illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
Ignorant tendencies plague us from the early days of life, and seeking the praise or the approval from parents, seeking the "good boy/girl" validation, leaves marks much later in life.
I previously wrote how relationship / marriage can be a great setup for buddhist practice… I previously wrote how "leading by example" and dropping the "do as I say, not as I do" hypocrisy are key for buddhist parents. But how to deal with one's own parents?
Classical advice when approaching the Christmas period would be around "let go; you meet them once in a while, little is worth fighting over, let go and have a good time instead!" But, throughout the year, do you just let go, let antiquated views be continuously pushed on you, past ignorance be renewed, etc?
Praise and blame, fame and disgrace are 4 of the 8 worldly winds one needs to stop worrying about, in order to become free.
Two monks were arguing about a flag.
One said: "The flag is moving."
The other said: "The wind is moving."
The sixth patriach happened to be passing by.
He told them: "Not the wind, not the flag; mind is moving."
Most often, people understand these winds in relation to the wider social circles, friends, colleagues, neighbours… but actually, like most practice, it starts at home! To become free, one needs in particular to become equanimous to the praise and blame by parents, the fame and disgrace within the family.
The wise mind is 'immovable': it doesn't offer a handle to phenomena for them to carry the mind away from what it needs to attend to…
Seeking validation or approval is one of the ways you can bind yourself in chains, by giving power to others (whose approval you seek) to manipulate you, to choose for you, to make demands.
Now if the person you give control to is wise, this might temporarily be wise (that's a basis of vajrayāna / guruyāna, after all)… but if the person is ignorant, this might be very unwise, and the fact that the person might be a parent isn't enough to make them wise.
During my trip in India, living in a big and convenient house (fact) was once described (mental fabrication) as 'shameful'… due to the state of the road (public, not private) leading to it! When combined with other comments about food, what constituted an upper middle-class lifestyle ended up being summarised as "living off watery curry, in a slum"!
Regardless of whether this was a call for praise (like some people might say "I'm so stupid" just to prompt others to say "no, you're not"… when it's not "I love you" just to hear "I love you too" ) or was truly experienced as shame to some degree or another, either way, this was not freedom from the (imagined) opinions of others.
Recently, I've also seen someone cooking food for a parent while there was perfectly eatable leftovers in the fridge, on the basis that the parent would complain if the food was not fresh. This is seeking praise, seeking the "you're a good child" from the ego (i.e. the ignorant part) of the parent!
Funnily enough, later in the day, the parent complained anyway… not because of the food, but because of a Facebook thread that didn't go their way! So seeking praise did not shield the cook from a moody parent, but it certainly made the life of the cook a lot more complicated / unsupportive / needlessly difficult / needlessly unsatisfactory. Seeking approval constituted a recipe for dukkha.
Freedom from praise and blame, fame and disgrace, is similar to freedom from fear.
It doesn't mean that the phenomenon disappears; it only means that the phenomenon is no longer magnified. It doesn't receive disproportionate weight. It doesn't benefit from inappropriate prioritisation. It becomes "one information among many".
The connection is very strong because often it's not blame and disgrace that we let control us, but the fear of blame and the fear of disgrace! We lock ourselves down, without actual intervention by others, by fear of what we imagine they will think or say!
Even when it's not the fear of blame but the actual blame that we need to engage with, we still don't need to bias our reactions (due to clinging to an hypothetical 'stainless', hypothetical 'pure', self that requires us to be 'defensive'):
A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near Hakuin. One day, without any warning, her parents discovered she was pregnant. This made her parents angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment at last named Hakuin.
In great anger the parents went to the master. "Is that so?" was all he would say.
After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbours and everything else the child needed.
A year later the girl could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth — the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fish market.
The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask forgiveness, to apologise at length, and to get the child back.
Hakuin willingly yielded the child, saying only: "Is that so?"
The 'disgrace' still exists, it doesn't magically vanish… but Hakuin relates to it in a way (with equanimity) that doesn't stop him from doing his best, embodying wisdom and compassion and loving-kindness. He focused on performing the wholesome function of constructively raising the child, doing the right thing. He didn't care about what had been said, what was being said, or what would be later said.
The "beautiful Japanese girl" however embodied a seriously biased, unhelpful, response due to her fear of blame and disgrace. She didn't really escape either though… She only piled up difficulties.
You can make your life complicated and unsatisfactory due to mental fabrications about what others think, or due to the vicious circle of attempting to please everybody. You might even justify it in the name of selflessness, but in fact this is selfishness and the belief that you can accumulate merit (in some karmic "savings account"?).
Keep your life simple, and sometimes this means saying "no" (even though it might temporarily look like it will complicate things… See the longer causal unfolding: don't over-weigh the short-term consequences, as these are only a subset of all the consequences).
You cannot "make" people happy. You cannot "make" your parents happy. You cannot "make" your children happy. You cannot "make" your partner happy. What you can do is participate in offering supportive conditions for them to be happy, but at the end of the day they're the ones relating to these conditions and liking/disliking them based on more or less ignorant views. Affecting the conditions doesn't necessarily cascade into affecting perceptions or views.
So, out of compassion and love and sympathetic joy, certainly feel free to do your best to provide wholesome conditions (supportive / helpful / constructive)… but refrain from aiming to provide happiness itself, or you've lost equanimity, as you care too much of what others think (often ignorantly) and hence provide anchors, pegs and levers to unsettle your mind, to expose your mind to the worldly winds!
Desires mostly embody clingings to ignorant views and to biased preferences, prejudices, etc. Trying to satisfy the desires of others is like trying to satisfy the ignorance of others, and there's no wisdom in trying to satisfy ignorance! You have to discern which desires might be wholesome and helpful (at least temporarily) and which shouldn't be answered, no matter the short-term controversies. It won't make the controversies any more pleasant, sorry!, but you cannot break the status quo by voluntarily caving in all the time. The controversy is a fact to engage with, not something to wish away.
As offered in the Hagakure: « There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. »
#Zen #Buddhism #Dharma
Quote of the illustration: Dhammapada, chapter 6, verse 81