Sunday, March 16, 2014

Nothing's More Suspicious Than Frog's Breath: On Taking Responsibility for Our Own Reactions

Frog's Breath

I'm happy to report that, although I didn't meditate every day last week, I did practice tonglen multiple times. I couldn't bring myself to do it for a whole meditation period, but I did spend a portion of every time I meditated breathing out the good and breathing in the bad. Not sure it had any impact on my perceptions of the person I kept in mind, nor on my general demeanor. On the other hand, it's rare that these things have immediate effect on my day-to-day life. I know it's a good way to remove bias, though, so I think I'll try to add tonglen as a regular part of my practice - perhaps once per week - in hopes it will have a cumulative effect. In the meantime, onto the next slogan:
Three objects, three poisons, and three seeds of virtue.
At first blush, this reads more like a kōan than a tenet of lojong - very riddle-y.'s translation is almost identical, only omitting the "and." And the explanation that website provides is only slightly more helpful:
"Whenever attraction, aversion, or indifference arises in you, do taking and sending to transform the three poisons into seeds of virtue." (Source.)
Okay, so it seems that attraction, aversion, and indifference are the three poisons. ("Taking and sending" refers to tonglen.) What the heck are the objects and the seeds of virtue? As always, I turned to Tricycle next. The commentary provided by Judy Lief is illuminating with regards to applying this tenet to my daily life (I'll come back to this in a moment), but didn't answer my question about the objects and the seeds of virtue. Casting my net a little wider, I found another commentary website. I'm such a big fan of and of Judy Lief that I don't know how often I'll consult it in the future, but it did come in handy today:
"In this practice, 'the three objects' refers to those objects that provoke our emotion of attachment, aversion, or indifference, while 'the three poisons' are the emotions of attachment, aversion or aggression, and stupidity. Then we imagine that all living beings dissolve into the emotions we have as they arise; and peace and virtue are formed with the wish, 'May all living beings be free.' In this way, the three poisons are transformed into the three roots of virtue. This is the practice of relative bodhichitta that we do during post-meditation." (Source.)
My questions answered, I let it all sit for a moment and thought. Strangely enough, the thing that came to mind first was a scene from the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas. If you've not seen that movie, be warned: spoilers ahead.

Sally, who was created by Dr. Finkelstein, is dissatisfied with her life of drudgery. She is constantly poisoning her creator (a process that only puts him to sleep instead of killing him) in order to get away for a bit. The one time we see her do this, Sally puts deadly nightshade (poison), frog's breath (a strong flavor of which Finkelstein is suspicious), and worm's wort (apparently a highly desirable flavor). When presented with his soup, the doctor says "Nothing's more suspicious than frog's breath!" and makes Sally taste it. She fakes tasting and then the next thing we see is Finkelstein snoozing away. If Finkelstein had trusted his suspicions, he wouldn't have been poisoned, but then again - neither would we have had the rest of the movie.

The thing is, I'm not a character in a movie. I do sometimes feel suspicious of my reactions and my automatic labels, and for good reason. I won't jeopardize the story arc if I listen to my instincts and might actually have a more enjoyable one as a result. And that leads me back to the Tricycle piece. Lief's commentary talks about labels and our reactions to the labels, and she focuses on taking responsibility for those reactions. I've been working on my reactions to things for a long time. This is something that predates my embracing Buddhism, so much so that I've collected quotes that embody this thought. I even have a favorite: "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so."

So I'm going to think about my thinking again, and think about my reactions. Judy's suggestion for putting the rubber to the road is helpful:
"Pay attention to labeling and notice how tenacious such labels are. When you react, notice what you are reacting to and where you place the blame. Explore the connection between the poison and the object." (Source.)
I've promised myself that I won't slack off because it's something I've done in the past.

Until next time, namaste and all that.

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