illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
Recently, someone reported to me a concern; I responded to the best of my abilities as to why the concern was unfounded (for the actual, specific situation at hand); but this person just went on with « even more reason to be concerned than I had before » and « further cause for concern… » No matter my answers, this person wanted to be 'concerned'.
Ultimately, this pointed to preconceptions and certainties. Such certainties obscured everything else, prevented any response, any constructive dialogue: « I know » just doesn't allow much of anything.
It is easy to feel sure, to feel certain, to justify certainty with one's "long experience" at whatever level, to blind oneself by labelling others… it is easy but it is unwise.
Even the certainty of "doing the right thing" is unwise; this is the main mistake of all warmongers! Do the right thing; don't fall into inaction because of doubts! But stay alert; don't go from an extreme of doubts to an extreme of certainties! Refrain from certainties! Act, but look for hints that maybe you're wrong instead of falling into the "confirmation bias" (only looking for the convenient hints). Act, but look for clues as to when to stop and/or when to pass the relay to others (so they can cultivate their wholesome tendencies).
No tiger, see?
A woman moved to her new home. After a few days, she noticed the neighbour spent a lot of time circling around his house, singing mantras… Defining herself as non-superstitious, the woman was annoyed to live near a dogmatist.
After a few months, getting tired of seeing this activity next door, she finally went in the garden, called the neighbour and asked « why do you circle around your home, singing these incantations? »
The neighbour replied « This is a protection against tigers. »
Baffled, the woman then said: « Dude, we live in (insert suitable place), there are no tiger around! »
To which the neighbour replied: « See? It works! »
It's easy to be blinded by certainties. And then no matter what the other person says, one 'sticks' even more, one takes everything as further 'proof' that (s)he's right… Usually, both 'sides' can do so (it's easy, because it's not based on reality in fact but solely on preconceptions)… It's easy, but this isn't the Path, this doesn't lead to the cessation of suffering.
There's no other side
Peace is only achieved when you're ready to relinquish being right, even when the other is wrong! It is stepping out of the logical fallacy that the other being wrong makes you 'right': it is accepting that you may well be both wrong, that the difference might just be a matter of debatable 'degree'.
It is in listening in order to build something together, to find (or expand) a common ground rather than to find distinctions and differences. This is very well known for couples, but it isn't limited to marital counselling. It is just a sign that you value peace more than you value being right!
This doesn't mean any criticism by others should be taken on board though, it doesn't mean 'fusion' is the goal. It simply means you're 'practising': you still have to do what's needed, but criticism, separation and conflict rarely are the response the world needs most! Appropriateness succeeds where preconceptions hit walls.
A focus on peace highlights that this isn't about 'sides'.
What's wholesome is to question one's own certainties and one's own intentions, not so much to question the views or intentions of others. There is no 'other' side: the 'other' side is 'your' world, it's still about 'you'! So the wholesome questions are with 'I', and without victimhood:
• Why am I annoyed because the neighbour has different beliefs from mine? What am I trying to protect really? What am I clinging to?
• Why am I afraid of tigers (in general, and in the present context in particular)? What am I trying to protect really? What am I clinging to?
• Why can I not accept that my business partner may have other interests than just this business (and that this might even enrich my partner, rather than take away from them)? What am I trying to protect really? What am I clinging to?
• How do I inspire (not impose) wholesome intentions around me?
• Since death alone is certain and the time of death uncertain, what should I do?
What the ordinary mind (ignorant of impermanence, of selflessness and of the nature of dissatisfaction) clings to is the illusion that control of one's circumstances, control of saṃsāra, is the key to happiness. The illusion that control, rather than freedom, allows to avoid what one dislikes, and to have what one likes. The illusion that control over the satisfaction of untamed desires is freedom from suffering, when only freedom from desires (not "absence of" but "freedom from": not letting desires choose for you) might offer freedom from frustration.
We can play with causality but we're not the sole cause of ripples, therefore we must relinquish the idea of 'control', and stick to 'influence' (neither all-powerful, by tyranny or perfectionism, nor powerless). The wish for `control' can never be satiated and leads to dissatisfaction.
Photo: "Moody Raindrops In Dark Blue Puddle" by © D Sharon Pruitt (flickr.com/pinksherbet/)