Why the Tonglen Philosophy is a Paradox I Can't Ignore

WHY THE TONGLEN PHILOSOPHY IS A PARADOX I CAN'T IGNORE.png

April has come and gone and my practice in Tonglen Meditation has left me with a paradoxical philosophy to consider. As I finished reading When Things Fall Apart, there was more and more emphasis put on this idea of groundlessness, and how we need to find comfort there. I finished up last week’s update by inserting my own amendment (bystander intervention) to this philosophy because I couldn’t convince myself to fully embrace this idealism.

The way the thinking goes, ultimately, is that if we are able to find comfort in not seeking impermanent solutions to achieve this false sense of grounding, then we will be able to leave things as they are without judgement. We will be able to look at something and not label it “good” or “bad.” Instead, we will recognize its existence and see it as the “wisdom of the world” acting in accordance to nature.

Without bad, there is no good, so if we try to make everything “good,” we will be left having the rug pulled out from under us over and over as the “bad” never seems to disappear. Rather than always trying to “fix” what we label as “problems,” we need to weave our joy and loving kindness with the negatives of the world, so we can create a groundless harmony all around us.

I find this thinking beautiful, but, and maybe this is my archaic human nature getting the best of me, I still find a paradox I can’t shake off.

If I am to remain groundless, accepting things as they exist, I will be a participant, through inaction, in many social idiosyncrasies that oppress various groups of people.

If I read about children drowning in the ocean, attempting to escape the death-grip of war, I am supposed to pause, engage in the Tonglen practice by feeling the pain of the survivors, and metaphysically emit my internal joy unto them.

But this is as far as I can go. I am supposed to wish the rest of the world would take the same approach, which would lead to the end of all the violence around us.

I will draw a line between what should be allowed to exist as is, regardless of its goodness or badness, and what has stepped too far out of line and needs immediate attention.

As long as everyone practices embracing the pain and suffering of this world, and sprinkling it with loving kindness, then things will truly exist in a perfect equilibrium. This is seen as the final escape from our animalistic behaviors. We will evolve into a new stage of human existence that provides a clear separation from our barbaric ancestors.

How wonderful the world would be if we all decided to practice such a philosophy on a daily basis. We could discover this holistic connection with all things and treat each other and all of nature as equally important participants in the world we live in. Oh how I would love to embrace this ideology, but I just can’t.

Maybe one day, as we continue to evolve biologically and develop more and more intelligent brains, we will be able to embrace this philosophy, but until then, I will be taking a different approach to life. I will continue with my meditation, and identifying ways to connect my loving kindness with the pain around me. However, I will draw a line between what should be allowed to exist as is, regardless of its goodness or badness, and what has stepped too far out of line and needs immediate attention.

This line is rather subjective and I could provide an endless book of examples. Rather than bring unnecessary noise into this discussion, I want to leave you with one final thought.

If I must take a step back for society to take a step forward, then I might find I never really stepped back at all.

In the world of economics, there is a simple, yet powerful concept that compares our personal benefit to society’s benefit. If I act in my self-interest and leave society behind to suffer, I have accomplished nothing. If instead I look at all my future actions and weight the costs and benefits to society at large, opting to benefit society before benefiting myself, then I will rarely find fault in the decisions I make.

If I must take a step back for society to take a step forward, then I might find I never really stepped back at all. If everything and everyone around me is collectively improving, raising the morale of life’s ship, how can I possibly not benefit from this?

So, I encourage you to look at life in the same context. How will your actions result in the betterment of what’s around you or how will it cause some form of deterioration? This simple moment of reflection will open your eyes to how much you have to offer the world and how your daily decisions affect its overall health.


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