subjects (I don’t know who they are; maybe they are grandfather and grandchild; it looks like). The child is gazing into the other’s eyes with ...... what is it?—is it wonder, amazement, curiosity, love, or what? The innocent manner of the hand laid lightly on the other’s chest suggests that there is no fear or aversion but a complete acceptance of him as he is—warts and all! And the old man returns the gaze with a look of compassion and understanding. He has seen life, has suffered, and knows that the child is in for its share of difficulties and pain.

Have you ever seen a particularly ugly person who is happily married to someone quite good looking and thought to yourself: "How could anyone possibly love such an ugly person?"? It may be because the other was able to see something inside him/her that more than made up for the ugly exterior. If we love someone for what they are, the exterior ceases to be of great importance.

It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If we have a beauty-base inside us—a sense of beauty, or an appreciation of it—then we may see beauty outside, and the more beauty there is inside us, the more we will see outside, even in things that other people find unremarkable or perhaps even ugly. If, on the other hand, we lack such a sense, how shall we see beauty outside or in others? If we have only ugliness inside, what we see outside will appear ugly, too.

Another old proverb runs: Handsome is as handsome does, meaning that, ultimately, our actions are our measure, not our appearance; there are plenty of good looking people who behave in very ugly ways, and ugly people who behave very well.

Most people would like to have a good looking partner, but there are those who bitterly regret marrying a beautiful woman or handsome man. Beauty is often its own worst enemy, in that it deceives us into thinking that the external appearance is of paramount importance, so we rest content, and look for nothing more. And ugliness is often its own best friend, in that we are forced to look beneath the surface, where we might discover more durable and valuable qualities than just the ephemeral skin-deep aspect.

If we are unaware of the world within, unaware of the importance of the spiritual life, what is left but to live on the material level? We lose touch with ourselves—if we ever had touch with ourselves to begin with—and live largely to impress others and look good in their eyes (which is what fashion is all about; if we were honest about it, we would recognize that we follow fashion more for others than for ourselves). If we are ‘good looking’, pride of appearance easily arises, and is often accompanied by disparagement of others less handsome. This is dangerous, and invites retribution, and it would be wise to keep in mind the case of Johnny Weissmuller, the actor who played Tarzan in the old movies: he had a splendid physique and was an Olympic champion swimmer, but that did not prevent him from becoming a quadriplegic, unable to do anything for himself, or even to speak, but having to depend upon others to do everything for him. It is said that ‘pride goes before a fall’. I don’t know if he was proud before his fall, but in his position—as a star adored by his fans—I guess it would be hard not to be proud.

Now, no-one chooses to be ugly; neither do people become handsome by choice; these things—like everything else—are results of causes, most of which we had/have no control over. So there is no reason to be proud of being handsome and to look down on others, but every reason to treat it cautiously, for—like everything else—it is subject to change; moreover, it is a mixed blessing.

I called the first printing of this book WARTS AND ALL is because we all have ‘warts’ of various kinds—not on our skin, but on our character—that is, negativities and deficiencies, which again, are not of our choice (who would choose to have such things?), so there is no need to feel too bad or guilty about them, as there are plenty of others with the same faults and failings as us; we are not alone, and knowing this makes it easier for us to bear our insufficiencies and imperfections, until eventually, we may throw them off and leave them behind; if we were the only one, we would be in very serious trouble, but we are not, so it makes it ‘not so bad’ or hard to bear.

But we are ashamed of our imperfections and would like to be free of them. This often leads us to disguise and try to cover them up, or deny that they exist. But if we do not acknowledge and accept them, we will never be able to deal with them, as it is hardly likely that they will go away by themselves. So, first of all, we must recognize and admit the existence in ourselves of our ‘warts’ and imperfections, and be open about them—not in an exhibitionist way, but honestly and fearlessly. As I’ve just said above, we’ve all got them, and if we would see them as human or common failings rather than as personal faults, we would be able to assist each other in dealing with them.

If, in places, I have been rather blunt, it is because I considered it necessary, so I make no apologies. If we are shocked by straightforward words and ideas in this day and age, how shall we deal with the much-more-shocking realities of life?

Where I have criticized anyone in this book, I have not done so maliciously, but with the purpose in mind of drawing lessons therefrom. And I would now like to express my gratitude to them for providing me with things to write about. It should be noticed, however, that I have named no names (I find that kind of thing distasteful), and it should not be thought that I am making a thing of personality of it all. I have just said that the things I have criticized and drawn attention to are human failings, and they are useful in that we can learn something from them; it is therefore that I am grateful. Eventually, everything might be regarded as Dharma, and not just things that we think of as ‘good’. So, thanks for being imperfect, everyone! Thanks for your ‘warts’ (and mine)!

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