Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Middle Way and being Buddhist without becoming a sap

I really love learning and writing about Buddhism, but for a while there I was feeling like an imposter. I consider myself a sensitive, emotional person, but on the other hand I am also pragmatic, assertive, and critical. This duality has brought me some level of conflict in how I conduct my daily life. If I tap too much into my ‘compassionate’ side, I end up feeling silly and sentimental, but also think that some of my reactions to things might be a little harsh.

I carefully considered what makes me feel so torn. Looking deeply, I think it is sometimes too easy to try too hard. Here is how it goes: Inspired by practitioners I admire, I bring on the compassion, and genuinely feel a lot of joy while doing so. The beauties, the joys, even the difficulties in life- everything seems like a wonderful opportunity. I can even see my adversaries in a new light, as fellow human beings who also just want to be happy.

However, inevitably something happens that makes me feel “stupid" nice.  Being cheated at the store, someone misusing donations, actually believing a politician on TV when normally I would know they are lying through their teeth, eventually brings me to my cynical ‘piss off’ stage. Ugly, I know, but let’s be real, the world can really wear you down if you let it. 

So what am I doing wrong? In the beginning my heart is in the right place, my intentions are good, and I don’t expect any personal benefit from my actions. All good things. But in the face of injustice, I know the difference between right and wrong, and I get pretty outraged. I can still see the good things, but not as clearly.

The answer is balance. My problem is that while I am concentrating on being understanding, but don’t keep a firm grip on my street smarts. It is the age-old problem of the good-hearted fool and the cruel genius. In short, compassion needs to be balanced with wisdom. Only then can someone speak, act, and think with confidence, because they know that while they are letting love, not hatred, rule their judgment, their mind is still keen and analytical, ready to ask questions and seek the truth to benefit all.

As we know, perfect balance is very difficult to achieve, and may not occur within this lifetime. However, there is no pressure, since it is certainly not a contest!  Balancing wisdom and compassion is key to avoiding extremes and practicing the Buddhist concept of the Middle Way. This is a great thing to strive for, not only to benefit others, but for the benefit of oneself. And anyone who achieves this will be anything but a sap. 

May all beings be happy!           


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