The Buddha had some gentle advice for people trying to do the best they could.
There’s a legend about the Buddha that I really love.
And when I say legend, I don’t mean to imply that I don’t believe it. But there do seem to be a lot of stories about the things he said and did, so I do wonder how many of them are actually true.
And the reality is that all of these stories need to be brought back to life each time we connect with them. The stories themselves aren’t as important as the way we engage with them – the meanings we connect to them, and the lessons we take.
Interpretation is a very personal affair.
It’s like that story about Suzuki Roshi – a Japanese meditation master who pioneered Zen in America. He was sitting around with his students one night, and a particularly self-absorbed man was rabbiting on, finally ending with the phrase, “but everything is one anyway.”
At that point Suzuki Roshi bursts out, “Rubbish! You don’t now what you’re talking about.”
To which the man replies, “But master, you said those exact words just last week.”
Suzuki Roshi replies, “Yes. And they were true when I said them, and they’re wrong when you are saying them.”
So words and stories – their meaning is never fixed.
Back to the legend of the Buddha. He had many wonderful and diligent students around him – students who made full benefit of his presence and teaching.
But there was one student who just couldn’t break free from his sensual appetites.
The student came to him. “Master, you have many worthy students around you. I fear that I bring shame upon your teaching. I commit to be righteous, but then I have deceitful thoughts. I commit to be chaste, but then I find myself chasing pretty girls all over town. I commit to my practice, but then stay up late every night drinking and gambling.
“What can I do? I fall down whenever I move.”
The Buddha’s reply was simple. “Well, then just make sure you fall in the right direction.”
I think we could all do to treat ourselves with the same level of understanding and compassion.
This isn’t easy. This road to wealth thing. This life thing. We are always going to struggle to reach our own high ideals – the vision we have of ourselves in our most awesome manifestation.
We are all going to fall down at some point.
What matters is not whether we hit the bullseye with our first shot or not – it’s whether we are growing and improving and becoming a better person, day by day.
And even if we are falling down on a regular basis, if we are pointed in the right direction, then we will make progress.
The only thing to fear is when we point ourselves in the wrong direction.
We run into trouble when we stop caring about our highest good – when we stop being guided by our highest self. It’s when we leave the path because we don’t care enough about ourselves or others to even bother.
Then we are lost.
But if we are committed to being a better person – no matter how hard we find it to deliver on that commitment – then we’ll be all right. We’ll get there in the end.
So be gentle with yourself – as gentle as the Buddha with an old drunk. The road is hard and long.
And we are all doing our best.