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14 May 2007 @ 04:44 pm
Stories  
I offer two interesting quotes that I've recently come upon in my reading that relate to each other.  This from fom Joseph Campbell:

"Adam and Eve fell when they learned the difference between good and evil. So the way to get back [to paradise] is not to know the difference. That's an obvious lesson, but it's not one that's very clearly preached from pulpits...You judge according to your persona context (i.e., according to the role you are playing in any given life situation, both on-going and occasional), and you will be judged in terms of it. Unless you can learn to look beyond the local dictates of what is right and wrong, you're not a complete human being. You're just part of that social order."

-- from "Myth and the Self" in Pathways to Bliss

And this from Charlotte Joko Beck:

"For the psychologically mature person, the ills and injustices of life are handled by counter-aggression, in which one makes an effort to eliminate the injustice and create justice. Often such efforts are dictatorial, full of anger and self-righteousness.

In spiritual maturity, the opposite of injustice is not justice, but compassion. Not me against you, not me straightening out the present ill, fighting to gain a just result for myself an others, but compassion, a life that goes against nothing and fulfills everything."

-- from "Justice" in Nothing Special, Living Zen

Elsewhere in the same chapter as quoted above in Pathways To Bliss, Campbell also touches on compassion, referring  to it as "...that which converts disillusionment into a participatory companionship."

These quotes relate to the larger idea of story, I think. Campbell comments on the story of Adam and Eve, while Joko Beck talks about opposing sides constructed by opposing stories.

Recently, I attended a dharma talk at a local Buddhist meditation center, and the speaker talked about the importance of our stories, how important it is to be generous with our own stories and be to generous in listening to the stories of others. It is only by sharing and listening to stories, she observed, that we come, little by little, to develop an understanding of their transparency. By transparency, she meant, or at least I understood, that no story is ever the Truth (capital T intended). Stories can only reflect our understanding of events we have experienced, witnessed, or heard about, an understanding which is always limited by the scope of our personal frame of reference. But we tend to forget this frequently and believe that our version of events is somehow absolutely true. Often, we can convince ourselves of the truth of our stories by believing that others, had they seen the event, would certainly agree with our interpretation. But those others that we imagine are usually our friends, people whose perspective would likely be close to ours. So what we take for the truth is a collection of habits of thinking.

Here's a simple example: “Of course I reacted as I did since so-and-so stood me up for our lunch date. I was insulted/irritated/(whatever) -- anyone would have been” -- or so the story might go. Eckhart Tolle points out a possible story for getting stood up -- “I was there, she was not.”  So perhaps if we tell tell the story of being stood up enough times, the transparency of Tolle’s suggested version eventually emerges.

When compassion comes into play, bad stories evaporate. As Campbell says in the quote above, compassion essentially refers to a mindset that is always prepared to see the other's story as one's own story. The person sitting alone in the restaurant has been stood up by the other, sure, but she knows that she's stood others up in the past, or has behaved similarly in some way, so it's been her story, too. Not today, but at some other time. And so she sees that she isn't really very different from the friend who's stood her up, that essentially they are very similar, they are capable of doing the same things. When all of this gets worked out very quickly, the person in the restaurant ceases to stand herself up by fuming over the absence of the other and missing what Thich Nhat Hanh calls our "appointment with life," i.e., the present moment. She orders lunch and has a wonderful time.  

What do you think?
 
 
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