Fish out of water

Like a fish out of water,
Thrown on dry ground,
This mind thrashes about,
Trying to escape Mara’s command.

Dhammapada, v 34, translated by Gil Fronsdal

This verse follows on nicely from the previous one about training the mind. Our minds are meaning-making machines; we create the world with our minds, as the first two verses of the Dhammapada so eloquently point out. When we are receiving information that we don’t like, the mind sets to work trying to find an interpretation of events where A is not A and B is not B.

Mara is the (Buddhist) embodiment of doubt, greed, hatred and most of all, delusion. Our entire galaxy of negative and obfuscating impulses is represented by the figure of Mara, who (or which) can take any form. So when we are confronted by Mara, we have a deep response of fear or loathing or a general sense of unease; our minds thrash around like a fish out of water trying to breathe. We sense that something is not right, but we can’t figure out what’s wrong. Things don’t go the way we want them to; we are confronted with things we don’t like and are (often) are parted from the things we do like. No matter how lucky or unlucky you are, this should be a familiar experience.

Ironically, the key to dealing with Mara is to calm down, relax, keep still, and wait. Thrashing around only makes matters worse. Wisdom is the only thing that can help us here. If we are able to set aside our identification with the problem, our liking and not liking, and just see things as they are, then we can breathe easily.

It’s extremely rare that other people will do things primarily to cause us problems. People do things for their own reasons, impelled by forces that we may know nothing about; we just happen to be in their vicinity. If we’re only concerned with their effects on US, our perception is very limited and creates problems where none actually exist.

If someone is chronically late, our toe-tapping aggravation with them is a result of our unreasonable expectation that they’ll be on time because they should be. If someone at work barks at us, they may just have been barking when we happened upon them. It’s usually not personal. If a family member isn’t giving you the sort of attention you want (but they rarely, if ever, give), um, what do you think will happen when your expectations are not met?

See if you can apply this principle to your major aggravations in a day. What expectation are you holding that is not reasonable?

1 Comment

Filed under Dhammapada

One response to “Fish out of water

  1. angela

    most interesting – I am finding the interpretations very edifying.

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