being a lamp

We are coming down the home stretch of the Eightfold Path.  In my notes, the eight practices are clustered into three groups: Wisdom (Right View, Right Thinking), Ethics (Right Action, Livelihood, Right Speech), and Concentration (Right Effort, Right Concentration, Right Mindfulness).  Each cluster is also the skillful means to deal with ignorance, ill-will, and craving, respectively.  Together they form a mandala of practice by supporting each other so that a deeper relationship to self and others can emerge.

As part of looking into Right Effort, I want to stop and breathe a moment at the end of the cluster of practices that comprise an ethical stance to living well. Shining the light on my practice, I’ve been asking myself about my intention as I engage in a particular action or speech.  I’ve also been asking myself if my response is going to encourage the other person to counter with unskilfulness.  I know this sounds like I may be taking too much responsibility for the actions of others, getting into their heads.  A famous psychologist is reported to have said that we need to stop being our patient’s frontal lobe.  In other words, we need to respect each person’s ability to do what is exacted of them in the moment (note: not expected but exacted).

That is true.  And the flip side of allowing someone to find their skilfulness is respecting the ease with they can slide into unskilfulness.  Still, the cycle of unskilfulness (or what I like to call reactive bludgeoning) has to be broken somewhere and who better to break it than the person who constantly is confronted with needing to practice breaking these links.  In that sense, I believe it means me – and you and you and you over there.  Effort is the burden of awareness; once the consequences of being in an ever-widening circle of relationships comes into view, we can’t claim blindness.

Oh, about the nun with the lamp.  Frank gave me that when we first met and were in that buying-cutsey-things-that-seem-so-meaningful stage.  I was quite affronted (and didn’t hide it) but his explanation was that it seemed just like “me”: facing everything with a sense of amazement.  I don’t know about that.  Yet over the years, I’ve sort of warmed up to her especially after I noticed she’s wielding a lamp.

Thank you for practising,


10 thoughts on “being a lamp

  1. There is a tarot image of a person carrying a lamp. One who illuminates the path, who is a beacon..also one who is a beacon unto themselves, lighting their own journey. Seems a good metaphor for the seeking that invovles not only the seekers to find the light in one another but to be the light for themselves

  2. “Effort is the burden of awareness.” Not being a Buddhist I can’t speak to the “practices” in any intelligible way, but could one substitute the word “mindfulness” for “effort”? – That is, mindfulness is the ‘burden’ of awareness in that once we are aware, it is then our responsibility to be ever mindful of how we speak, how we engage and interact? Not that I do that so well! Maybe I’m resisting the word “effort.” 😉

    And, oh btw, you *are* a wonderful lamp. The nun habit? I don’t know. Bur definitely a carrier of light… 🙂 Heart Hugs – C

    • If we’re exploring the eightfold path then mindfulness is distinct (but inter-connected) with effort or diligence. Yes, we often feel the weight of effort as “demand.” 😉

  3. The web of interdependence and co-origination often remains a mystery to me.

    Despite my known propensity for binary thinking, in this instance the responsibilities of relationship seem fluid and not easily subject to “I’m like this” and “You’re like that,” or “This is my responsibility” and “That is your responsibility.”

    In some way that I cannot easily define, we are profoundly interrelated and interresponsive and even interreactive.

    For me this means studying each moment, as best as I can, to learn what is required.

  4. Isn’t the saying “be a lamp unto yourself” attributed to the Buddha?

    Lovely complete post on the eightfold path and the connection with the 3 poisons.

    I like what you say about considering our input to another. Is it going to be helpful or is it going to inflame? We can’t know in any definitive way , but I think it is helpful, even just in choosing our words. It’s the old “words can heal and words can harm” And we are all such vulnerable creatures. This is a helpful reminder indeed.

    • Thanks, ZDS. The post wasa strange brew until I saw the lamp “again for the first time!” Yes, the Buddha said to be a lamp unto ourselves and I like the ritual of shining the light on my practice.

      The teaching about not setting someone up to fail (paraphrasing the Buddha) is somewhere in the recesses of my readings… wish I could find it! Has stuck with me for many years now.

  5. I like “effort is the burden of awareness “. I read somewhere that once you set foot on the bodhisattva path, it’s like getting on a speeding train – there’s no getting off.

    • Hi David, so glad you dropped by! Another Canadian blogger in BC. I may have to move out there!

      So true… the Bodhisattva Bullet…. and the sc enery is not always pretty! 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.