Your responses to the previous post about “what do we worship?” gives me an invitation to explore this topic further.
To begin with, there can’t be just one answer to the question of what we’re really after, because the answers will differ depending on our situations and influences, which as we know, are always changing. What we want when we’re feeling safe, happy and magnanimous is different from what we want when we’re feeling tired and cranky.
But this doesn’t mean that there is no way to center ourselves and carry on in a particular direction, with wobbles to one side and the other. The image of a gyroscope comes to mind. The Wikipedia definition is here:
A gyroscope is a device for measuring or maintaining orientation, based on the principles of angular momentum. Mechanically, a gyroscope is a spinning wheel or disc in which the axle is free to assume any orientation. Although this orientation does not remain fixed, it changes in response to an external torque much less and in a different direction than it would without the large angular momentum associated with the disc’s high rate of spin and moment of inertia. The device’s orientation remains nearly fixed, regardless of the mounting platform’s motion, because mounting the device in a gimbal minimizes external torque.
This is more or less how I think about the Buddha’s ethical teachings. They are a set of guidelines that stay the same regardless of the situation we find ourselves in. Sometimes the situation is clear and following the trainings is easy. Other times, particularly if there’s high stress, or there are pressing desires, challenging people or circumstances, how to apply the teachings may seem less clear.
But it’s never a mistake to take a deep breath and remember what the Buddha taught about harmlessness and truthfulness. This sort of adaptable steadiness can save us and others a world of hurt.