I have a morbid compulsion to follow the news, and it’s possibly my greatest ongoing spiritual practice. I suspect it replaced my earlier most-intense-practice which was raising kids, and since now that my children are young adults(-ish) we each have more breathing space, I guess I unconsciously found something else to test me.
A spiritual practice is indeed indispensible given the timbre of the news cycle. It’s a huge help to remember that much of what we observe has no permanent, separate existence and that everything that happens around us is the fruit of actions (karma) that we have all participated in over time. No blame! Just awareness. And in this awareness lies our power to transform ourselves and our relationship to what happens in our society, and perhaps even society itself.
The Buddha taught his followers how to develop discernment, called viveka in Sanskrit, and about how to make the most of a teacher and what is taught. His method is known as the four reliances – catuḥ pratisaraṇa – and it applies to any ‘teacher’ we might encounter in daily life.
1. Rely on the message of the teacher, not on his or her personality;
2. Rely on the meaning, not just on the words;
3. Rely on the real meaning, not on the provisional one;
4. Rely on your wisdom mind, not on your ordinary, judgemental mind.
This came to mind as I observed the interplay of world leaders over the past week or so.
Some, considered upstanding, traditional leaders, are defending things that have long ago been demonstrated to work against the interests of many people – especially the so-called working classes. So they look and sound good but are not supporting the environment, or social structures, or other vital aspects of a healthy society. What can we learn from them?
Others, widely considered as eedjits (as my Irish grandmother might say), challenge current thinking and ways of doing things – which is very much needed in our times – yet their personality or their extremism drowns out the essential truth of their message. What can we learn from them?
In this atmosphere, we can easily recognise that nothing is ever black or white. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, and it’s a different middle for every issue. Polarisation of belief is unhelpful, as is being lazy about questioning our beliefs. This blinds us to what is actually there, and to what it possible, when we assume we already know what the truth is.
The fool who knows he is a fool is that much wiser.
The fool who thinks he is wise is a fool indeed.
~ The Buddha
Viveka is the highest quality of a spiritual practice. We all have the gift of discernment, although its deployment might be a bit rusty. Think for yourself, understand your world using your wisdom mind. The apparent chaos will clear up and you will be free from manipulation and fear, and grateful for the teachers that appear in the most unusual places.
With much love and light as always,