Thursday, February 25, 2010

"It Sucks Everywhere!" Speaking in Accord with Reality

Subhuti, the Tathagata is one who speaks of things as they are, speaks what is true, and speaks in accord with reality. He/she does not speak deceptively or to please people. Subhuti, if we say that the Tathagata has realized a teaching, that teaching is neither graspable nor deceptive.

Diamond Sutra, Chapter 14

Being a wisdom teaching heavy on lessons about the emptiness, or no independent existence of all things, The Diamond Sutra is filled with passages designed to wear down human conceptualizing and clinging to ideas and views. It's a challenging teaching, filled with little sword-bearers waiting to slice apart any sense of "I've got it!" that might crop up.

Yesterday, I felt slightly sick and fairly cranky. It's spilled into today, which led me to start reflecting on crankiness itself. There were two or three exchanges I had with others about my job yesterday that quickly slide into sourness. At one point, I told a former co-worker who now just volunteers once a week: "You got out at the right time." She said something back, and then I responded "Yeah, well, around here, it's more work, and less pay." Later, I wanted to add "And no respect."
She responded, "That's seems to be happening all over the place." Which is true, but I didn't want to hear it.

And why not? Because I wanted to be heard as unique, that the issues I and the other teachers at my workplace were experiencing shouldn't just be lumped in with everyone else in this recession-era economy.

Truth telling is an interesting activity. I wonder how many business leaders, non-profit leaders, government leaders, etc. around the country are walking into meetings and telling their employees: "It sucks everywhere. That's a bummer. You'll just have to suck it up." Certainly, there's a lot of truth to that statement, and yet is it also deceptive?

Somewhere recently, I read the statement that objects and experiences are just triggers for your responses - they don't actually produce those responses. This is something I have long seen as valid, and yet it's so easy to forget. Nearly every time I hear someone in a position of power say something like it sucks everywhere economically right now, there's a bristling inside that arises. And sometimes, this even leads to acting out.

After work, I was asked by an acquaintance how work was going. I said "I haven't killed anyone yet." Not the most skillful statement, and the "yet" implies a rage that just isn't present, so it wasn't a very accurate statement either.

Later on, I got to thinking how often we rely on dramatic language that isn't a clear reflection of reality. Partly, it seems that in this media saturated, multi-tasking, overworked society of ours, just saying "Oh, I'm irritated about work today" isn't interesting enough to keep many people's attention. However, the dramatic statements like the one I made above either slide into terrible, life sucking gossip or they shut down things all together. In my case, the woman I was speaking to quickly saw her way out of the conversation.

If you take a look at crankiness, it's pretty easy to see that it's made up of non-cranky elements. In my case, there is sadness, disappointment, and a tinge of outrage at the very least. And the triggers of today, like that overly equalizing statement about the economy, are simply tapping into older wounds, including a fixation on injustice that, when it gets like this, doesn't benefit anyone.

But this isn't all about me and my reactions. That's too simple, too easy. Failing to see how Buddhist teachings like the Diamond Sutra are all about relationships is a pretty common mistake I think. How does one speak in accord with reality anyway?


tom sullivan said...

The main thing I get from "emptiness" teachings is the humility that goes with understanding that "reality" is not a "thing" that "I" can grasp. To mix teachings and metaphors, they point to "the Peace that surpasseth all understanding." Thanks for posting your vivid story which served as a reminder to "me".

Richard Harrold said...

There's a relevant sutta as well in the Pali canon, but I can't remember which one and I am at work now having lunch. But the gist is this.

A woman is grieving over the death of her son, she cannot be consoled. She asks for help, but no one can help her. Someone suggests that she go ask the Buddha. Believing that the Buddha has godly powers, she beseeches him to raise her son back to life. He tells the woman that he will do that, but she must first find and bring to him someone who has never suffered.

Not realizing the task (he grief has deluded her), she sets out in earnest to find someone who has never suffered. But everyone she speaks to has suffered a loss of some type at some time. She eventually realizes the futility of her search and she is able to let go of her son.

It's the First Noble Truth: life can suck.

I should read the Diamond Sutra again, but I'm in the middle of the Lotus Sutra.

Buddhist_philosopher said...

"If you take a look at crankiness, it's pretty easy to see that it's made up of non-cranky elements."

Kinda makes ya smile, right? Even if you're a bit cranky.

Richard, the story you're thinking of is of Kisa Gotami, and can be read here:

and here:

It is a good one for remembering that all suffer, all have had loss, and we too can get on with life. Kisa, who lost two children, a husband, and her parents, goes on to become awakened and wrote some pretty great poetry about it to boot.

spldbch said...

How does one speak in accord with reality when we all experience reality differently? It's hard to identify an "objective" reality. After all, who do you ask? We're all going to give a different answer.

Nathan said...

Kisa Gotami's story is an excellent one for us all.

As for objective reality, I don't know if I even believe in such a "thing." And yet, if you hang too much in the relative view, it can easily lead to an excuse to not examine your actions more closely. The cliche "It's all relative" often is just a cop-out for not examining things closer.