When we look really hard at this world right now, especially those of us who have been around for more than 50 years, we find it to be considerably more dangerous than it ever was, riddled with violence from video games to movies to terrorism and children being slaughtered in their classrooms, coupled with personal conduct going down the toilet. We hear a lot of talk regarding these troubles, especially school massacres, between political and community leaders, colleagues and professionals, families and friends, and students and teachers. They want to know their root cause. They also say they want them to stop and that we begin discussing ways to prevent the atrocities that dominate the news. Such desires for solutions inspire me to think of the possibilities that many people experience with the Buddhist practice called Lamrim.
Although this training, according to highly regarded Tibetan teachers, contains quite a number of contemplative exercises, there are three that have particular relevance for the violence and mayhem we are facing in today’s world. Guided by a competent instructor, most people begin to realize their value within a very short time. They center on the disadvantages of self cherishing, the advantages of cherishing others, and the exchanging of self for others. In fact, if their results are used as the basis for discussing the problems we have in our societies, they’re particularly intriguing. They’re profound. They mine the depths of everything. They bring wisdom to the table of negotiation. It’s worthwhile to examine them in the context of three questions.
What part does self cherishing play in this troubled world?
When we are enmeshed in self cherishing we can’t see anything but our side (“My pain, My car, My job…”), our wish to satisfy our desires (“I want, I don’t want, I wish you…”), and we are often oblivious to the fact that we may be harming others as well as ourselves (“I didn’t know, I had no idea, It’s not my problem…”). For example:
When we hear a child screaming uncontrollably in the supermarket, we may wish he would shut up to make us feel better. If he were our child, we might even try and silence him for exactly that purpose.
Having learned that the Taliban treat their women with so much cruelty, we may experience an intense desire to destroy such men so we feel better for having cleaned the world of people like that.
When an alcoholic or drug addict experiences the need for her substance of choice, her desire soon relegates all other priorities to last place, and our misplaced hate may lash out at her to satisfy our urge to punish.
When a teenager is bullied in school, his desire to assuage the pain may turn into murder; we fear he could harm our children, and it’s possible we desire his death.
How would cherishing others lead us out of such dilemmas?
Having observed our side and the other’s, we are able to see more clearly, especially what is harmful as well as recognize the importance, the innocence of the other’s being, and begin to realize and know the way out of the failure to find peace. For example:
Cherishing the distressed child and not his behavior, we notice that we begin to feel better, perhaps even compassionate.
Cherishing the Taliban and not their cruel behavior, we lose the intensity of our desire to destroy but not to prevent what they do; maybe we even begin to develop a wish to see them gain clarity.
Cherishing the being of the addict, we may discover that her addiction to alcohol or drugs is akin to that of cancer, and our loving kindness begins to lead us toward helping open more rehabilitation centers.
Cherishing the adolescent who murdered to relieve the pain from bullying, we may feel moved to actions that resolve what led to the death of its victims.
How does failing to exchange self with others lead us deeper into failure?
When we don’t step into the shoes of the other, we stay in our thinking and theorizing and lack the understanding of the realization of knowing. Thus, truly cherishing the other may be impossible as well as any considerate or viable solution. For example:
When we do not look at ourselves through the eyes of the crying, squealing child, we don’t see we are clutching our pain, trying to close our ears, not understanding what is going on in his mind, or feeling he is important. Instead, we flee or we punish the infant or ourselves.
When we do not realize what the Taliban men are experiencing, then we don’t understand what is nourishing their ignorance or comprehend our own minds of murderous destruction that carry out such acts.
When we do not feel the inner being of the alcoholic or addict, we won’t see our fear, hate or repulsion of him or her nor understand the addiction as if it were a cancer. It’s likely we’ll do nothing to help rehabilitate this person or others.
When we cannot trade places with the bullied teenager, then we cannot understand his pain, and we find it almost impossible to cherish his being while disparaging his deadly and suicidal actions. We probably won’t garner enough effort to find ways to prevent such disasters or offer him the treatment he really needs.
Looking for solutions to violence using the Tibetan Buddhist practice of Lamrim, of course, may not be attractive or make sense to the majority of people in western, middle eastern, or even eastern societies. It may be years before enough practitioners have made it into the leadership ranks whereby they influence others to listen, practice, and understand its value. However, the three contemplations of self cherishing, cherishing others, and exchanging self for others deserve to be heard, employed, and understood. They’re not easy, but they’re not difficult once experienced and comprehended, they simplify what we see as complicated, and they open us to wisdom. Anyone who consistently uses these three exercises knows their importance to finding and implementing solutions that stop and preclude world violence. Since it is quickly known that they offer a way out of difficulty on an individual level, why not apply them for the good of all? Why should we permit things like thoughts, emotions, and traditions to stop us from liberating ourselves from brutality and bloodshed? Aren’t we more intelligent than that?