The Guardians of the World

contemplation

Day after day, I find myself taken back by the increasing negation of basic moral and ethical guidelines, the denial of human rights identified within the United States Constitution, and the slow and methodical erosion of the separation of powers.  Possible war with North Korea, the upheaval centered around Saudi Arabia, populations of people-worldwide-struggling to survive in war-torn countries, and this growing internal conflict among American citizens awakens a state of anxiety.  I must admit while attending a church, walking through the mall, going to the theatre, and watching a high school graduation ceremony I struggled with anxious possibilities.  And now in the middle of all of this there is public controversy when a company decides to pull ads from a show that traffics in conspiracy theories, doubts victims of sexual abuse, and furthers the partisan division in this country as well as a political party that strives to deny medical care to those not within their circle of influence and is hell-bent to gain political favor through tax cuts for their donor base.

All of this has me feel as though I’m living in a Marvel comic script looking at darkened skies hoping for the arrival of a world protector.   What I found instead of The Avengers or The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was Bhikkhu Bodhi, an American Buddhist monk from New York City, who within his article entitled, The Guardians of the World, invited me to look inward.

“Like the Roman god Janus, every person faces simultaneously in two opposite directions. With one face of our consciousness we gaze in upon ourselves and become aware of ourselves as individuals motivated by a deep urge to avoid suffering and to secure our own well-being and happiness. With the other face we gaze out upon the world and discover that our lives are thoroughly relational, that we exist as nodes in a vast net of relationships with other beings whose fate is tied up with our own. Because of the relational structure of our existence, we are engaged in a perpetual two-way interaction with the world: the influence of the world presses in upon ourselves, shaping and altering our own attitudes and dispositions, while our own attitudes and dispositions flow out into the world, a force that affects the lives of others for better or for worse.

This seamless interconnection between the inner and outer domains acquires a particular urgency for us today owing to the rampant deterioration in ethical standards that sweeps across the globe. Such moral decline is as widespread in those societies which enjoy a comfortable measure of stability and prosperity as it is in those countries where poverty and desperation make moral infringements an integral aspect of the struggle for survival. Of course we should not indulge in pastel-colored fantasies about the past, imagining that we lived in a Garden of Eden until the invention of the steam engine. The driving forces of the human heart have remained fairly constant through the ages, and the toll they have taken in human misery surpasses calculation. But what we find today is a strange paradox that would be interesting if it were not sinister: while there appears to be a much wider verbal acknowledgment of the primacy of moral and human values, there is at the same time more blatant disregard for the lines of conduct such values imply. This undermining of traditional ethical values is in part a result of the internationalization of commerce and the global penetration of virtually all media of communication. Vested interests, in quest of wider loops of power and expanding profits, mount a sustained campaign aimed at exploiting our moral vulnerability. This campaign proceeds at full pace, invading every nook and corner of our lives, with little regard for the long-term consequences for the individual and society. The results are evident in the problems that we face, problems that respect no national boundaries: rising crime rates, spreading drug addiction, ecological devastation, child labor and prostitution, smuggling and pornography, the decline of the family as the unit of loving trust and moral education.

The Buddha points to two mental qualities as the underlying safeguards of morality, thus as the protectors of both the individual and society as a whole. These two qualities are called in Pali hiri and ottappa. Hiri is an innate sense of shame over moral transgression; ottappa is moral dread, fear of the results of wrongdoing. The Buddha calls these two states the bright guardians of the world (sukka lokapala). He gives them this designation because as long as these two states prevail in people’s hearts the moral standards of the world remain intact, while when their influence wanes the human world falls into unabashed promiscuity and violence, becoming almost indistinguishable from the animal realm (Itiv. 42).

While moral shame and fear of wrongdoing are united in the common task of protecting the mind from moral defilement, they differ in their individual characteristics and modes of operation. Hiri, the sense of shame, has an internal reference; it is rooted in self-respect and induces us to shrink from wrongdoing out of a feeling of personal honor. Ottappa, fear of wrongdoing, has an external orientation. It is the voice of conscience that warns us of the dire consequences of moral transgression: blame and punishment by others, the painful kammic results of evil deeds, the impediment to our desire for liberation from suffering. Acariya Buddhaghosa illustrates the difference between the two with the simile of an iron rod smeared with excrement at one end and heated to a glow at the other end: hiri is like one’s disgust at grabbing the rod in the place where it is smeared with excrement, ottappa is like one’s fear of grabbing it in the place where it is red hot.

In the present-day world, with its secularization of all values, such notions as shame and fear of wrong are bound to appear antiquated, relics from a puritanical past when superstition and dogma manacled our rights to uninhibited self-expression. Yet the Buddha’s stress on the importance of hiri and ottappa was based on a deep insight into the different potentialities of human nature. He saw that the path to deliverance is a struggle against the current, and that if we are to unfold the mind’s capacities for wisdom, purity and peace, then we need to keep the powderkeg of the defilements under the watchful eyes of diligent sentinels.

The project of self-cultivation, which the Buddha proclaims as the means to liberation from suffering, requires that we keep a critical watch over the movements of our minds, both on occasions when they motivate bodily and verbal deeds and when they remain inwardly absorbed with their own preoccupations. To exercise such self-scrutiny is an aspect of heedfulness (appamada), which the Buddha states is the path to the Deathless. In the practice of self-examination, the sense of shame and fear of wrongdoing play a crucial role. The sense of shame spurs us to overcome unwholesome mental states because we recognize that such states are blemishes on our character. They detract from the inward loftiness of character to be fashioned by the practice of the Dhamma, the stature of the ariyans or noble ones, who shine resplendent like lotus flowers upon the lake of the world. Fear of wrongdoing bids us to retreat from morally risky thoughts and actions because we recognize that such deeds are seeds with the potency to yield fruits, fruits that inevitably will be bitter. The Buddha asserts that whatever evil arises springs from a lack of shame and fear of wrong, while all virtuous deeds spring from the sense of shame and fear of wrong.

By cultivating within ourselves the qualities of moral shame and fear of wrongdoing we not only accelerate our own progress along the path to deliverance, but also contribute our share toward the protection of the world. Given the intricate interconnections that hold between all living forms, to make the sense of shame and fear of wrong the guardians of our own minds is to make ourselves guardians of the world. As the roots of morality, these two qualities sustain the entire efficacy of the Buddha’s liberating path; as the safeguards of personal decency, they at the same time preserve the dignity of the human race.”

~Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Guardians of the World (c) 1988

cited: “The Guardians of the World”, by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 5 June 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/bps-essay_23.html .

©1993 Buddhist Publication Society. You may copy, reformat, reprint, republish, and redistribute this work in any medium whatsoever, provided that: (1) you only make such copies, etc. available free of charge and, in the case of reprinting, only in quantities of no more than 50 copies; (2) you clearly indicate that any derivatives of this work (including translations) are derived from this source document; and (3) you include the full text of this license in any copies or derivatives of this work. Otherwise, all rights reserved. Documents linked from this page may be subject to other restrictions. BPS Newsletter cover essay no. 23 (Spring 1993). Last revised for Access to Insight on 5 June 2010.
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three day quote challenge: 3rd day

The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will. No one is [master of himself] if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence. But it is easier to define this ideal than to give practical instruction for bringing it about.  ~ William James

 

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The rules of this three-day quote challenge are to post a favourite quote every day for three days, and pass on the challenge to three other bloggers. You can do this at any time you like – even next year – and you can also say, “No thanks.”

While I’ve enjoyed being challenged by others, I find it difficult to invite one blogger over another, so if you would like to join in please accept this invitation to share your favorite quotes.  Thank you Amy at The World is a Book for extending an invitation.  It eases all those times in the playground when I was among the last to be chosen to be on a team.  _()_

an object of perception

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The spring sunlight, flowers blooming, and green trees create a landscape that looks like embroidery. This is an object of perception and it’s a beautiful thing to focus on. …if we don’t consider the role of our mind, and just focus on what we see as the independent reality around us, there will be contradictions.

The Vietnamese poet Nguyen Du said, ‘When a person is sad, the scenery is never happy.’ How we are feeling determines how we see the world. Why are some people able to experience happiness when they look at the moon and see its beauty, while others see the same moon as sad or depressing? This question can’t be answered unless both the subject [person] and object [moon] are taken into account.

~Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Battles

 

Shinrin-yoku…forest bathing

You didn’t come into this world.

You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean.

You are not a stranger here.

~Alan Watts

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The healing way of Shinrin-yoku is through the medicine of simply being in the forest.  A gentle path to wellness accessible to almost everybody.  Studies have found that the benefits of forest bathing include:

  • Boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells.
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Reduced stress
  • Improved mood
  • Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
  • Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
  • Increased energy level
  • Improved sleep

I’m hoping that the Youtube video below motivates you to kick off your house slippers and rummage through closets for your long-forgotten hiking boots…

_()_

a label

 

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a label transforms a “unknown” person into a preconceived concept

People want to identify and label you so they can place you somewhere they already have set in their mind. …

We have these labels in little piles in our mind and we take them out and stick them on things. That’s our habit. We like to be able to say, “This is an American. That is a Dutch person. This is a Mexican person.” We put the label on as if we know what we mean by Mexican, American, or Dutch. This is a Communist, this is a Republican, this is a capitalist. In fact, the label has no meaning. “This is a person I love, this is a person I hate.” When we put a label on, we can’t see the person. If someone labels you as a “terrorist,” he may shoot you. But if he sees that you are a human being who has his own suffering, who has children and a wife to look after, he won’t be able to shoot you. It’s only when he gives you a label that he can say, “You’re a terrorist; your presence isn’t needed in this world; if you weren’t in the world, it would be a more beautiful place.” It’s all a matter of putting a label on a person. And when you see the real human being, you can’t assign a label anymore. We give labels only in order to praise or to destroy. We have a great bagful of labels–we don’t even know where they came from. And when we stick them onto people, we cut ourselves off from those people, and we can no longer know who they really are.

~Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Battles

xdrive photo lession – 8 – close up/macros

RAJ’s photo lesson about close ups and macros, encouraged me to create images with my camera set to manual focus, “Remember, only you know the story you are trying to tell, not the camera!”

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Nikon D750  f/6.3 40mm  1/4s  100 ISO

This initial exploration with manual focus brought to mind the summer between the 4th and 5th grade, when I put on my first pair of glasses (Cat Eyes). I can still recall the visual experience of seeing for the first time individualized leaves on trees and multiple shapes and colors of gravel stone…the world, sharpened and focused, was a moment of awe.  Corrective lenses was a means of normalization; yet, there are no words to describe and there are no photographs that can replicate the amazing bokeh of Christmas lights created by astigmatism and myopia.

Nikon D750  f/5  40mm  0.2s  100 ISO

The ease of using auto focus–a reliance upon technology–to create images that satisfy a self-imposed standard has me question if the advancements in genetic, genomic, and reproductive technologies, identified by a UC Berkeley sociologist Troy Duster as a back door to eugenics, to lessen human suffering will also nudge us into a world absent of human uniqueness.

 

everyman’s artist…consciousness

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He saw that his own mind was present in every phenomenon in the universe. …Our own mind is the source of all phenomena. Form, sound, smell, taste, and tactile perception such as hot and cold, hard and soft – these are all creations of our mind. They do not exist as we usually think they do.  Our consciousness is like an artist, painting every phenomenon into being.

Thich Nhat Hanh, Old Path White Clouds

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