From our list of imperfections (also called defilements), presumption is next. There are a few different ways we can understand this unwholesome quality, but they can be summarized as “to take for granted”. In court we are presumed innocent until proven guilty; we generally presume that people will be a certain way (like us); we may presume to the throne if that’s in our lineage. Underlying presumption is the idea that we might very well be wrong in assuming whatever it is we’re assuming. Presuming is what we sometimes do if we don’t know.
In developed countries, we might presume that we’ll have a comfortable life, untroubled by danger, deprivation or inconvenience. When our presumption is thwarted by the vicissitudes of an ordinary life, we may feel we’ve been cheated. This is one way we can check ourselves for a sense of entitlement. Do we think it’s unfair to us personally when illness or uncertainty come to us? If we unexpectedly lose a lot of money or have a car crash that wasn’t (entirely) our fault? If we get laid off from our job or rejected by someone we care for? Where’s the boundary of what we feel is our due?
It’s easy enough to see examples of people who get themselves into trouble through their sense of entitlement. Some public figures believe that they need not obey the basic rules of society (or the law), and then are embarrassed to discover the limits of this presumption. Adult children who take advantage of their parents without some kind of reciprocity become stunted in their growth. In extreme situations, domestic violence can come about because of presumed roles of controlled and controller.
Of course, we have to presume that tomorrow will come, we’ll be expected at work or at school or somewhere else, and that when we get into our car in the morning it will start. And then, sometimes, it doesn’t. Can we say to ourselves, “Oh, dear. Change of plans.”, and just get on with it?
If we study our situation closely, we will discover that nothing is guaranteed to us, or to anyone else. Unless we are fully awakened, we are all living with some mix of satisfactory and unsatisfactory conditions. Overcoming our tendency to make presumptions is a step towards awakening.
Imperfections that defile the mind:
(1) covetousness and unrighteous greed
(2) ill will
(6) a domineering attitude
(13) conceit (mana)
from MN7, translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi