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Lions Roar : May 2014
the truth, then you’ll end up with something that looks and feels very much like dharma, it seems to me. Yet you do offer some specific Buddhist analysis. You told the students that we fail to be kind because of three funda- mental misunderstandings about who we are: we believe that we’re the center of the universe, that we’re separate from the universe, and that we’re permanent. These are classic Buddhist definitions of ego. When I thought about me and this little girl in the seventh grade, I turned my mind to what was wrong with me, to what was my problem. I think the answer is that, at that age, I believed so strongly in my own separateness from her, my own primacy, and in protecting my own status that I wasn’t able to make the right move. And those are dharma principles. Originally I had laden this section with some Buddhist terms, but my wife said I should take them out. She said I shouldn’t make it seem overthought or dogmatic. And of course, the dhar- mic ideas are so beautiful and pure that anyone who had lived and experienced these things would see the basic truth of them. Because for me, that’s what dharma is—really, really trying to get to the bottom of this with no deflection and no confusion and no agenda. This points to one of Buddhism’s great strengths. It doesn’t simply tell us to be kind. It shows us in concrete terms why we’re not, which gives us a path forward. That to me is the most wonderful thing about any vital spiri- tual practice. It doesn’t necessarily say, stop doing that. Or if it does, it says, here’s how to stop doing that. Because you can only get so good with sheer willpower. you have to look into the way things actually work to empower yourself to do better. Here is a wonderful metaphor I sometimes use with my stu- dents. Imagine you’re on a cruise ship in heavy seas. you’re the only person who’s stable, and everybody else is moving around in a crazy way. you decide to have mercy on them, and that’s pretty good, right? But I think a better model is to imagine you’re on a cruise ship, and the surface is made of ice, and you’re carrying six trays, and you’re wearing roller skates, and you’re drunk. And so is everybody else. So nobody’s the boss and the situation is unstable. There’s no fixed point. When I think of life that way, it sums up the proper level of mercy and tolerance. We really don’t know what’s going on, so our feeling of sympathy or empathy is related to our mutual lostness. Everybody’s lost at once. ♦ SHAMBHALA SUN MAy 2014 41