Here’s the third question to ask as we dig into our relationship with the teachings texts of the Buddha (as far as we may know them):
Would I be willing to alter my life in the way the text is suggesting?
Often, the answer – and a superficial one – is to say, No. I feel challenged by Wallis’ call to sit in the dynamic of a good question.
Learning takes place at the point of tension between credulous appreciation and wary dismissal.
He points out that we are experts at the dichotomies. We thrive at the nadir and zenith of the acceptance/rejection continuum. And we are loath to abandon this immediate stance. And that’s just fine.
Whatever it is, your response to a word, passage, or text is the very lifeblood of reading. It is in your response that your relationship to the world of the suttas is formed, developed, and fulfilled or unfulfilled.
The art of discovery lies in the willingness to open – not so much to the answers but to the question.
Here’s the second question from Glenn Wallis’ approach to working with Buddhist texts (from Basic Teachings of the Buddha):
What limitations do I impose on the text? For example, would I be willing to do the practices that may be required for a thorough understanding of the text?
I’m no scholar of Buddhist texts so my work with this question would be, in itself, a limiting of the texts as a meta-document. One of things I do struggle with are the repetitions among various collections but also an anxiety that I’m not picking up the subtleties that may also be contradictions. That aside, it makes for interesting self-revelation to sense into the hitch of the in-breath, the slight clutch at the throat or belly when I encounter a teaching that just doesn’t mesh with the way I believe the world should work. That initial arising of doubt or culturally-based rejection points to a rich understanding of my own limitations, my own willingness to push my edge.
The validity or veracity of the text can be in question; hoisting 2,600 year-old teachings into the present poses many difficulties. But for now let’s suppose that isn’t so much the issue as is cultivating wisdom. If the intent is to develop trust in my intuitive understanding, it helps to notice these moments of resistance. Then it is important to turn towards this self that is stepping back as ask the question again – of a different subject:
What am I imposing on myself?