Beyond Differentiation

Do not insult others and do not judge them; simply observe yourself in the light of truth.

— Ekottarika Agama

Buddhism is based on human nature. There is no question concerning human behavior that cannot be answered by the Dharma. Everything is covered. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why it is good for Buddhists to ask questions; you might not get them answered immediately, but eventually you will.

The Ekottarika Agama makes four basic points about the universal human tendency to judge other people or to differentiate among them. These points will be discussed in detail in the next four sections.

Do Not Insult Others

“Mount Tai does not reject a single clod of earth and so it is tall. The ocean accepts all streams which flow into it and so it is vast.”

This saying beautifully portrays the important truth that none of us should reject others, or judge them, or demean them or reduce them in any way. It is easy to understand this truth, but difficult to practice what it teaches. To understand ourselves, we must look closely at what nearly all of us actually do quite often. We look at someone and decide we don’t like them, or we hear them say something we don’t like and decide they are not wise enough to be in our company. Then we avoid them. This is the first step in what the sutra has called “insulting others.” In polite society, insults are rarely verbalized. However, whenever we give someone the cold shoulder, are we not insulting them without words?

Now look more deeply at why we avoid people at all. There are three basic reasons: first, we feel that they have or they will insult us; second, they threaten us because we feel that they may be better than us in some way; and third, we feel we are better than them. These are dangerous attitudes or tendencies, and they are extremely deleterious to the practice of Buddhism. Any one of these attitudes involves a mistaken judgment of others plus a mistaken judgment of ourselves! Whenever we feel jealousy, anger or the need to avoid or insult someone, it is almost always a result of our having misjudged both ourselves and the other person.

Karma and the conditions of the world we live in bring us into contact with other people. Brace yourself if you must, but face your own tendencies to judge and insult others. Never let your own fear or hostility control your behavior. Whatever lesson is before you will stay before you until you have learned it; you will not grow as a Buddhist through insult and rejection of others. This is certain.

The minds of sentient beings have inner and outer parts. Whatever they grasp grasps them and forces them to see what they see.

— Vijnaptimatratasiddhi Sastra

Do Not Judge Others

If we never judged others, we would never feel the need to insult them or avoid them. Buddhism begins and ends in the mind. Your mind is your own. If you find insults, anger and hostility circulating inside it, do you really think you can blame that on the world? Is it really someone else’s fault that you cannot control your own jealousy or moodiness? No one can look into your own mind except you. No one can make you progress in your practice of Buddhism except you. If you want to progress, do as the sutra says without making exceptions. I promise that you will progress rapidly in this way.

Now, why do we discriminate among people at all? The basic reason is because we carry with us the illusion of having a separate self. This illusion maintains itself by making judgments. When illusions that are precious to us are threatened, we react with jealousy or anger or insult. The heart of the matter is we are afraid. Our illusions are afraid. Once we understand this, it becomes possible to understand how to appreciate and use anger and jealousy for our own benefit. We cannot repress these emotions and it would be foolish to pretend that they were not there. Buddhism is based on human nature. If these emotions are part of what it is to be human, we should be able to use them to advance in our practice.

If we understand that anger and jealousy are part of the illusion of having a separate self, then we will be ready to understand that each time these emotions occur they are signs that point directly at our own illusions. Anger is like pointing your own finger at yourself in the mirror. Jealousy shows very precisely how much we have invested in our own self-created egos. How could you feel jealous of anyone if you truly realized that all sentient beings and all Buddhas are the same? When friends do well, we should be pleased that they have been able to grow. Just as jealousy is a sign of our delusive limitations, our friends’ growth is a sign that in some small way our company has encouraged them or helped them. Rather than be jealous of our friends, it is better to let them return the favor to us. When friends overcome jealousy among themselves and help each other to grow, enormous and very powerful energies are released.

Attention is dependent on awareness. If the roots of awareness are defiled, attention will never be free.

If goodness is not obstructed and the mind is not clinging, and if the self is beyond grasping then there will be no defilements anywhere.

— Vijnaptimatratasiddhi Sastra

Observe Yourself

The Buddha said, “After meditation and introspection, do not talk in terms that judge others.” Introspection must be founded in honesty. If it is not, it will become nothing but another part of the illusion of having a separate self. Dishonest introspection leads to anger and deluded self-justification. If we are deluded, how do we know we are deluded? We can know we are deluded if we have the symptoms of delusion: anger, jealousy and a strong tendency to judge others.

Preserve your peace. Abide in a state of mind devoid of petty distinctions and self-serving versions of the “truth.” With practice, this will become your basic state of mind.

Shui Yan asked, “And what of the great sword that has not been sharpened?”

Master Xingsi replied, “It cannot be used.”

Shui Yan then asked, “And what of the great sword that has been sharpened?”

Master Xingsi replied, “It cannot be touched.”

— Chan canon

In the Light of Truth

The Lankavatara Sutra says, “If the cause is not right, the result will be bad.” The Dharma contains the truth and it is the truth. The Dharma is an endless companion and a perfect standard to help us understand everything that happens to us. All of us must constantly check and recheck ourselves in the light of the truths contained in the Dharma. If we are honest with ourselves, we will grow very quickly in our practice of Buddhism.

The compassion of the Tathagata is the summation of the Dharma. This compassion has the power to save all sentient beings because it is the supreme truth that leads to liberation in nirvana.

— Mahaparinirvana Sutra