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Lions Roar : July 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2006 48 to focus entirely upon these particularities. This is how we end up labeling others as “enemies,” “good,” “evil,” etc., and clinging strongly to those attributions. However, if we con- sider reality carefully, its complexity becomes obvious. If one thing were truly beautiful and pleasant, if those qualities genuinely belonged to it, we could consider it de- sirable at all times and in all places. But is anything on earth universally and unanimously recognized as beautiful? As the canonical Buddhist verse has it: “For the lover, a beautiful woman is an object of desire; for the hermit, a distraction; for the wolf, a good meal.” Likewise, if an object were inher- ently repulsive, everyone would have good reason to avoid it. But it changes everything to recognize that we are merely attributing these qualities to things and people. There is no intrinsic quality in a beautiful object that makes it beneficial to the mind, and nothing in an ugly object to harm it. In the same way, a person whom we consider today to be an enemy is most certainly somebody else’s object of affection, and we may one day forge bonds of friendship with that selfsame enemy. We react as if characteristics were inseparable from the object we assign them to. Thus we distance ourselves from reality and are dragged into the machinery of attraction and repulsion that is kept relentlessly in motion by our mental projections. Our concepts freeze things into artificial entities and we lose our in- ner freedom, just as water loses its fluidity when it turns to ice. The Crystallization of the Ego Among the many aspects of our confusion, the most radically disruptive is the insistence on the concept of a personal identity: the ego. Buddhism distinguishes between an innate, instinctive “I”—when we think, for instance, “I’m awake” or “I’m cold”— Untitled, 1996, 18 x 18 inches.