A few days ago, I took up an exchange with someone who is leaving me feeling wonderfully righteous and quite holier-than-her. I’m enjoying this. It’s always a delight to my dark side to see clearly how greed is operating in someone else, how it has motivated her subversive actions, and how it’s revelation to the larger community is causing her grief. Now, I’m certainly not enjoying the resonant experience of her suffering. As a good Buddhist, how could I? But as a karmic accelerator for her unskillfulness, I do feel I’m acting in her best interest by confronting her craving and grasping. After all, it’s not only that she’s violating the precepts (or at least, if she were Buddhist, she’d know they were precepts) but that the larger community is being harmed in many different ways.
Incredible exercise, isn’t it? I thought I’d write from my real Dark Side. This is the side that easily justifies all manner of unskillfulness and likes to throw the victim/recipient under the Dharma Wheel. It was scarily easy to write and very uncomfortable to read. And a good lesson for my quickly inflatable ego.
But let’s not rush past this. The shadow side of morality or virtue is a hugely challenging practice for me. So easy to climb up onto that pedestal. If it wasn’t such a cardio workout to get up there, I’d install one of those side-saddle chair lifts.
The incident is real. I can’t judge my skillfulness in confronting the person. Opinions vary. However, I heard two things that made me stop and question my own practice of shila. The first was a response from a colleague that said, “Wow. Remind me never to piss you off.” If the translation of shila is “cool and peaceful” then my interventions were hardly that; nor were they perceived to be that. This is the first clue that virtue has slid into the shadow of righteousness. Oh yes, I can defend my actions as the skillful outrage designed to protect the innocent. Hell, it took me two hours to craft my written letter to the supposed antagonist. But that’s an inadmissible defense because not only did it cause ripples in the system, it created an edge with others that they fear to tread over. And, ironically, collateral damage to relationships is the very thing I was confronting in the first place.
The second thing I heard was in the person’s response. After a long and winding explanation of how she had and had not meant to do what she did and did not do, she said, “But I don’t know what I did that was seen as unethical!” It’s hard to feel righteous in the face of helplessness. I suppose I should know by now that our scars create blind spots in our vision of self and of others. I mean both for her and me. And Manjushri’s sword is no scalpel that can carefully excise away someone else’s scar tissue. In fact, wielding that Bodhisattva’s sword is about the only time we can do brain surgery on ourselves.
I hate it when I’m right. I hate it much more when I’m righteous.
Thank you for practising – at least one of us is…