*** When I originally published ‘The Weariness of a Life Lived “Right”‘ it was anticipated to be a short, stand-alone article. However, since then I have felt that leaving it as the only discussion of “right living” was disrespectful to the struggle. In light of this, I offer this second installment. ***
I do have plenty of illusions that I am living my life “right.” That said, my biggest problem does not come when I am deluded, falter, doubt, or lose my focus on what I should be doing to live “right”. It comes, often times, when I am most focused on the idea of what I should be doing. That is, it comes when I am most cognizant of what a person “ought” to do to live “right”.
Essentially, my biggest problem (at least, biggest problem today) pops up when I am trying to do the “right” thing. It comes when I am in a situation that previously I would have responded to very badly (even self-destructively), but I can see so clearly the right way to respond – and I do! And in this situation I look at the person across from me, and I see that they are caught up in the same situation, perhaps we are arguing. I see that they are as caught up as I normally would have been, and I see that they… horrors of horrors… do not see the “right way”.
Bam! There it is, the problem hits me. I feel that, if only I can make them see the “right way”. If only I can get them to see it they would be so much happier. This situation that is so troubling them (but not me, because I see and apply the “truth”) would be alleviated or vanish altogether if only I can get them to understand… if only….
Heres the thing: I may be correct. But guess what: That doesn’t matter.
My biggest problem comes when I have a genuine urge to help someone, but respond like a shark smelling (tasting?) blood in the water. The clarity of the “right way” becomes intoxicating, and energizes me while my concern for the other person gives me direction. I will now allow no obstacle to stop me. I will show them the way whether they want it or not (after all, its good for them).
This then is the heart of hubris.
In my embracing of the Buddhist path I feel I have come to a place where compassion is possible, and I have come to a place of occasional clarity. That said, I often lack balance. The passion that arises out of genuine compassion, and the immediacy of how to help become like two weapons. My lack of balance makes them two weapons in the hands of a child.
It is true hubris, a true arrogance, to only act on these two. A third piece is needed. The third piece, the one that gives balance, is patience. Patience is the part that restrains the passion of compassion. Not by squelching it, but by holding it in sufficient check that the focus that comes from understanding the “right” thing to do, can broaden, and include and actual appreciation for the person. With this broader focus, with this appreciation, the compassion that I felt for the person as a suffering person becomes a compassion for this particular suffering person, and not simply for an abstract suffering person.
Patience, then, is that piece that restrains compassion and focus to the point where one can abandon the cause of helping and actually connect with the person in need.
As a bonus, patience causes us the revisit the fact that “I may be right,” and may show us that we were not. Either way, “right” or “wrong”, patience allows the compassion to be true compassion by being a compassion for a true person, and not the idea of a person. That, then, is the antidote for hubris.