Skillful Behaviour: The Three Stages

“ The Buddhist Sutras were available only in Chinese, and Tetsugen
wanted to publish them in Japanese. After ten years he had enough
to complete his project, but at this time there were floods and famine,
so he spent the money on relief of suffering. By the time he collected
enough money again, an epidemic engulfed the country and once more
he spent the money on relief of suffering. After twenty years, at his third
attempt, he finally published the Sutras. The Japanese say that he
published three sets and that the first two invisible ones were even
greater than the last.”

A Buddhist story

To commit ourselves to good deeds, to undertake work that will support and help others, is an expression of our deep humanity that feeds through to enrich and nourish us in so many ways. Tetsugen was deeply aware of that. He sacrificed the publication of important Buddhist sutras so that he could that reach out and touch peoples’ lives in a profound and practical way. His act of generosity was a courageous and heart-felt move that can inspire us to think about our own actions and the resulting impact they can have on others. But in doing so we must not simply focus our attention on the large scale, grandiose acts that tend to win over people’s hearts and minds, for it’s also the tiny, everyday, unnoticed acts that are of value and merit as well. But whatever the scale and nature of our good deeds, our acts of giving, there appears to be at least three stages involved, starting with that of awareness….

AWARENESS: THE DISCOVERY OF OUR INNATE GOODNESS

Many bad deeds are committed in ignorance. We take a certain course in life, perhaps not really thinking fully about the impact it could have, and before long something quite unintentionally spills out to negatively effect other people’s lives, and even our own. Ignorance can beset us all in our actions and behaviour, ignorance about higher life values, ignorance about our commitment to others. Any positive action that we undertake is a product of awareness. Awareness precedes all our affirmative actions, it is the energy that informs all that we do to secure spiritually infused ends. And without this awareness, this perception of better understanding, we will remain trapped, held back, unaware of the higher calling that can secure the very best from us….

IMPLEMENTATION: OUR COMMITMENT TO EXPRESSION
Once we know what appropriate action to take, in any given situation, we must commit ourselves to its implementation. With the engagement of commitment, we will transform our thoughts, ideas and plans into the expression mode, a decisive form that mirrors back to us all that we wanted to achieve. Where bigger issues are concerned this may very well involve us in substantial, personal change. It may necessitate the need to enter a new phase of our life, a new arena that we have never entered before. This may make us feel uncertain, uneasy, scared even about what we are trying to do but we must go forward. To pull back at this stage would diminish all the good that we are capable of producing, and importantly, restrict our spiritual growth and aspirations.

Recently I have been busy trying to compile a book based on interviews with Buddhist practitioners on the theme of death and dying. The intention, when it’s complete, is to offer this as a gift to those in need at a critical time of their lives, under the auspices of the Buddhist Hospice Trust. When I first undertook the preliminary work, within days, we received a donation of one thousand pounds. Then soon after I approached an artist, whose writing I was aware of, asking if she would kindly contribute a piece on art therapy. Over the weeks we discussed, extensively, what we thought might be appropriate and then she startled me by saying that she thought the book could bring so much comfort and inspiration to people in need that she wanted to donate a thousand pounds towards the costs of publication – she wanted to make a commitment. Since then we have become good friends and I’m so appreciative of her generosity – it truly touched me. And provided I can refrain from spending the pledged money on floods, famine and epidemics ( unlike Tetsugen in our Buddhist story ) the book will be published next year to hopefully give the terminally ill and their relatives some comfort in their time of need.
Unfortunately there are no universal rules, policies or procedures that we can follow to help us decide, clearly and concisely, what is the right thing to do in any given case. Each situation must be judged on its own merits, hopefully after full reflection, and if possible, open discussion with wise counsel, then we can act…..

SUPPORT AND EVALUATION: SUSTAINING THE VISION
Much of what we do, our everyday actions, are at the micro end of the scale. Habitual, ephemeral, not necessarily requiring support and maintenance because they generally have no long-term implications, although they may still need the benefit of reflection and evaluation from time to time. At the macro end of the scale however, with bigger action plans, there is likely to be a need for support and evaluation to see them through, especially if there exists possible long-term ramifications. But whatever the scale of our actions, if we decide to ignore this process then we run the risk of losing impact, of not achieving our desired outcomes that we originally hoped for. Too often we can decide on a plan only to be pulled away later into distraction and forgetfulness. Or we can oscillate between a keen enthusiasm and a dull apathy. Many things enter into our lives to intentionally, or unintentionally, undermine our strategies and we must be mindful of this. But provided we reassess our situation and firmly underpin again, what we have set out to achieve, then in time, we will meet with success. We must always remember the spiritual law that says whatever we so give, so shall we receive. Therefore if we are charged with positive motivation, giving of our very best, how can we possibly fail…..

Nelson Mandela joined the African National Congress in 1944 and started to participate in a long, determined and concerted campaign of opposition against the segregation and discrimination of Apartheid Rule in South Africa. In 1964 he was arrested and charged with sabotage and conspiracy against the State. Before the commencement of his defence trial Mandela made an impassioned speech from the dock. This was the closing paragraph:

“…..During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Nelson Mandela – April 20, 1964

Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment.

He was eventually released from Robben Island at the age of 72, after serving a total of 25 years. Yet on release, he still continued his campaign of opposition against the injustices and inequalities of the South African Government. – such was the vision and determination that he had sustained over all those difficult years. Eventually he helped form a new, democratic government and for the very first time in South African history, the indigenous black community was allowed a democratic right to vote. Supported with a wide consensus, Mandela assumed the Presidency. In honour of all that he had achieved in his struggles, Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

THE SPIRITUAL PATH OF CONTINUOUS MISTAKES…..

“ A Zen Master’s life is one of continuous mistakes.”

Dogen

Trying to do our very best is not always easy. So many variables conspire to undermine, too often, our intentions and plans. We get knocked off course by extraneous forces that build up to challenge our direction. We also knock ourselves off course. Recognizing that the path we tread is often a difficult and arduous journey, that inevitably involves making many mistakes, is a lesson that confronts us all. But provided we can reflect deeply on our direction in life, and act in accordance with our spirit based beliefs and values, then the path will deepen despite all our continuous mistakes…..

JOURNEY LONG, JOURNEY WELL…..