Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Happiness Project ...or How to Save the Human Race (IV)

When I first thought of the title "The Happiness Project ...or How to Save the Human Race," it was prompted by seeing a poster of a person covered in scars. It wasn't pretty. That's basically how each of us are on the inside to varying degrees though, as a result of conditioning and accumulated disappointments.

The trouble with those scars is they change how we react and respond to others. Our speech, behaviors and even goals change to compensate as we become more wary, less trusting and more defensive, changes that are caused by anger, hurt and fear. The process happens gradually. It seems like it's the only acceptable way to be, especially when surrounded by people behaving similarly.

So I started writing a science fiction-type story in which people were genetically engineered to scar on the outside as an indicator of internal emotional distress. The aim was to see if people's behavior could be modified to be more kind, the underlying assumption being that people don't actually want to hurt each other. Then I thought of all the instances in which that assumption might not hold true. In the second version, the person hurting others was the person who was externally scarred and the only way the scars could be healed was with compensatory positive behavior...

In ordinary daily interactions are hurtful speech and behavior ever justified? Are they justified in the name of truth or karmic retribution? In the name of teaching? In self-defense to get the attention of people who don't appear to get the message using kinder methods? And what about those instances when we react to something different than what the person intended due to our own conditioning? Or what about when individual perceptions of a situation or expectations are different?

In response to thoughts like these I've been feeling that even the first line of the Universal Precept of the Seven Buddhas "Not doing wrongs" is as impossible as saving all sentient beings. I can say for sure that I don't want to add scars to anyone and yet I'm sure I have. I'll be working on developing some compassion for myself to cope with that, compassion hopefully not too tainted by sentimentality or self-righteousness.

These are some of the questions and thoughts I'll be taking into sesshin this weekend. Last Sunday we celebrated the conclusion of the Winter Practice Intensive. We chanted the Prajña Paramita Hridaya and Emmei Jikku Kannon Gyo and one by one lit incense at the altar.

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