To work in a university with a group of experienced professors and a group of enthusiastic undergraduate and graduate students is an tremendous privilege and a pleasure. Those who choose education as a profession take on a great responsibility and deserve every possible assistance and reward. As to whether they receive these things from our societies . . . clearly it’s not always the case.
“The Teaching of Buddha” is a book which is placed in hotel rooms by the Society for the Promotion of Buddhism. Yesterday I was able to find in this book the sentence about candles and happiness that was quoted in Monday’s blog – “Happiness Is Infinite”.
On page 260 we find section 9 of a chapter called “The Good Way of Behaviour”. It says,
It is a very good deed to cast away greed and to cherish a mind of charity.
One should get rid of a selfish mind and replace it with a mind that is earnest to help others. An act to make another happy inspires the other to make still another happy, and so happiness is born from such an act.
Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.
Section 10 follows on with,
At the very beginning of the path to enlightenment there are twenty difficulties for us to overcome in this world, and they are:
1. It is hard for a poor man to be generous.
2. It is hard for a proud man to learn the Way of Enlightenment.
And so on.
I’m intrigued by the idea that there are twenty difficulties for us to overcome in this world. I’ve always assumed there were many more than that.
In yesterday’s sessions at the university we discussed the usefulness of story and literature in the teaching and learning of PSHE, and how the best stories facilitate the development of personal, social, emotional and spiritual intelligence. Stories can also be useful in health education. Thus by paying attention to stories we not only develop literacy skills – we also cover other important areas of learning.
On page 264 of The Teaching of Buddha there’s the beginning of a section called “Teaching in Ancient Fables.” It begins with these words,
“Once upon a time there was a country which had the very peculiar custom of abandoning its aged people in remote and inaccessible mountains.”
Intrigued? So was I. Hopefully our coalition government hasn’t heard about this idea.
On page 276 we find this interesting passage:
6. There was a man who was easily angered. One day two men were talking in front of the house about the man who lived there. One said to the other, “He is a nice man but he’s very impatient; he has a hot temper and gets angry quickly.” The man overheard the remark, rushed out of the house and attacked the two men, striking and kicking and wounding them.
When a wise man is advised of his errors he will reflect on them and improve his conduct. When his misconduct is pointed out, a foolish man will not only disregard the advice but rather repeat the same error.
The thing that concerns me about the above is the idea that someone who disregards good advice is merely ‘foolish’. Things could be a lot worse than that. He could have much bigger issues.
In the first place, the man in the story wasn’t seeking or being offered any advice – he merely overheard two people who were discussing him and describing his (as they saw it) impatience, hot temper and tendency to get angry very quickly. Therefore – was the man really foolish or merely acting in accordance with his own true character?
Similarly, could a child who struggles with his destructive emotions like these be called ‘foolish’ if he’s yet to learn emotional, social and spiritual intelligence? Or is he simply on a trajectory of learning, taking one step at a time, going at the best pace he can manage?
A foolish man, on the other hand, might regard his impatience, hot temper, anger, aggression, etc, as “passion”, and he might feel some sort of pride in his tendency to take issue with or fight with those who cause him frustration and discomfort.
A foolish man might take pleasure in what he might see as being forthright, assertive, unafraid to confront his enemies, unwilling to suffer fools gladly, etc.
A foolish man might even agree that his impatience, anger and bad temper are indeed inappropriate and are destructive emotions, but still be unwilling to make the effort to overcome them – to control them rather than allow them to control him.
And so on.
In the second place, what if the man in the story suffers from paranoid schitzophrenia, or if he’s a psychopath? What if he has borderline personality disorder? Would we then describe him as ‘foolish’, or merely suffering from conditions over which he has little or no control ?
To what extent can he be held responsible for the expression of his destructive emotions, especially if they have been undiagnosed? And especially if he’s been offered no help, support, training, counselling or medication? Is it possible for such a sufferer to realise his own need for such things?
We could also consider the case of people with bipolar disorder (“manic depressives”) who refuse to take lithium – an effective and appropriate medication – because they are addicted to the “high” they get from their condition, and for the sake of the highs are willing to suffer the lows.
We’ve been talking about health education in schools, but I wonder whether we concentrate on physical health and fail to educate the young about mental, emotional, social and spiritual health? I wonder to what extent that’s even possible. And if not, what are the consequences? How many of our young people leave school not knowing a thing about depression, for example? Or about destructive emotions?
The point about stories and books that ‘teach’ is that they don’t do any such thing. Stories are simply stories. We make of them what we will. We learn what we’re able to learn. It’s the process of sharing books and stories – discussing them, debating their meanings, etc – which enables learning to take place. It’s foolish for writers to be didactic, just as it’s foolish for teachers to be didactic.
The point about the Buddha is that he wasn’t a didactic teacher. The point about Buddhist stories is that they – like Zen koans – are meant to be open-ended, intended to provoke thought, discussion, reflection and meditation. We all have to make our own sense of stories, and of the world, and of ourselves – day by day, step by step – and do it through our own sense-making, through our own reflections and meditations and self-discoveries.
We can either take or leave the “truths” that are given to us or offered us by others.
The path to enlightenment can appear never-ending, and it can be steep and rocky. Nevertheless, this life offers the traveller periods of pleasure and beauty and times of great contentment, joy and even happiness. So it’s the only path worth taking.
Good teachers set pupils on a pathway to becoming joyful and enthusiastic learners – semi-autonomous and eventually autonomous seekers of truth and reality.
Every day we make our own internal and external worlds – each according to their own perspective, their own awareness, their own sense of truth and untruth.
Why be a lone traveller when you can enjoy the company of others?
On the other hand, why travel with those whose company you do not enjoy?
On certain days, travel alone.
On most days, be sociable.
In the final analysis, the Buddha remained on his own whilst he meditated under a bodhi tree – in order to reach complete enlightenment.
How interesting that the teachings of the Buddha now reach right around the world.