Sunday, September 16, 2007

Dancing in a Sparsely Populated Forest....

This is probably going to be the earliest post on Julie's Wednesday discussions. :) Sometimes it works out that way because I've found that if I don't write something while it's fresh, I won't come back to it.

In my spiritual tradition, Theravada Buddhism, it is said that anyone who claims to be enlightened probably isn't. If someone claims to be an ajahn, he probably isn't. It is practice to look to others (mostly those further along the path) for validation of progress. I can say I am humble.. because others have told me so. It is not something I can simply proclaim because it feels good ~ or because I want to believe it.

One of the strongest tenets of this practice is that it requires us to do things simply because they're good and compassionate, not because we will be rewarded or praised. Of course there are some who are trying to rack up merit points for their next lives ~ but that's certainly not the right reason. That would be attachment to outcomes and ego.

Consequently, when Julie writes "So next week, I'm asking each participant to think about what he or she does that contributes value in some way...and write it down", my immediate response in her comments section was "Honestly, I don't think that's for me to determine... That's for others to decide. "

And this I believe. It is not for me to decide that anything I do matters. It is up to me to simply do. Most behavior is shaped by positive feedback. If someone says, "it really matters to me that you ________", or "I really like it when you _____", then most people will likely continue to do more of that because most of us want to do good. We want to please. We learn these values from our chosen communities.

I named this post "dancing in a sparsely populated forest" because I am aware of being a minority in this view. This may be the strongest evidence of "culture clash" as far as I'm concerned. In many ways, this is an occasional cause of my own suffering. I honestly believe boastfulness and pride are functions of ego. Ego leads to suffering. And I hate seeing people suffer.

According to the teaching of the Buddha, the idea of the self is an imaginary, false belief which has no corresponding reality, and it produces harmful thoughts of ‘me’ and ‘mine’, selfish desire, craving, attachment, hatred, ill-will, conceit, pride, egoism, and other defilements, impurities and problems. It is source of all the troubles in the world from personal conflicts to wars between nations. In short, to this false view can be traced all the evil in the world.

I believe that.

Given this, the only authentic response I can offer to Julie's challenge is to ask others to take this one step further: Tell someone else in your life what he or she does that matters to you.



niobe said...

I'm dancing in that forest right beside you. You've expressed thoughts very similar to my own.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I endorse the Buddhist view of life, and quite agree that the laundry list of qualities you mention is indeed responsible for much evil.

The notion of personal property is rooted in fear, that there is not enough of anything, whether material objects or love, for everyone to share. This perverts our finest instincts like love and generosity by making us parcel them out judiciously before the supply runs out.

Since as a society we seem to suffer from mass feelings of inadequacy and inferiority, I suspect that Julie was trying to address that, and to build confidence by encouraging people to focus on their better qualities instead of the ones that cause those bad feelings. This presupposes the opposite view from yours, that we are qualified to rate our own performance and to pat our own backs.

I think that both views have merit, despite their vast differences. While I embrace the Buddhist view intellectually, it is emotionally painful to see the suffering caused by deep feelings of inadequacy. If people can be helped to feel better about themselves, they are more likely to perform kind and generous acts toward others.

Maybe that is a back door into Buddhism that should be explored as its tenets become more widespread in the West.

Snoskred said...

I wish I could leave a thoughtful and intelligent comment on this, but I can't. I will say this.

You have clearly found a religion that suits you. :)

I personally do not believe there is anything wrong with praising yourself or having attachments to outcomes.

I personally believe that all evil in the world comes from within people for their own reasons and quite a lot of that evil comes from religions being interpreted in inappropriate ways that serve the person - or perhaps the terrorist organisation - doing the interpreting.

I think this is one topic where we'll have to agree to disagree. It is certainly a thought provoking post but if I shared my real thoughts I am concerned we might have a falling out because I disagree quite strongly. So I'll spare us both that. :)


thailandchani said...

Snos, I doubt we'd have a "falling out" but I believe you are right that we'd probably not change each other's minds.

There are some things that can't really be argued because they hit emotional hotspots. Abortion, for example.

Generally, I just stay away from those topics.

For the record, I do agree with you about the misinterpretation of religious doctrine however. Often there is an unspoken and selfish agenda behind those who twist it.



flutter said...

You know what matters? When you are you, without fear of what anyone thinks, that matters, Chani.

I am glad you are here

Christine said...

i think it is indeed a wonderful thing to tell others that you appreciate what they do or that what they do matters. not only can it simply brighten a person's day, but it also helps them see that their actions are important in this world.

chani--you are important to me because your posts are so thoughtful. you write with true conviction,and i feel that you are extremely honest. your posts often make me dig deep and think about my values, my opinions, and my ideals. thanks, friend.

Girlplustwo said...

it's hard to "do" without expecting the percieved result (or reward) especially in a culture so ingrained with achievement and success.

but it's the doing that matters. doing for the sake of doing. nicely written...

SUEB0B said...

One time in a health food store that was run by people who considered themselves to be very good Christians, I heard the manager say to one of his employees "You have to learn to be humble like me." He was serious. I had to bite my thumb to keep from screaming with laughter.

Me, I am very humble. Maybe the best person at being humble on earth.

enigma4ever said...

I love what you wrote and I love that you encouraged people at the end to write and tell what matters about a person and Why they matter to tell people in your life...

Slience creates distance and chasms...and if we are connected and honor those connections there would be less strife and conflict in the world...


Pam said...

I believe in personal faith but am hesitant when it comes to religion. There is good there, true, but there is also control, hypocrisy and greed... violence and wars.

I also believe in a sense of self and think it is possible to have that without the above. And I know that there are some of us who live at peace in the universe, and some who will never even come close.

Anonymous said...


I appreciate what you are saying and think this does make you unique. I wage a constant struggle between the desire to work towards humilty (a constantly receding goal for me) and my own sense of inadequacy. I think people boast because they are insecure.

I am trying to be honest about my shortcomings lately. It renders them less powerful. One of my shortcomings is that I do not do enough for the world at large -- people outside of my circle. I want to make a difference but am not sure how. I am hoping this book will make a difference for people who read it, which is part of why I am pursuing it so seriously.

You may not realize it, but your writing is very powerful. Writing has tremendous impact, and yours often makes me strive harder to be a better person.

I know you don't feel pride, but I hope that makes you feel strong.


S said...

Chani. This post has been enlightening for me, to say the least. Because guess what? I feel EXACTLY this way, though I've never heard it summarized so succinctly before.

I've always felt the way you do but never articulated it, because I didn't want to come off sounding falsely modest.

I'm dumbfounded right now. What an "Aha!" moment for me. Thank you.

blooming desertpea said...

If I was asked about 'what I do that contribues value', I wouldn't know how to answer, either. I try to do good and ommit the bad and hope to succeed.

And I agree with you about the Ego part - a bit less of that and the world would be a much nicer place to live

meno said...

This is a good reminder of how to ask for things that i want.

LittlePea said...

I thought heartinsanfran raises a good point. So much of my need to people-please stemmed from feelings of inadequacy and I know that my past flirtation with an eating disorder partly came from a low opinion of my inner self(it had nothing to do with my body image and that's what everyone in my life thought it was). So I do feel it's not so bad to have a sense of self-pride now and then. But of course, it should not be overdone and self-indulgent.

But I agree with you Chani. We do need to seek guidance and validation from those who are further up the path. And it is so important to let people know when they do something that matters to us and how much we appreciate them.

Anonymous said...

One thing that having children has given me is the ability to see just how innately selfish people are. And making myself a good example for them is good practice for me.

thailandchani said...

Niobe, thanks. I'm glad. Needless to say, I want to come explore your site now. :)


Susan, I can understand what you're saying, given the cultural context. Another one of the tenets of Buddhism (little discussed) is that respect for all life includes our own. That in itself addresses the feelings of inadequacy. Those feelings come, I think, from a culture which encourages competition, weighing and measuring.


Flutter, you are very correct... and I would add "without defensiveness". :) (Not that you are being defensive.. it's just a thought that passed through my mind. You know, when we can be comfortable in our own skin and not feel like we have to defend that. For me, that took longer than anything else. The rest was rosy in comparison.


Christine, you're right. When we encourage others, we also encourage ourselves. That way, we're not engaged so much in selfish naval gazing as we are noting what we encourage in others and then we begin to encourage those things in ourselves, too.

Thank you for the compliment. Now I will try to live up to it. :)


Jen. Yes. Doing for the sake of doing.. because we know it is right. The rest takes care of itself.


Suebob, that just cracked me up! LOL ~ Yeah.. "learn to be humble like me." he he. I'm laughing again!


Enigma.. right, too. I am you and you are me. That's the underriding principle?


Pam, part of the reason why I chose the path I did is because it's not "organized religion" which leaves a sour taste in my mouth, too. My path is one that encourages people to think for themselves. Yes, we look to our elders for guidance.. but we have to decide what to believe.


Emily, I honestly believe that if we stop weighing and measuring (a hard, hard lesson for me!), the feelings of inadequacy will disappear. We can not feel inadequate without something to measure it against.

Thank you for the compliment. I'm glad it speaks to you. That is the best I could ask for. :)


SM, that is a hard one.. the false modesty thing. I suppose the only way we can tell is by actions v. words. I don't know why.. I just felt like I needed to say these things that time, even with that risk.


DesertPea, I honestly believe that taking away rampant ego (we all have an ego.. but a responsibility to rein it in) would dissolve the majority of the conflicts most of us experience.


Meno, it is?


MsPea, I think the validation from others keeps us from deluding ourselves about who or what we are ~ or our own sense of self-importance.


De, I can definitely believe that! When we care for others, there's no way we can be completely self-absorbed. :)




Open Grove Claudia said...

But I think that's the point, right? Good or bad, right or wrong - all is the same. What matters is what you do, not the judgment placed upon it.

Good for you!

thailandchani said...

Claudia, you're right. It is all about the judgment (as opposed to discernment). Excellent point! :)



Wayfarer Scientista said...

Chani ~ That is what birthdays are for me: an opportunity to tell the people in my life what they do that matters to me and what about them I appreciate more. I don't think we do it enough in this world.

thailandchani said...

Wayfarer, I understand that is a Native American custom. It is one I've always appreciated. Just imagine how much better it would be if people used their birthdays for something like that?



KC said...

this is very interesting, how different the teaching of Buddha is from western psychological thought of identity- what I'm currently studying- adult development and identity and work. It's nice to have another perspective.

molly said...

I don't think your forest is as sparsely populated as you think. Many people are trying these days to live in ways that help the common good rather than doing harm. Not everyone, as is glaringly obvious if you pick up a newspaper.
We had humility rammed down our throats by the nuns. God forbid we should get so big for our britches as to think we were talented at something. And lashings of guilt. To be Irish, at least from that growing -up time, is to feel guilt about everything!
On the other hand,we were also taught by the nuns, to do things "because they're good and compassionate, not because we will be rewarded or praised..."
Is the good a celebrity or philanthropist does diminished when he announces it all to the media? People will still get fed or educated....the person who brags about what a great fellow he is diminishes himself. Let deeds speak for themselves...or whisper.
And ego.If we could eliminate it, and arrogance, and greed, what a pleasant place the world would be.

crazymumma said...

ooohhh. A true letting go. Of ego. of control.

Nice Chani. Very truly nice teaching.

Lucia said...

I want to dance in the forest too.

I was just talking to a friend today, and she says her answer to what life is all about is:

1. About contributing.

2. About finding joy.

Anonymous said...

Regarding your post on

Maybe you should read the comments a biut more because it is anything but funny to mock terrorist survivors and rape victims - I am sure you are not aware of what underlies the story, and it would be worth you doing so I feel.

Pam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
thailandchani said...

KC, it would be really interesting to hear what you are learning. I suspect I kind of know.. but maybe not. Is there anywhere you can direct me?


Molly, there is so much I could say on this topic. I don't think people should be taught to disrespect themselves. I believe we should respect all life.. and that includes our own. I do have a problem with ego-centered philosophies or social systems.

As for the charity, yes, people still get fed.. but that isn't really the object of this post. I do think it's important that people are taken care of, even if the one giving has a need to blow his or her own horn. At the same time, it does diminish it in the sense that it promotes a colonialist type thinking. Noblesse Oblige.

More on this in another post.. perhaps.. one day.

I agree with your last statement.. 100%. :)


CM, thanks :)


Lucia, welcome to the forest. :) It's a bit lonely sometimes.. but it's still a really nice place.

I think your friend is on to something.


Funny, I did check it out.. and I stand corrected. Initially, it was some of the wording in the other post that led me to have a few chuckles. The situation itself, of course you are correct. There is nothing funny in it.

I removed my comment from that site.

Thanks for bringing it to my attention. This is how we help each other most.. by educating each other.




QT said...

Chani - what a great post. Most people concentrate so much on what others do wrong, and forget to tell them what they are doing right.

painted maypole said...

this is great. 2 things I really appreciated in this post are the reminder to do good things because we SHOULD and not for any award, and the reminder to tell others that they and their actions matter to us.

And so, Chani, your consistently thoughtful and enlightening and honest posts are important to me, as they nudge me to take a deeper look at my own life. Thank you. (and on that note... I am still mulling over the interview questions... hope to post the answers later this wekk)

thailandchani said...

QT, it's that competitiveness, I guess. So many people are far more invested in finding fault with others instead of seeing the good in all of us.


Maypole, thanks. :) I will be happy to see your answers whenever you feel like putting them up.




Gledwood said...

Hi I hopped in here via friends of friends about 5 blogs removed....
Your profile is fascinating... I was LEARNING Thai some years ago... but (long story) I ended up going to India instead!!
Have you learned any of the Thai language?
I used the Linguaphone course. They are REALLY expensive considering you get 2 hardback books and 4 cassettes (well this was 10 years ago) and 2 booklets... in dollars close to 500 but I got it on massive discount "only 150 USD!" The course teaches you to read and write it as well as speak ... the alphabet isn't too difficult but whoever said tones are portrayed by spelling... well i never worked them out. Also spelling is irregular so it's easier to learn to recognize whole words than to try spelling them phonetically.
I just wanted to give that recommendation bc the Linguaphone Thai course is used as a 1st year textbook for students doing degrees in Thai at London's School of Oriental and African Studies... it's the best course in any language I've come across anywhere...
also i've heard rosetta stone are good
if you are learning thai i'd be interested to know what course(s) you use or whether you use nightschool/whatever
... sorry I had better stop babbling.
Take it easy!

All the best


Lawyer Mama said...

"I honestly believe boastfulness and pride are functions of ego. Ego leads to suffering. And I hate seeing people suffer." I agree to some extent.

But, atleast in the US, women tend not to have ego issues. Many women I know downplay or dismiss the ways in which they truly do make a difference. If you're told often enough that you don't matter, you begin to believe it is so. Conversely, if you're told often enough that you do, you begin to believe it as well. So I will certainly take on your task.

And I'll start with you.

You always have such insightful and thoughtful posts. I also love your contribution to the blogosphere that give me a glimpse into another culture and another way of thinking. Thank you.

Julie Pippert said...

IMHO, there is an enormous difference between being boastful, trumpeting one's horn, having an unhealthy swelled ego of puffed up self-importance AND being aware that you are a valuable person who does things that matter.

I think most people do not feel valuable.

I think THAT more than unhealthy inflated ego of self-importance does harm in the world.

If you did not feel value in yourself, I don't think you would be pursuing such an amazing path in Theravada Buddhism as a person recovering from self-destructive habits (trying to remember how you phrased it one time when talking about your past so as to be respectful, so forgive any mistakes). If you did not believe that it could matter, I don't think you'd share your awesome thoughts and incredible insights that we all so enjoy.

As I said in my post, I think when we feel valuable, we try...we try for what is right, good and true.

And that's what I hope the ongoing exercise of finding value can bring: more of that personally and societally.

Using My Words

JM said...

Thanks! I've added two of your posts for Thursday's disability blog carnival. Great suggestion.

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