Only that which will bring you honor

Some years ago, I knew someone who was fairly popular in a group I associated with. Being “in” with this person meant being in with the surrounding group. For purposes of ease and anonymity, I’ll call this person “They”. They were genial and charismatic, and appeared friendly to many, including myself. They were patient and intent on their spiritual journey. They had the ear of the leaders of the group and knew a great deal about what went on. They were the “one to know”.

It seems hardwired into our DNA to want to feel included in a group. To be included is to feel safe, to have access to opportunities that being alone doesn’t offer. Childhood conditioning says that being in with the cool kids is the place to be. It’s a hard feeling to outgrow, even when one is far into adulthood.

I spent some time with this group, and slowly realized that being in the “in” crowd meant hearing a lot of gossip. At first, it was gratifying. It felt good to be an “us” vs “other”. They don’t call it “juicy” gossip for no reason. There’s a satisfaction that often comes with gossip. I’m not saying it’s a skillful satisfaction by any means, but it’s an easy road to go down.

In time though, I noticed how these gossip sessions felt, and I found that the energy was not that which I enjoyed. I would walk away feeling aversion, creating stories in my mind about the people discussed. There was a sense of how “I” was better (yikes!). There was also a sinking feeling in my gut that told me that I wasn’t following my own values.

I also had other more skillful groups to compare this one to. Groups which I never heard speaking ill of others, and accordingly, how much better it felt to be around the more skillful groups. Slowly I came to a realization: I’d rather not be included in a group that regularly engaged in gossip. The “cool kids”… no longer seemed all that cool.

The more I saw how gossip had tainted the behavior of this group, the less I wanted to be a part of it, even though all of them had many other good qualities. These were people that I had learned from and even admired. I still look upon the members of this group as whole people who engage in skillful and unskillful behavior, just as I do. We’re all trying to find happiness, and usually we all go about finding it in a misguided or deluded way. This is only part of their behavior, and perhaps only my perception. I wish them all well. And if I only associate with perfect practitioners, it would be quite a lonely practice. I couldn’t even associate with myself. Yet at least at this time, I feel it’s better to avoid placing myself in company of those with which unskillful behavior is likely to follow.

There’s a saying, “If you spot it, you got it”, meaning that the things we find annoying in others are often the things we like (and see) least in ourselves. I know I’ve said things in the past that have not been skillful, and knowing how it has the potential to be painful to me (let alone the other person), makes me hope not to engage in such behavior in the future.

Sometimes there’s also a fine line with mixed intentions. I may relate an event or series of events to a friend to get their opinion. Yet I can’t say that there isn’t at least a small part of me that is hungry for that friend to help me build up my “he said, she said” story. But genuine guidance and reflection from a spiritual friend is always welcome in the long run, and sometimes that means relating details about others that may be negative. Where’s the middle way?

Even this blog post could be an example. My intention is not to point a finger or identify anyone. My intention is to reveal the difficulties I have faced with gossip in order to share with others that difficulty and also to offer reflections on what I have found helpful.

The Buddha offered guidance on things to consider before admonishing someone, which certainly would hold true for relating information to someone else:

It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good will.” (AN 5.158, Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s translation)

Guru Nanak said “Speak only that which will bring you honor”.

Perhaps the key is to remember to check in with the heart and with one’s intentions before one opens one’s mouth. Perhaps easier said than done, but as the saying goes, that’s why they call it a practice.

Be well and peaceful, dear readers. If you’ve found ways of keeping your speech skillful, please feel free to share in the comments.

 

 

 

 

The Truth of Harry Potter

I’ve spent the last week down with the flu. It was all that you’d expect from the flu: coughing, aching, fever, nausea, vomiting, etc., etc.. Since I live with my parents who are elderly with medical issues, I spent much of my time holed away in my room avoiding contact that could make anyone else sick.

I’d like to say that I spent all of that time in copious meditation and death contemplation, but I can’t. I did some, but I also spent a lot of it watching movies on my computer.

Like the entire Harry Potter series.

As my mind cleared, however, I realized there are a few points that could be considered Dharma or Dhamma in the Harry Potter films, or just food for thought if one isn’t Buddhist.

Let’s pick the first movie. Spoiler alert for that one person left on the planet that hasn’t seen them yet and wants to. At the beginning of the movie, Harry and his friends become convinced that Professor Snape is the villain who wants to steal the philosopher’s stone. Each action taken convinces them of this perception more and more, despite the assurances by other professors that this is not the case. Harry’s broomstick is cursed? Snape is seen chanting incantations, so clearly it must be him. Snape get’s a gash on his leg? Further evidence. Each piece of the puzzle is put in place akilter because the trio has already decided on what the truth is. Any further evidence is seen in the light of what they perceive. No one can tell them otherwise until they discover the truth for themselves at the end of the movie.

The viewer is brought along with them by emotion and our own perceptions. We become convinced of the “rightness” of the characters and along with them, conceive what is “true” through our own glasses of perception. At the end of the movie, the characters discover that Professor Snape was protecting the stone and them, all along. The glasses are taken off and we see the truth.

Sure, it’s a kid’s movie that may be beating us over the head with what seems to be obvious, but how often do we do this in real life? Nearly anything we perceive has the potential to be grossly wrong. Yet we color what we see through delusion-colored glasses, often putting two and two together to make five. We hold onto that perception so tightly that we can’t let go. Until we find out for ourselves that it was all wrong (if we’re lucky).

How many things which we take for certain….aren’t?

Everything.

Professor Snape gets a bad wrap throughout all the movies, and characters and viewers alike consider him to be a persona non grata of sorts. Granted, he’s not exactly a warm, fuzzy, likable character, so it’s easy to do. But in the last movie, we see a clearer picture of Snape than we did before. We see his propensity towards the darker arts, yet we also see his love for Lilly and some of the trials he suffered at the hands of those we’ve thought of as heroes. We see how even though he joined Voldemort’s side early on,  he made the decision to become a guardian to Harry and to help Dumbledore in the fight against Voldemort. We see a more complete picture of him than just the simple “truth” that we assumed from the beginning of the movies.

“There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying.” Robert Evans

So it is with all of us. We all have multiple layers of perception, of truth, of skillful and unskilful behavior. We know this intellectually, but I found in Harry Potter a reminder. That how we think of a person is shaped by our own perceptions of “truth”.  It’s easy to conceive an entire picture of someone based on our own perceptions of them, either good or bad, but how much of it is truth? Can we really know?

Be well and peaceful.