A Misunderstanding

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By Greg Ascue

 

In some societies, cultures, and spiritual traditions there is a strong sense of sin, shame, guilt when considering certain behaviors. But this strong sense is not universally shared. For example, in Buddhism the Second Noble Truth postulates that dukkha (from the Pali – sometimes translated as suffering) is due to craving (Pali: tanha) arising from wrong knowledge (Pali: avijja). Avijja has, on a deep level, the meaning “a misunderstanding of the nature of the self and reality”. A misunderstanding of what your true life is. There is no sense of sin, shame, guilt in this – just misunderstanding. A misunderstanding that things are “findable” (a deficient self, another person etc.). A misunderstanding that is viewed gently and compassionately.

Once, in reading the Kyojukaimon (a Zen Buddhist work discussing right conduct), I was struck by how things like killing, stealing, pride etc. were described not as wrong but just not necessary once these misunderstandings were seen through (not found). If you can’t “find” the self or other, then killing or stealing doesn’t really make sense. It’s not that killing or stealing are ignored or condoned here, the reasons for them are seen to be non-findable. Then from a broader perspective, one does what is appropriate.

In fact, concepts like sin, shame, guilt tend to perpetuate this misunderstanding. If you believe that you are a sinful, shameful, and guilty person you will do sinful, shameful, and guilty things. Seeing this misunderstanding helps unravel the whole story.

An example of this is in the verse (from the Kyojukaimon):

“Do not be angry. There is no retiring, no going, no Truth, no lie; there is a brilliant sea of clouds, there is a dignified sea of clouds.”

All the things (truth, lies) that may drive our anger are “unfindable”; in seeing this we are left with more spaciousness and ease (a brilliant and dignified sea of clouds). Appearances still are here, they just do not mean the same thing. They are seen differently.

Going beyond this misunderstanding, life can be experienced with more love and compassion. Even “you” can be experienced in this way. Just as “you” are, right now.

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