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Lions Roar : July 2015
eats meat, although I was a longtime vegetarian. If somebody questions my meat eating as a Buddhist, I shouldn’t just shake them off. Each time the ques- tion comes up, I should be prepared to explore the question with the person who asks it. As I should if somebody asks at dinner why I keep looking at my smartphone instead of being present with them. I shouldn’t attack the person who questioned me by pointing out that they are often on their phone, too. We might also become righteous and judgmental as the conversation shifts to ethics. Let’s face it— we’ve all made a ton of mistakes. I could fill volumes with just a fraction of mine. Our leaders are flawed, too. One of the largest issues we face in the twenty- first century is that it’s become so hard to even trust in the idea of decent and honorable leaders. There is so much going on in this world that we don’t agree with, and we might not even agree with each other about what’s wrong. Because we don’t trust the openness of our own heartmind, when the going gets tough, we lose the flexibility that would allow room for mistakes. Without flexibility, we judge and condemn. Without trust in the goodness of the mind, mistakes cease to be occa- sions for learning. Instead, every mistake that comes before our Supreme Court of Righteousness becomes a condemnation, a death sentence. With this mistrusting mentality, we don’t allow space for learning from mistakes, and we certainly don’t allow room for the truth that the really hard questions in life almost always fall into gray areas, where righteousness can’t help us. With righteousness, we try for sterilized perfec- tion. We might expect ourselves and everyone else to become vegan, sober, antiwar, ever-smiling, never- biased, cannot-tell-a-lie, 100-percent ecoconscious consumers, dedicating twenty-five hours a day and eight days a week to charitable causes, willing to give the shirt off our back to anyone who asks for it. When these standards aren’t met, we say things like, “Oh my God, I killed a mosquito—what have I done?” or, “I can’t believe you would wear that shirt and call your- self a Buddhist!” or, “You work at Goldman? I can’t even deal with you.” Or, on the other hand, our friends might learn that we’ve taken an interest in studying meditation, and launch passive- aggressive barbs like, “Well, that’s not very Buddhist of you” when we aren’t doing exactly what they want us to do. I remember, throughout my teenage years, heavily judging my parents after their divorce, feeling, completely unfairly, that because they were Buddhists, they should somehow always be able to work things out. Where were my parents’ halos? Of course, this righteous HOT OFF THE PRESS THE ROAD HOME by Ethan Nichtern North Point Press, 288 pp. $25.00 (cloth) 1119 SE Market Street | Portland, Oregon 97214 telephone: 503-235-2477 | email: