“Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now” – CSNY
~ 1 ~
Recently, I asked one of my teachers if there have been situations in his life that he’s regretted? He responded with, “Oh, yes. Now for instance there was one older monk who lived as a hermit. He used to come to see me to receive teachings, although I think he was actually more accomplished than I and came to me as a sort of formality. Anyway, he came to me one day and asked me about doing a certain high-level esoteric practice. I remarked in a casual way that this would be a difficult practice and perhaps would be better undertaken by someone who was younger, that traditionally it was a practice that should be started in one’s midteens. I later found out that the monk had killed himself in order to be reborn in a younger body to more effectively undertake the practice…”
Surprised by this story, I remarked, “Oh, that’s terrible! That must have been hard on you when you heard…” He nodded sadly. “How did you deal with that feeling of regret? How did you eventually get rid of it?” I asked.
He silently considered for quite a while before replying, “I didn’t get rid of it. It’s still there. But even though that feeling of regret is still there, it isn’t associated with a feeling of heaviness or a quality of pulling me back. It would not be helpful to anyone if I let that feeling of regret weigh me down. I would be simply a source of discouragement and depression with no purpose, and would interfere with the going on with my life to the best of my ability.”
At that moment, in a very visceral way, I was struck by the very real possibility of a human being fully facing life’s tragedies and responding emotionally, even with deep regret, but without indulging in excessive guilt or self-contempt. The possibility of a human being wholly accepting herself or himself, complete with limitations, foibles, and lapses of judgment. The possibility of recognizing a bad situation for what it is and responding emotionally, but without overresponding. My teacher sincerely felt regret over the incident he described but carried his regret with dignity and grace. And while carrying this regret, he has not allowed it to weigh him down, choosing instead to move ahead and focus on helping others to the best of his ability.
~ 2 ~
There is a Tibetan story of a fellow who, while circumambulating a temple, saw someone sitting in meditative posture. He asked the meditator what he was doing, and the meditator answered, “I am cultivating patience.” Then that person said something very harsh to the meditator and the meditator at once answered back angrily. This response came because although he had been cultivating patience, he had not encountered anyone who was harming him or speaking badly to him; he had no chance to practice patience. Thus, the best of all situations for the practice of patience is an enemy, and for this reason someone engaged in the Bodhisattva practices should treat an enemy with tremendous respect.
~ 3 ~
If there is love, there is hope to have real families, real brotherhood, real equanimity, real peace. If the love within your mind is lost, if you continue to see other beings as enemies, then no matter how much knowledge or education you have, no matter how much material progress is made, only suffering and confusion will ensue.
Human beings will continue to deceive and overpower one another. Basically, everyone exists in the very nature of suffering, so to abuse or mistreat each other is futile. The foundation of all spiritual practice is love. That human beings practice this well was the Buddha’s only request.