Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Requirement of the Moment"

A few people found some of my recent comments about human reason and Buddhist practice questionable. I can understand this. Yet, the more I reflect on it, the more valuable it seems to me to keep questioning "calls for reason."

Here's a small segment of a post by Ajahn Sumedho on the blog Buddhism Now:

If we are intellectual, we are always up in the head, thinking about everything. Emotionally we might not be developed at all-throw temper tantrums, scream and yell when we do not get our own way. We can talk about Sophocles and Aristotle, have magnificent discussions about the great German philosophers and about Ramakrishna, Aurobindo, and Buddha, and then somebody does not give us what we want and we throw a tantrum! It is all up in the head; there is no emotional stability.

I'd like to offer the following statement for consideration. Many of us well educated in the academic sense types are attached to reason. In fact, even though Buddhist teachings point us beyond our own thoughts and understandings, we're so comfortable in the realm of reason that we think it is the answer to all of our "problems." That if we just think things out better, analyze things a little more rationally, we'll break through the confusion and emotionalism, and figure it all out.

Barry over at Ox Herding took up fear this morning in a way that I think could add to what I'm considering here.

Recently my teacher said:

Fear is the absence of presence.

I don't often experience the quivering of full-on fear, but I'm well acquainted with its young sibling, anxiety.

And when I look into the familiar, queasy feeling that comes with anxiety, I sometimes can see the refusal embedded within the feeling.

It's my refusal to show up to the requirement of the moment.

It's this last sentence that I keep going back to. When I made the statement that I didn't think reasoned out arguments about immigration would be of much service in the current political climate, it wasn't because I have, or want, to give up on it all. No, it's about stopping and wondering what the "requirement of the moment" truly is. Is it more data and analysis? Is it deep listening? Is it marching in the streets? I'm not sure.

However, what is clear to me is how many of us "educated" types can come up with a myriad of ways to emphasize reason, and discount and/or diminish everything else. Oh, all that talk about emotions is fluffy, new age shit! Oh, why can't just be more reasonable! What good will all this focus on intangible things do (insert all things emotional and spiritual here) when the world is falling apart?

All of this just points to imbalance in my view. We need not toss out the wonderful skills of human reason to appreciate the wisdom that comes from other sources, including emotions we'd just assume be rid of. Yet, so often, we do, hanging hard on reason until it breaks, and then getting wildly emotional because we don't know how else to respond.

It's pretty screwy if you ask me. Why not strive for some balance, and having a tool box with many types of tools in it, because certainly the requirement of the moment keeps on changing, doesn't it?


Buddhist_philosopher said...

ha! I love it. As a guilty, educated, over-reasoning type, I can identify well with this post. I do have to struggle at times to get out of my head and onto the cushion, to find that balance you speak of.

At other times, when I look at the horrible effects of irrationality in the world around me, I am just ever so thankful that I'm out of whack in the way I am and not the other way around :) hehe.

One of my primary practices has been and will continue to be metta bhavana (cultivation of loving-kindness) for this very reason - it is a force that stabilizes us in a way that reason fails to.

PS. when you say "we'd just assume be rid of." I think you mean "we'd just as soon be rid of."

spldbch said...

Absolutely -- balance is key!