Dialogue With Discouragement

legotowerLego Tower

Introduction

There is a difference between disappointment and discouragement. Disappointment usually revolves around one particular event whereas discouragement is a more general and pervading state of mind.  Some of the synonyms for discouragement include discomfiture, dismay, pessimism and dejection. Disappointment is a sudden thing while discouragement takes a while to develop and is a little more elusive.

One of the synonyms for discouragement though involves the concept of braking or slowing down of momentum.  Words like hindrance, damper, constraint and anchor exemplify the feeling of discouragement.

In the introduction to The Discourse on Effacement (Sallekha Sutra) the second of the sutras addressed in the paper edited with Introduction and Notes by Nyanaponika Thera:

The entire discourse seems to be designed to meet, in a very thorough manner, two opposite psychological obstacles on the path: discouragement in the face of its difficulties, and overrating of partial results. The first part of the discourse (Secs. 1-11) deals with the latter extreme, by stressing the limitations of initial and partial progress. But for meeting any discouragement caused by these warnings, the Compassionate Master speaks of the value of seemingly simple ethical virtues and stresses the importance of the heart’s earnest resolve (Sec. 13) as the first step which anyone can take who is serious about treading the path of actual effacement.

The Effacement that is spoken of is that of “the 44 detrimental qualities of mind” and effacement itself means “the radical removal of detrimental qualities of mind.”  That would be those hindrances, constraints and anchors that lead to the discouraged feeling.

Ven Nyanaponika Thera adds:

Next to cultivating “the heart’s resolve,” the first direct step towards effacing the defilements is to know them, that is, the clear and honest confrontation with them in one’s own mind…

In some way that is what I am attempting with these series of Dialogue posts ( Desire, Grief, Cruelty so far). Much of the Sallekha Sutra deals with our reactions to the doings of others.  In fact in section 12 the 44 effacements all relate to the behavior of others. Here is the whole section so you don’t have to search for it in the rather lengthy document. One could consider each of these items a contributing factor to the mental baggage that impedes one’s practice and learning and adds to the weight of discouragement if one attaches to them and does not take the time to examine that attachment.

12. “But herein, Cunda, effacement should be practiced by you:

  • (1) Others will be harmful; we shall not be harmful here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (2) Others will kill living beings; we shall abstain from killing living beings here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (3) Others will take what is not given; we shall abstain from taking what is not given here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (4) Others will be unchaste; we shall be chaste here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (5) Others will speak falsehood; we shall abstain from false speech here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (6) Others will speak maliciously; we shall abstain from malicious speech here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (7) Others will speak harshly; we shall abstain from harsh speech here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (8) Others will gossip; we shall abstain from gossip here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (9) Others will be covetous; we shall not be covetous here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (10) Others will have thoughts of ill will; we shall not have thoughts of ill will here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (11) Others will have wrong views; we shall have right view here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (12) Others will have wrong intention; we shall have right intention here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (13) Others will use wrong speech; we shall use right speech here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (14) Others will commit wrong actions; we shall do right actions here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (15) Others will have wrong livelihood; we shall have right livelihood here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (16) Others will make wrong effort; we shall make right effort here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (17) Others will have wrong mindfulness; we shall have right mindfulness here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (18) Others will have wrong concentration; we shall have right concentration here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (19) Others will have wrong knowledge; we shall have right knowledge here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (20) Others will have wrong deliverance; we shall have right deliverance here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (21) Others will be overcome by sloth and torpor; we shall be free from sloth and torpor here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (22) Others will be agitated; we shall be unagitated here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (23) Others will be doubting; we shall be free from doubt here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (24) Others will be angry; we shall not be angry here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (25) Others will be hostile; we shall not be hostile here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (26) Others will denigrate; we shall not denigrate here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (27) Others will be domineering; we shall not be domineering here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (28) Others will be envious; we shall not be envious here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (29) Others will be jealous; we shall not be jealous here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (30) Others will be fraudulent; we shall not be fraudulent here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (31) Others will be hypocrites; we shall not be hypocrites here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (32) Others will be obstinate; we shall not be obstinate here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (33) Others will be arrogant; we shall not be arrogant here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (34) Others will be difficult to admonish; we shall be easy to admonish here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (35) Others will have bad friends; we shall have noble friends here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (36) Others will be negligent; we shall be heedful here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (37) Others will be faithless; we shall be faithful here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (38) Others will be shameless; we shall be shameful here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (39) Others will be without conscience; we shall have conscience here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (40) Others will have no learning; we shall be learned here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (41) Others will be idle; we shall be energetic here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (42) Others will be lacking in mindfulness; we shall be established in mindfulness here — thus effacement can be done.
  • (43) Others will be without wisdom; we shall be endowed with wisdom — thus effacement can be done.
  • (44) Others will misapprehend according to their individual views, hold on to them tenaciously and not easily discard them;we shall not misapprehend according to individual views nor hold on to them tenaciously, but shall discard them with ease — thus effacement can be done.
  • That’s a fairly inclusive list. And a lifetime of work to confront these things within. But one piece at a time.

    Dialogue with Discouragement

    When we look at the Klesas (the poisons), the big three being craving, aversion and delusion (greed, anger/hate, ignorance in some definitions) the above list of the 44 detrimental qualities can be seen to arise from these in various circumstances. One can be negligent or arrogant or obstinate due to greed, anger or ignorance for example.

    Detrimental qualities arising from greed and anger are far easier to spot than those arising from ignorance. How is one to know what they don’t know?  Some investigation and inner dialogue.

    It has occurred to me that discouragement is a result of ignorance. By discovering those things which hinder in a particular circumstance, learning occurs, the attachment to the particular hindrance is discovered and can thereby be dealt with.

    The reason I got on to this topic was a few heavy days which felt like I was hauling a ton of bricks every time I planned to do something or even tried to think. But sitting around lethargically and heaving big sighs is not conducive to much of anything.

    And from reading a few posts and comments on the Internet it seems I was not alone in this sigh-heaving.  But practice is about action and not woefully commiserating with all the ennui and discouragement of others.

    So I decided to break it down.

    I read a comment attributed to Charlotte Joko Beck that infers that her (the Zen teacher’s) role is one of “breaking people down”. Rarely has it been stated so plainly. And that accords well with the removal of ignorance.

    We build all kinds of castles in the sky. But they are as often made of plastic Lego bricks as of any other substance. Lofty and seemingly solid, an idea of what one’s spiritual attainments are and the reality of it are usually two different things. Of what use is a Lego tower? Some fun and a pass-time perhaps but not of much utility.

    I mentioned a discourse above that is in two parts. The first part deals with these partial attainments and their limitations as was stated in the quote. These are very much a source of discouragements.  The thought is that there should be more and what there is should be more useful. So we fill it up with Lego blocks to make it look whole but these towers and walls crumble under actual use and we are left with the piles of blocks all in shambles.

    That is a very beneficial thing. The breaking down of ignorance feels like discouragement. But from it one can stop wasting so much time and energy on these pass-times and move on without carrying around the ton of bricks.

    The actions and reactions of others all help to enforce and add to the load unless they are skillful people or we are skillful in our dealings with them.

    One thing that had added to the discouraging feeling I had was my reaction to quite a number of opinions of what I can only call Buddhist zealots.  Discovering Buddhism is a good thing for anyone. And enthusiasm is a necessary quality in the early (and even later) stages of practice.  Mindless enthusiasm is quite another matter.

    To know a thing with passion and to know a thing well are two different matters. Rather like a relationship. The initial phase is all moonlight and passion and grandiose thoughts of what the future holds. “Convert the nation!” “Save humanity!” “I am a Bodhisattva!”  These phrases, rather like those of superheros in comic books, may serve to bolster someone’s practice or they may serve to simply add an additional costume onto someone’s ego that they will have to deal with eventually. Grandiosity is what it is.

    My reaction was to get out the Lego and start to wall myself off from some of these opinions. But I decided to examine what about them was invoking a sense of discomfort.

    The thing that came out was the fact that I too have not given up on my idealism about the efficacy and usefulness of Buddhist practice and the desire to effect changes in other people’s lives while not attending to my own. And that idealism and domineering element has stood in the way or weighed down the actual effective action of practice in my life.

    A bit of a big smack in the head to see that. Arrogance, wrong view and half a dozen other things that can now do with a little effacement.

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    4 comments on “Dialogue With Discouragement

    1. I think I’m guilty of almost every itemonthst list, of I’m not than it’s only because I have not had occasion to yet. Ah do much to practice with.

      Thank you

      • Jordan
        I think your zeal is for your own practice. And I’d not call it a mindless enthusiasm at all.
        The list. I alternate abusing even numbered items one day, odd the next.Or something like that.

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