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1 Oct 2015

We were promised nothing – a little gold nugget

Do you ever do a little spring clean of the mind and discard the faulty underlying assumptions to make space for new, fresh and healthy ones?

One of the many things I love about Buddhism is that there is no leap of faith required.  It is simply based in careful observation of reality.  This is of course why the ancient practice is backed up by neuroscience and also why Buddhism contains so many profoundly healthy and sound observations about life.

During a workshop I ran the other day I said: ‘we were promised nothing.’ A lady in the session commented that that was my belief. I see the statement ‘we were promised nothing’ as a ‘no belief’ statement.  (but that might be delusion?) However what is the difference between a belief and an observation?  Any time we think we were promised something that would be a ‘belief statement’, and I think in general, not a serving one?  I would be keen to hear your thoughts on this.

Whether a belief or an observation, the statement requires the same scrutiny if it is to be held as a truth.  The questions that need to be asked are: ‘does this statement serve me, my relationships and the world at large.’ To me this statement passes this test, in fact it shows up as a gold nugget.

If you chew on: ‘I was promised nothing’, what does it say to you?  Notice how easily gratitude arises out of this space.  If I were to be diagnosed with an illness tomorrow it feels easier to deal with if I remind myself: ‘I was promised nothing’ than if I keep thinking; ‘it is too early, it is not right, it is unfair, most people live much longer, I have been living so healthily’ etc.  The expectation of how it ‘should’ be will be my obstacle to acceptance.  ‘I was promised nothing’ makes an easy direct route to acceptance and when luck and fortuitous experiences come my way, I can only feel gratitude knowing that we are not always rewarded for our hard work, in fact many are not.  This becomes so clear when we travel in poorer countries or consider how our grandparents worked and lived.

We often hear: ‘you deserve to be happy’ or just ‘you deserve it’!  I actually think this nonsense.  Who is to say who is more deserving and is good fortune really handed out on that basis?  Of course not.  We white middle class people, who are born in the West, are no more deserving than anyone else; we are just lucky – that is all.

Even if ‘God’ had whispered in your ear on the way to earth: ‘you are special, on the right team, I will make sure you get a particularly good life, you do good things and good things will come to you.’  How serving would it be to have that playing in the background?  Reassuring perhaps, but what would be the effect on resilience?  What about our ability to deal with things not turning out the way we had ‘expected’; wouldn’t we be likely to feel we got a rotten deal and get a little peeved with God/Buddha or the world?

‘Life has no heart’ – things happen; awful things happen and great things happen.  Genpo Roshi threw this at me when I was going through a tough time last year, I was taken aback and then felt the truism in the statement.  If we want a happy life then we have to work at it, we have to exercise, show kindness, be generous, we have to train our brain for happiness.  It is as simple as that!  Even in our lives of abundance, the default mode for most is not happiness, but a slight ongoing dissatisfaction.

So the motto is: ‘I was promised nothing’ and on that basis my response is my responsibility; all good is a blessing and the tough stuff, (painful and sad as it can be) is also part of life.   So when challenges arise, the question becomes: ‘how do I let this experience extend and enlarge my heart while making my mind wiser?

Here is a quote from my teacher who generously has shared his wisdom with me so many times:

“To find liberation and freedom, we need to drop, our tightly held notions, ideas, and everything we’ve been taught. What imprisons us is never really ‘out there.’ We bind ourselves. The contracted mind keeps us imprisoned with endless desires, judgments, and preferences.” — Genpo Roshi



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