Wisdom for Dummies Part I

(This is an exceptional article I read awhile ago, I think you’ll find it useful)

We like to think of Buddhist wisdom as something subtle and abstract. And there are aspects of the Buddha’s teachings that are subtle and abstract. But wisdom has to start with some very basic things, too. You might call it “Wisdom for Dummies.” 

And that means you: You’re not going to get to the higher levels until you’ve mastered the basics.  

There are two ways in which the Buddha talks about very basic levels of wisdom.  One is if there’s something that you like to do but is going to give bad results, you know how to talk yourself out of it. 

The other is that if there’s something that you don’t like to do but is going to give good results, you’re able to talk yourself into it. In other words, you learn how to psych yourself up.  You learn to look at the long term rather than the short term. And you try to figure out what the problem is with your attitude, how you can get around your laziness.  

We were talking this afternoon about laziness when getting up in the morning.  There’s a passage in the Canon where the Buddha talks about the different excuses people give for laziness: “I didn’t get enough sleep last night,” “I’m tired,” “I worked yesterday,” “I’m going to be working tomorrow,” “I came back from a trip yesterday,”“I’m going on a trip tomorrow,” “I’ve been sick.” 

And then he compares those with the reasons that another person might give for being more energetic in the practice. And it turns out they’re the same reasons: “I worked a lot yesterday but now I’ve got a chance to meditate today,” “I’m going to be working tomorrow but I’ve got this chance to meditate now,” “I’ve been sick, but finally I’ve gotten over that, so I can meditate some.  I may still be weak, but the illness could come back. So here’s my chance.”

In other words, there’s no difference in the objective situation. The difference is in your attitude.  So if the voices to get you more energetic are not there in your mind, try to learn some of them. Because you’re not the only one who likes to sleep in late—everybody likes to sleep in late.  Ajaan Maha Boowa complained about how lazy he was. And here he was: someone who eventually could sit five or six hours as if it were nothing. 

We all have to figure out some way to get around our laziness.  At the same time, there are things we like to do that we have to learn how to say ‘No’ to. 

Learn how to see their drawbacks. At the very least, put up a fight. All too often, the voices in the mind say, “You’re going to be giving in anyhow in five minutes, so why don’t you give in now, so we don’t have to waste a lot of time and energy.”  You can respond and say, “Well, I don’t know about five minutes from now, but right now I’m responsible for right now. So if it’s something I should do, I’m going to do it now. If it’s something I shouldn’t do, I won’t be doing it now. We’ll talk about five minutes in five minutes’ time.” 

Another one of the reasons they’ll give is, “You’ll get up and meditate, but you’re not going to last very long, so why bother?” So you say, “At least I’ll get up, get into position, and then we’ll talk from there.”  It’s not like you’re committed, that once you get up you have to meditate. But you say, “Well, at least give it a try.” 

The same when you find yourself doing something you shouldn’t be doing. You’ve started doing it and part of the mind will say, “Well, now that you’ve started, you’re committed and you might as well go all the way.”  You say, “No. I can stop.” So, learn how to psych yourself up. It’s all very simple, but the problem is that you tend to identify with certain voices in the mind, and they make it complex. 

You’ve got to learn how to withdraw your sense of identification from them and learn to see those voices as not-self.   Again, we like to think of the not-self teaching as something very abstract and subtle. But it’s something we’re doing all the time—we’re not-selfing all the time in order to self new things.  You self an idea and then another idea comes up, so you not-self the first idea and then self the second one. 

Learn to be a little more systematic about how you do that.  Learn to view your sense of self and the activity of not-selfing as tools.  Then ask yourself, “When is it skillful to identify with this idea? And when is it skillful to identify with that idea?” You have the freedom to choose. Selfing is a verb.  It’s an activity, a kind of kamma. And as with all kinds of kamma, the question is, “When is it skillful? When is it not?” So give yourself a little more freedom around this issue.

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