I have been struggling lately with the quickness with which people jump to judgement of others and last week I had a situation where I noticed that reactivity in someone else’s behavior and then my instinct to do the same.
I happened to read a Facebook post by an acquaintance that was very judgmental and offensive in a personal way. I rarely respond to anything on Facebook (especially provocative statements) however I felt a responsibility to address this post. I resisted the strong instinct to quickly respond and instead thought for a while about what to write.
We are all still living in a heightened state of alert and fear which can cause us to REACT versus MINDFULLY ACT. I acknowledged that reactivity in myself and instead compiled a mindful response. The person immediately took down the post and reached out to me privately on FB messenger. We had a respectful discourse regarding the intent behind the post and at the end the person thanked me for the dialogue. Through this mindful interaction I was given the chance to offer some education and provide a different perspective. If I had “written him off” as a bad person (knowing in my heart he was not) I would have lost that opportunity and held anger and judgement in my heart instead.
This experience reminded me of the story of the Golden Buddha which I shared with my students on the mat last week:
In a large Temple north of Thailand’s ancient capital, Sukotai, there once stood an enormous and ancient clay Buddha. Though not the most handsome or refined work of Thai Buddhist art, it had been cared for over a period of 500 years and become revered for its sheer longevity.
Violent storms, changes of government, and invading armies had come and gone, but the Buddha endured. At one point, however, the monks who tended the temple noticed that the statue had begun to crack and would soon be in need of repair and repainting. After a stretch of particularly hot, dry weather, one of the cracks became so wide that a curious monk took his flashlight and peered inside. What shone back at him was a flash of brilliant gold! Inside this plain old statue, the temple residents discovered one of the largest and most luminous gold images of Buddha ever created in Southeast Asia.
Now uncovered, the golden buddha draws throngs of devoted pilgrims from all over Thailand. The monks believe that this shining work of art had been covered in plaster and clay to protect it during times of conflict and unrest. In much the same way, each of us has encountered threatening situations that lead us to cover up our innate nobility. Just as the people of Sukotai had forgotten about the Golden Buddha, we too have forgotten our essential nature. Much of the time we operate from a protective layer. The primary goal is to see beneath the armoring and bring out our original goodness, called our Buddha nature.
The story of the Golden Buddha is a good representation of the first principle of Buddhist psychology; to see the inner nobility and beauty in all human beings. That is what I tasked my students with on the mat last week. As we flowed through our asana practice we began to “shed” the protective layer we hold in the body by letting go of tightness. As we softened and released we found more space and the ability to go deeper into the muscles of our bodies.
The practice of course always extends to the mind as well. As the “clay exterior” of the heart began to “crack open”, we could see the gold shining beneath and feel the connection to our inner nobility. Instead of attaching and judging ourselves for each pose or even our overall “performance” that day, we remembered that that all of this is practice for something much more significant– cultivating our Buddha Nature.
Off the mat it works in much the same way– we can learn not to define ourselves and others by the worst moments but rather to look beneath the fear and see the gold that shines below. Each one of us has made mistakes, said cruel things and taken negative actions. I often think about what it would be like if I was judged only by my worst actions or cruelest words and that inspires me to try not do that to others. Shedding the reactive outer layer helps us not only see the inner nobility of others, but ourselves as well.
As we sat together for our final moment of meditation, I thanked my students for sharing their inner nobility with me and I reminded them once again the power we have through this practice to see below the protective layer in others. We are all so much deeper than what lies on the surface and when we take the chance to see the Buddha Nature in others it FREES US AS WELL. Namaste.