Dharma Talk at Red Clay Sangha
Last week I had the great honor of presiding at the memorial for a friend who took her own life. Writing a eulogy is a very good exercise in practicing the sixth Grave Precept: “See only your own faults: do not discuss the faults of others”. This was made somewhat easier because she was a person who truly embodied that precept. Please be kind to my faults while I attempt to discuss this precept.
This precept does a very good job of illustrating some general characteristics of precept practice. First, that it is not really something anyone wants to do (if one thinks about it just a little), but we do it all the time anyway. Second, that it can be really harmful both to ourselves and to others. It demonstrates dualistic thinking. It demonstrates ego-centered thinking, and helps to further separate us from others instead of bridging the gap. It is universal. And finally, it is simply good advice.
When I say that it is not really something anyone wants to do what I mean is that there is no question in my mind that practicing not fault finding in others will enhance my quality of “daily life” – or speaking in the relative. We all know people who spend so much time seeing others’ faults that they become bitter and cynical. We also know that in order to effect meaningful change it is necessary to look at that which we ourselves control – i.e. our own faults. We know all too well when we are the victim of faultfinding how much it hurts.
None the less, we all do it. Social psychologists suggest that this behavior is learned in childhood, as one can become the friend of a common enemy by sniping behind their back. Too sad, and yet how often does it happen? It is so easy to slip from conveying information to judgment. I’m reminded of conversations I have with my sisters – usually there is some bit of information passed along about the one not in the conversion at the time and before we know it we’re gossiping.
The practice of this precept is stopping yourself and asking why you are doing it before it happens. It can reveal important aspects of how your incorrect view of that person may be getting in the way of real connection. It may also reveal how your incorrect view of the world is getting in the way of your life.
The interesting question for me is how we can use this precept to examine ourselves and see the repeated way that we separate ourselves from each other by blaming and not accepting our own faults. How we separate ourselves from life by seeing it as flawed. How we see only fault and not possibility.
Oddly, taking the blame for problems does no more good than looking for others to pin it on if there is no real understanding of the error. The ugly head of “should be” still rears itself along with the ugly head of self. Talking about your own faults is of no use unless you are looking for help dissolving them.
When helping someone learn a new skill, this can easily become confused. It is important to look closely at why the other person has misunderstood your instructions in order to be able to clear up the misunderstanding and allow learning to happen. To do this requires that you view the process as a partnership and view the other person’s viewpoint as valid. To teach, you must learn to see things the way the other person does.
When Diane Rizzetto discusses this precept she speaks of the attitude of meeting each other as strangers, not the ‘other’ conditioned by our past experience of that person, but open to the possibilities represented by the that person. In this way, we avoid the dangerous internal conversation about that person’s faults that separates us from them and the possibility of intimacy with life.
Another particular difficulty with this is that it requires me to be OK with the fact that you are different from me, disagree with me, have different capabilities than me, etc. In short, I must look face-to-face with the fear that I am not “the best” and “the only”. Fortunately, this also can lead to learning to meet oneself as a stranger and being open to the possibility that I might be something other than I had always thought.
This is freedom.