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July 30, 2002

Buddhist teachings

"You need only one virtuous thought in your mind. It is like sugar in tea. The sugar [virtuous thought] is sweet. If you put it in a cup of tea [your mind], all of the tea becomes sweet. And you cannot have a virtuous and a non-virtuous thought in your mind at once. You might switch back and forth very rapidly, but the two are mutually exclusive."

I wondered what made the non-virtuous thought win. (A virtuous thought, by the way, is one that is absolute- such as non-violence. Other things can be relative- my interactions with other people can be positive, negative, or neutral- but something like non-violence is absolute. You can't have only some non-violence) "Hmm, it seems to me that the non-virtuous thought wins because as soon as it appear, the virtuous thought is gone." This troubled me for a while until I realized that the converse was true- as soon as a virtuous thought is held in your mind, the non-virtuous thoughts are gone. And after further reflection, I believe that it is the focusing of attention to a virtuous or non-virtuous thought that causes one or the other to fill your mind.

"Holding yourself to be more important than others is self-centered. The best path you can take is to make others more important than yourself. Imagine a world in which everyone thought that everyone was more important than themselves."

Indeed, would there be any problems?

Is a thought like "hold others more important" self-reinforcing? In a population of n people, if one person does not hold this belief, then there are still plenty (n-1) of other people to make up for the difference. At which point does this self-reinforcement fall apart? n/2? Probably not- the half of the people holding the belief are likely interacting with more than two people and are making up for the other half. So I believe that it requires less than a majority to make this belief self-reinforcing. Would something more along the lines of n/(the average number of people a practicer interacts with) be more appropriate? Dunno- but I do believe it's less than a majority. I wonder, if when this magic number of regular practictioners becomes stable in the populace, if this would create a positive feedback loop and an explosive growth in the number of people practicing this thought.

To kill the mosquito or not to kill the mosquito?

Some might say it is wrong to kill any living thing. Would I be doing the world a favor by not killing the mosquito? It annoys me, it annoys other people, if I don't kill it, it will reproduce, and it might carry disease. It would seem then that for people, killing the mosquito is a no-brainer. Ok, let's expand our horizons a bit. What if another species depends on the mosquito for its survival? Now it seems that we are unfairly competing with the other species if we kill the mosquito. Does not that other species have a right to live? If it does (it does- we are no better than it), then doesn't the mosquito also have a right to live?

What if there was no one species that was wholly dependent on the mosquito. Suppose its numbers would plummet drastically without the mosquito, but that it would survive as a species nonetheless. Is it now ok to kill the mosquito since its existence has no benefit to anything other than mosquitoes? Is it wrong that we force the other species population to shrink? Is a smaller population an inherently bad thing?

What if we eradicate the mosquito, but along with it we have eliminated the possibility of a new species arising that would have feed exclusively on mosquitoes. Have we done a bad thing now?

Posted by tbailen at July 30, 2002 10:03 PM

I came across your blog quite accidentally and was taken with your comments about "holding others more important". I know you wrote it a while back, but don't you think that if there is another in any part of the ultimate equation, then the wheel of Samsara still turns? Put another way, the "fundamental delusion", as Ysutani-roshi said, is that we think of ourselves "in here, with everyone else out there." Any action that comes from this awareness is infused with compassion and is sure to be helpful. Any action that doesn't have its roots in this realization does become an egoic reinforcement.

Posted by: Michael McAlister on July 16, 2003 11:40 AM
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