Whatever an enemy may do to an enemy,
Or haters, one to another,
Far worse is the harm
From one’s own wrongly directed mind.
Niether mother nor father,
Nor any other relative can do
One as much good
As one’s own well-directed mind.
Dhammapada v 42-43, translated by Gil Fronsdal
Look inside, not outside.
That’s the “big view” lesson of these, two of my favorite verses in the Dhammapada. We think threats are mostly external, but the first of these two verses says no, that the biggest threat we face is our own mind turned in the wrong direction.
I think of someone I know who for decades has blamed the world, the government, big business, people on the street, the media, his own family – everyone but himself – for all the things that have not worked out in his life. And there are quite a few things that have turned out less than optimally. It is possible that now, late in his life, this man is starting to take responsibility for certain aspects of his life, his failing health for one thing. This is evidence that we have the ability to change even deeply held convictions and habits.
Until we see that all our outcomes start with our own attitude towards the situation we find ourselves in, we will just be chasing our tails. Where does it get us to blame others? Does anything change as a result? Or do we just sink more and more deeply into the quicksand of hopelessness, helplessness and depression? Does any of us have an enemy so intent on thwarting us? Can you think of anyone who has dedicated his/her life to making you miserable? Pretty sure not.
What are some other ways we can wrongly direct our minds? We can expect to be treated fairly (most or all of the time), or maybe even to be treated as special. We can think obsessively about what we have or don’t have as compared with others. Both excessive pride and an overwhelming sense of unworthiness can steer us down a dead end. Greed as a guiding principle will put us into harm’s way. Habitual anger colors our world and makes us nearly impotent to change anything. Being careless with the truth (and otherwise untrustworthy) will lead us to places we don’t want to be.
I recognize that some people have experiences in their early years that make it hard for them to organize their thinking in a positive way. This is very sad, but rarely insurmountable. We’re not looking for a perfect outcome here, just an effort to turn our minds as much as possible towards the wholesome and away from the unwholesome. Even partially taking responsibility for our minds, and turning them intentionally towards something positive, can bring surprising results.
Next time, the well-directed mind.