Even if you disagree with Peter Singer’s conclusions, his argument, if taken seriously, will make you question a few things about your own life:
1.) How much am I actually doing to prevent the suffering of the world?
2.) If I have the means to prevent the suffering of others, but I am choosing to eat out at a fancy restaurant every week instead of helping a baby who is dying of malnutrition, am I truly being moral?
3.) Am I doing all that I can to help others, or am I only doing a fraction of my capacity, due to my own self-interest?
4.) What is the right amount of aid that I can give without sacrificing my own well-being? In other words, what is the right balance between what I can do for others without harming myself? How extreme should my generosity be?
5.) What makes the lives of those who live in countries far away from me any less valuable than those who live in my own community? They are as human as I am. I can ignore their suffering by distracting myself with material comforts, but then, I would not be living responsibly, honoring the dignity of those who are mistreated, helping those who need medical care and food and shelter, or harmonizing my ideals with my actions.
Epictetus (50–135 CE) was born as a slave in Hierapolis, Phrygia. After Emperor Nero’s death, he eventually gained his freedom and taught Stoic philosophy in Rome for close to 25 years. Emperor Domitian, who feared the dissenting influence of philosophers, banished Epictetus from his home. He traveled to Nicopolis in the northwest of Greece and developed his own school, teaching in exile until his death. His ideas impacted historical figures such as Emperor Hadrian and Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Although Epictetus never wrote down his teachings, his disciple Arrian, who was a famous historian, recorded what he had said.
Epictetus’s main works are the Discourses and the Enchiridion.
Sharon Lebell has interpreted his timeless philosophy in “A Manual for Living.” She is the author of such inspiring works as “The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness” and “The Music of Silence: Entering the Sacred Space of Monastic Experience.”
Lessons of Epictetus:
1.) Some things are in your control and other things are not. Some of the things in your control are your opinions, aspirations, desires, aversions, and actions. These things are under your influence to a certain degree. Some of the things that are not in your control are the body you are born with, who your parents are, and your status.
Once you have learned what is in your control, don’t concern yourself with what is not in your control. Your death, for example, is not in your control, but your attitude toward the idea of death is in your control. Your response to your fleeting time on earth, to the death of a family member and friend, to how you communicate with those who are grieving, is in your control.
2.) Events are as they are. Your interpretation of different events is what gives them meaning, value, and significance. If you’re undisciplined, you will divide your experiences into rigid categories of right and wrong, good and bad, true and false.
Your judgements create heaven and hell.
3.) What matters is what you can do with what you are given. Look for opportunities in every obstacle you encounter and respond in an appropriate manner. You may need patience for adversity, self-restraint for lust, humility for criticism, compassion for the suffering of others.
4.) You cannot be expected to give what you do not have, whether that is money, power, time, or skills. If you can help, do so without any expectations. If you can become powerful and rich and famous while still maintaining your integrity, then do so.
At the same time, you will be challenged throughout your life. To preserve your integrity, to make the right moral choices, you may need to let go of a certain level of comfort, status, and money. You may even be ridiculed or persecuted for holding onto what you value as true and ethical. When you focus on what you can do with what you have, you will live harmoniously. When you neglect what is in your control and resist what is natural, you’ll never be at peace.
5.) Events are impersonal — neither good nor bad. They will unfold as they do, despite all your wishes and expectations. Undisciplined people will look for signs that reinforce their beliefs, prejudices and opinions, while disciplined people will adapt to nature and act from their own moral principles.
Events will reveal their hidden lessons to you when you are humble enough to receive them. You must remain open and honest, while not sticking to the rigidity of your own conclusions.
6.)Wise people do not blame others or beat up on themselves. They look inside themselves for useful answers.
It is easy to label the universe in black-and-white categories, judging events as successful and unsuccessful, right and wrong, good and bad. It is far more courageous to look within yourself — examining your motives, intentions, desires, and aversions — while deciding on what action is the best one to take in each situation. Always ask yourself, “What is the right thing to do?” Then do it.
7.) Think about the purpose behind your speech. Many people express any passing thought that enters into their minds without concerning themselves with the consequences of their words. Unchecked speech can run away from you. You can fall into unthinking habits that disrespect yourself and others.
Speech is neither good nor bad but people often talk to each other in a careless manner. It’s seductive to prattle on about nothing, to chat about trivial matters, to gossip about another person when they are not nearby, to laugh at someone else’s misfortunes rather than laughing with them. Speaking in this way degrades you as a person and strains your relationships. It is better to remain silent than to indulge in harmful speech. You become what you focus on.
8.) Life is too short for you to indulge in mindless consumption. Be aware of what you absorb, whether it’s from a TV show, songs on the radio, political speeches, or arguments. Discover what nourishes you, what enhances your well-being, rather than what feeds your ignorance, greed, and anger.
When you don’t choose for yourself, someone else will choose for you. And they always have their own agenda.
9.) You are influenced by the communities you are in. Without realizing it, you’ll adopt their values, opinions, aspirations, and habits. You’ll learn how they interpret the world. Be careful about the people you are around, even if they are kind, talk about wanting to improve themselves, and desire to know you more. They may not be a healthy influence on you due to their ignorance, destructive behavior, and prejudices. Seek out those who uplift you, who make you a better person, not those who diminish you.
10.) Do not feel compelled to justify yourself. Let your worthy deeds speak for themselves. You cannot control what others think about you, but you can control the development of your character.
Children are conditioned to accept the codes of their given society. They are reinforced with different symbol-systems from their parents, religions, schools, communities, cultures, peer groups, and so on, internalizing these systems (to varying degrees) overtime. They eventually think, feel, and act in accordance with these “reality tunnels,” despite whether they rebel against or conform with them. Ultimately, they will assimilate certain “realities” into their identities.
One of the first symbol-systems they learn is language. They learn what the agreed upon symbols to designate meaning are. Different cultures have different tacit agreements over not only what some words mean but what should be said and not said, what should be in one category and not another — essentially how their chosen realities are to be divided to make sense.
Children not only have to learn the codes of language, but they learn, whether consciously or not, many other forms of agreement.
“For the necessities of living together require agreement as to codes of law and ethics, of etiquette and art, of weights, measures, and numbers, and, above all, of role. We have difficulty in communicating with each other unless we can identify ourselves in terms of roles — father, teacher, worker, artist, ‘regular guy,’ gentleman, sportsman, and so forth.” (Watts, Alan)
People identify with the categories, and sometimes stereotypes, chosen and placed upon them. They aren’t merely one role, but a multitude of related roles. Father and son, laborer and high-school drop-out. Daughter and sister, amputee and white veteran. Son and brother and fatherless. Methodist and Japanese. Out of the innumerable roles available, people learn to identify with a conventional view of “self.” They believe that they have a persistent identity with a history, apart from everything and everyone else.
“According to convention, I am not simply what I am doing now. I am also what I have done, and my conventionally edited version of my past is made to seem almost more the real ‘me’ than what I am at this moment. For what I am seems so fleeting and intangible, but what I was is fixed and final. It is a firm basis for predictions of what I will be in the future, and so it comes about that I am more closely identified with what no longer exists than with what actually is!” (Watts, Alan)
The history of a person’s identity, of their memories of past events, is continuously selected for and interpreted (often without conscious awareness, depending on the emotional intensity and regularity of those events). Out of an infinitude of events that transpire in one’s life, some are chosen as significant while others are not. Experiences that are seen as insignificant, nonsensical, irrelevant, and so on, are discarded overtime.
People interpret the events of their lives using the different symbol-systems that they have internalized. Experiences are processed through their mental filters to make sense to their perspectives. They select one type of past and not another. One event is seen as good or bad, right or wrong, scary or pleasant, but not another. Some experiences are chopped up into familiar signs, while other experiences are forgotten. These signs represent only a narrow spectrum of “reality” out of all the information that exists.
What is represented is only a finger pointing to the moon. As Alfred Korzybski wrote, “The map is not the territory.”
Furthermore, people communicate their realities with language. Their language is an “abstract, one-at-a-time translation of a universe in which things are happening altogether-at-once — a universe whose concrete reality always escapes perfect description in these abstract terms.” (Watts, Alan)
To account for all that happens in the universe, to even perfectly describe a “a particle of dust,” would take an infinite amount of time. Thinking (communicating with ourselves), speaking (communicating with others), using a string of symbols abstracted from the past, will never fully grasp “every breath, every beat of the heart, every neural impulse.” (Watts, Alan)
“Taoism [on the other hand] concerns itself with unconventional knowledge — with knowing life directly, instead of in the abstract, linear terms of representational thinking.” (Watts, Alan)
Conventional thinking isn’t shunned, but rather, is used as a tool and not as the Truth. Taoism is based on a hunch, an intuitive state. Peripheral vision of the mind. Taoists will “feel” a situation and know it, without limiting it. While the intellect is trying to box the world into rigid categories, and grasp at the past and future, the Taoist doesn’t cling to their experiences. The intellect will exhaust itself in seeking the Tao, in its need to define it.
Chaung-Tzu once said, “The perfect man employs his mind as a mirror. It grasps nothing; it refuses nothing. It receives but does not keep.”
The mind isn’t reduced to idiocy, although those who are conditioned to accept Western systems as true may believe that to be the case. The Taoist plays with his innate intelligence, spontaneous and aware. Instead of forcing out a solution, she lets go of her mind until stilling into a pure naturalness. Then he directly knows the Tao, unconscious of good and bad, moral and immoral, black and white, up and down.
Rather than darkness or light, there are infinite shades of the Tao. To define the Tao is to not know the Tao. To grasp it is not to grasp it. In the doctrine of Mahayana Buddhism, as in Taoism (which heavily influenced Zen), there is no “true” division in life. Human beings, but not nature itself, are the ones to separate “things, facts and events” into categories. These categories are relative to different perspectives, but they are never truly fixed, permanent, or absolute.
“Ordinarily a human organism is counted as one thing, though from a physiological standpoint it is as many things as it has parts or organs, and from a sociological standpoint it is merely part of a larger thing called a group.” (Watts, Alan)
For a Buddhist, to describe “reality” in a fixed, linear manner with symbols, is not to know “reality.” To describe it, or the self, as permanent and separate, is to not grasp the changing ineffability of life. There is no enduring self that persists, for “the ego exists in an abstract sense alone, being an abstraction from memory, somewhat like the illusory circle of fire made by a whirling torch.” (Watts, Alan)
Every moment is a rebirth, a coming back to the present. Buddhism above all is a practice, seeing the world with clear awareness. “Such awareness is a lively attention to one’s direct experience, to the world as immediately sensed, so as not to be misled by names and labels.” (Watts, Alan)
There is a watching of sensations, feelings, thoughts, without any purpose or judgement. Like a mirror, the mind is “passively active,” purely reflecting what arises and falls away. When there is nothing to be grasped, there is no one to grasp it. When there is no one to grasp, then there is no division, no subject and object.
The Buddha did not try to create a philosophical system to satisfy the questions of restless minds. He often maintained a “noble silence” about questions dealing with gods and the origins of the universe and absolute reality, because to him, they were irrelevant when understanding the way to liberation from suffering (dukkha).
To seek such answers is to cling to abstractions again. Lost in the perpetual cycle. Many of the questions that people ask about meaning, life and death, are merely subtle ways of trying to categorize the world, turning their uncertainty and fear into familiar ideas. “Thus the world that we know, when understood as the world as classified, is a product of the mind, and as the sound ‘water’ is not actually water,’ the classified world is not the real world.” (Watts, Alan)
To be liberated is to have no intention of liberation. To try to become someone important, to achieve something outside of oneself, to adhere to some dogma of ultimate truth, is to be confused with the compulsive habit of symbolizing. The more one tries to figure out the Answer, the more frustrated he or she becomes.
“I have no peace of mind,” said Hui-k’o. “Please pacify my mind.”
“Bring out your mind here before me,” replied Bodhidharma, “and I will pacify it!”
“But when I seek my own mind,” said Hui-k’o, “I cannot find it.”
“There!” snapped Bodhidharma, “I have pacified your mind!”
To try to empty the mind is to get caught up in the mind again. To let go of the mind, of thoughts and impressions, “neither repressing them, holding them, nor interfering with them” is to free the mind. To practice no-thought is not to block all thoughts from coming in. Then one would be as good as a stone. Thoughts come and go. That is all. To let go is to trust in one’s natural spontaneity. There is no effort.
Línjì Yìxuán said, “There is no place in Buddhism for using effort. Just be ordinary and nothing special. Relieve your bowels, pass water, put on your clothes, and eat your food. When you’re tired, go and lie down. Ignorant people may laugh at me, but the wise will understand…. As you go from place to place, if you regard each one as your own home, they will all be genuine, for when circumstances come you must not try to change them.”
One doesn’t try to silence one’s feelings, thoughts, impressions. One is not trying to be indifferent or removed from the world. There is an awareness of what is. Subject and object, knower and known, white and black, arises relative to everything else. Everything depends on everything else to be.
Thich Nhat Hanh said, “If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. ‘Interbeing’ is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix ‘inter-’ with the verb ‘to be,’ we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are.
If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way, we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.
Looking even more deeply, we can see we are in it too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. You cannot point out one thing that is not here-time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. ‘To be’ is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.
Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. Suppose we return the sunshine to the sun. Do you think that this sheet of paper will be possible? No, without sunshine nothing can be. And if we return the logger to his mother, then we have no sheet of paper either. The fact is that this sheet of paper is made up only of ‘non-paper elements.’ And if we return these non-paper elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all. Without ‘non-paper elements,’ like mind, logger, sunshine and so on, there will be no paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.”
There is no such thing as a separate self. Everything relies on everything else to be given a shape, even non-shapes. One’s mind-body gives structure to experience, while there isn’t experience without one’s mind-body. Sunlight makes sight as sight makes sunlight. The “individual” and “external universe” are simply abstract limits that one has set up. There is no “between” between the two, because the division is not truly there. People give importance to their ideas of what is “me” and “mine” in contrast to the experiences that they have, as if they are apart from them, as if they “have” them. They identify with narrowly selected memories and social roles and feel as if they are permanent. Meanwhile life passes them by and they don’t notice. They have become so fixated on their ideas of what life is rather than seeing what is happening to them.
To even get caught up in ideas about what Zen is, and what Zen isn’t, is to stink of Zen. One can be as attached to their spiritual self as to their material self, believing they are a certain type of person and not another.
“For this reason the masters talk about Zen as little as possible, and throw its concrete reality straight at us. This reality is the ‘suchness’ (tathata) of our natural, nonverbal world. If we see this just as it is, there is nothing good, nothing bad, nothing inherently long or short, nothing subjective and nothing objective. There is no symbolic self to be forgotten, and no need for any idea of a concrete reality to be remembered.” (Watts, Alan)
Once a master drank tea with his two students. Then he suddenly tossed a fan at one of them.
“What’s this?” he said.
The student opened it and fanned himself.
“Not bad,” he said.
He passed the fan to his other student.
His other student placed a piece of cake on it and offered it back to his master.
When there are no longer any names, the world isn’t “classified in limits and bounds.” While most people want to classify things in their proper places, a master trusts in spontaneity, in “no second thought.” Zen masters are not emotionless beings without pain or hunger pangs. They can be sad, jealous, angry, and so on. The difference between them and others is that they are wholehearted, neither blocking out nor indulging in what they are aware of.
Zen is not to “confuse spirituality with thinking about God while peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.” (Watts, Alan)
Thoughts fall away when they’re not necessary anymore. Muddy water is best cleared when left alone. Zen is about seeing reality concretely — undivided by labels and titles and names and numbers and right and wrong. To sit in quiet awareness is to let the distinctions of me and other, subject and object, come go and come again. Without commentary, without purpose, there only is. Zen masters are neither gods nor are they perfect. They are simply human. Nothing special.
As Ikkyu said:
“We eat, excrete, sleep, and get up;
This is our world.
All we have to do after that —
Is to die.”
One awakens to what reality isn’t. Ideas of what one is, of what the universe is, seem more nonsensical the deeper one goes into it. Reality is ineffable, despite whether someone claims that “they are nothing” or “they are something” or “they are everything.” Rather than flitting from system to system, all people are already here, their “senses fully open to receive the world.”
There is nothing to be achieved, no one to blame, no past, no future, no birth, no death.
Only here, only now.
To some Westerners, the present seems like “nothing more than the infinitesimal hairline,” dividing the past from the future. For the linear-minded, for those who only know about reality through their compulsive thinking, the world will rush past them. Their ideas seem all-important to them, but their symbolizing can never sustain their heart beating, their breath, or the operation of their muscles, glands, senses, and organs.
They believe they are consciously in charge, but their minds only grasp at slivers of experience, which they are constantly interpreting and analyzing, dividing and separating. Yet in only a moment, they can see life as it truly is. The past and future, which they are so preoccupied with, is an abstraction. There is only this moment, moving but still. it’s here for everyone. Precious and timeless.
We are often caught in a dualistic trap of desire, aversion, and ignorance. We make judgements about life, categorizing events as good or bad, pleasurable or painful, right or wrong, moral or immoral.
We desire what seems attractive and pleasurable, while we avoid or resist suffering, pain, distress, confusion, uncertainty, and hurt.
Then we ignore what doesn’t stimulate us, what seems uninteresting and boring. In many cases, we ignore what is too hard and painful to accept. Distracting our minds from what is.
Through tonglen practice, we can change our relationship to desire and aversion and ignorance.
Rather than being averse to pain, clinging to comfort, or ignoring what we don’t like, we can be mindful of ourselves, of all the energy in our bodies, without judgement, without attachment.
We can work with our suffering through being present. Instead of categorizing experience as good and bad, right and wrong, pleasurable and painful, we can simply be with what is.
When we drop our storylines, we can become friends with our pain and not cling to fleeting pleasures.
Then we can transform ourselves from our awareness of a changing, nuanced life.
We can inhale our suffering and exhale our joy. As we breathe, we can wish others to feel our joy and to not feel our suffering.
Rather than hiding from our sorrow and pain, we can directly engage with it—not in following the storylines of our sorrow and pain, or in justifying why we feel or think in a given way, but in seeing the energy behind everything.
When we look into ourselves with honesty and compassion, we can extend our view to others.
It is so easy to believe that we are the only ones who feel anger and pain, fear and depression, and so on, but we are not alone. Other people feel like us too.
Rather than reinforcing old habitual patterns of alienation and isolation, we can remind ourselves that we are all human and dependent on each other.
When we feel sadness, we can connect to the sadness of others, when we feel happy, we can connect to the happiness of others.
Our lives are the perfect material for our compassion. The more we focus on our patience, the more we realize how impatient we are. The more we focus on our anger, the more we discover how often we become angry. Every moment is a teacher, helping us to become better humans.
When we breathe in, we can imagine ourselves inhaling thickness, darkness, heat, heaviness, claustrophobia, or pain.
When we breathe out, we can release all that dark energy, transforming it into cool, bright light.
We can take in what is hard and let it go.
We can use our friends, our family, our troublesome associates, anyone, as material for our practice.
When we suffer, we can wish for others to not suffer as we are suffering. When we feel happiness, we can wish for others to feel happiness as we do. Through our practice, we can compassionately connect to all of life.
From “taking and sending,” we can awaken our compassion.
Instead of hiding from our suffering, we can learn to embrace it. We can visualize ourselves taking in pain, then sending out tenderness and care.
We can take in what is dark and send out the light. Through this daily practice, we will soon find that the distinction between what is given and what is taken, the inner and outer, life and death, good and evil, blurs.
You’re not just a separate creature that lives “in” this universe for a fleeting time. You’re not merely a “part” of this universe, apart from the indescribable processes of life and death. You are this universe. Interwoven in the cosmos.
Without spacetime, without the evolutionary line of your ancestors to you, without the soil, rivers, and wind, without the sun and flowers and rain, you would not be here. They are in you.
You do not exist as a single identity, or ego, separate from everything and everyone else. Your existence is changing, transforming in its infinite relationships, right now.
With sensitivity, you can watch interdependent relationships unfold.
They are nuanced and spontaneous, arising, passing, arising, passing.
You are like a wave, calming and crashing and sparkling with light on shadows, until merging back to an endless sea.
There is no sensitivity in ideas of the past. The past is dead and you confuse yourself by carrying around its bones. Your mind is often dulled of its aliveness because it is dominated by the past.
When you lose your sensitivity, you grind out your days with unthinking habits like overeating, smoking, dwelling on your mistakes, worrying, and so on.
You must intimately know this moment. How can you know this moment when you’re filled with opinions, judgements, and values?
When you are judging, concerned with right and wrong, agreeing, disagreeing, comparing, and so on, you’re focused on a fixed interpretation of life. Instead of seeing clearly, you are projecting, distorting, manipulating reality.
The moment that you think you know who you are, you are limited by your view of yourself, and are no longer learning.
It is hard to learn, to see clearly, to be fully alive, because you have been conditioned from language, education, culture, art, politics, religion, family, custom, past experiences. You have been trained to respond in conditioned ways, to think robotically.
Most of us don’t realize we’re conditioned until there is a great disturbance in our lives. Whether from political or economic hardships, in our families or professions, through our relationships with others and within ourselves, we become disturbed.
What can we do? Can we live with so much suffering and confusion and uncertainty?
A lot of people avoid dealing with their sorrows, their sufferings, their fears of what is uncertain. They join a new group, subscribe to an ideology, shout at others, take drugs, gamble, check their social media accounts, or watch TV. They distract themselves all day with amusements.
Instead of being present with their fears and uncertainties and anxieties, they hide from them, avoid them, numb themselves from them. Their fears won’t go away, but they have desensitized themselves so much that they don’t feel alive anymore.
You must be totally aware to understand. Often you are one type of person at the office and another with friends. You talk differently to yourself than you do with your coworkers. You act out so many different roles every day.
You divide your consciousness and create conflict with those divisions, blocking out one part of yourself for another, aware of one aspect of existence and not another.
When you do try to understand yourself, you categorize and analyze and examine, spending weeks and months and years on petty personal dramas. But still, you are no further along to enlightenment.
If you could just be aware for a moment, sensitive to all of life, to trees and wind and birds and rivers and the beating of your heart, to inner and outer energies changing without division, without any purpose or method or conclusion, then you will see immediately who you are.
You can know life more deeply without the need to compare deep to shallow, right to wrong, good to bad.
All too often, you cannot see what is, what exists beyond all symbols, because you’re trapped in conditioned states of thinking, comparing, judging, and deciding.
You narrowly perceive, trained into a rigid way of being after a lifetime of chasing after pleasure, and avoiding pain, and fearing what you don’t understand.
Can you be here without trying to be elsewhere? With choiceless awareness, you can begin to see the totality of life. There is nothing to get and no reward, except for what is happening. If you can truly be without any expectation, letting what comes come until it passes away, then you will know joy.
When you seek out pleasure, to repeat an experience of the past, you will soon know pain. Pain is the shadow of pleasure. One follows the other.
When you have what you want, you often wish to hold onto it forever and fear losing it. If someone has what you don’t have, and you want what they have, then you eventually become envious and bitter.
By clinging to your memories of pleasure, you’re in conflict with yourself. Your desire to keep something or someone, to appear in a favorable way, to not lose what you already have, eventually leads you into suffering.
To be present is to no longer be afraid of losing what you desire. You are not afraid when you are just watching yourself be. At the back of your mind, however, you think about the past and future. You are scared of losing your job, your status, your kids, your health, your life. Can you watch all these fears without trying to justify them?
Do the words, images, and associations to past memories disturb you so much? Look behind the symbols at the undercurrent of energy. What is actually happening to you in reality and what is only thought, feeling, and memory?
Thoughts are not realities. For example, you may have gotten sick a few years ago. Now that you are well, you fear becoming sick again.
Your resistance to sickness is a thought, not what is happening within your body at the moment. At the moment, you are fine. Instead of being aware of how you are and tending to yourself with compassion and joy, you get lost in fears about losing your health. There is a conflict between what you think and what is. You ignore what is and dwell on ideas, which are fixed symbols. The more you think, the more you suffer about non-realities that are no longer there or not there in the future, blocking yourself to all of life.
Can you look at fear without dissecting it? Can you see fear without having to control or analyze it, without having to summon courage, without directing your mind to specific things that you are afraid of? Directly look at fear without making it intellectual. Know fear without hiding, rationalizing, trying to take it apart.
You are not apart from fear. There is no fear and then you, an observer of fear. There is only, when you notice subtly enough, fear, which is you.
Then your awareness of fear — without you trying to conclude or explain what fear is — dissolves it.
Fear is not fear alone. Fear interrelates with anxiety, hatred, jealousy, violence, and many similar states.
How can a person find peace in a world writhing with war, class conflict, murder, starvation, with many forms of injustice, perpetuated throughout the centuries?
Violence doesn’t merely stop at the events. that surround you but it is within you as well.
Violence is not just to maim or kill another person. It is a harsh word, jealousy over a friend’s accomplishments, discrimination, obeying an authority out of fear.
When you divide yourself from others and refuse to see the humanity in them, you’re being violent. All too often, you separate yourself through belief and thought. You see yourself as superior, inferior, or both. You blame and judge, rather than being present, listening deeply, and learning.
If you want to transcend violence, you cannot deny, hide, or distract from the violence within. You must be intimately aware of your anger and sadness and jealousy and anxiety and fear, neither justifying nor condemning these states.
All too often, you strive for ideals of non-violence. You tell yourself that you must be peaceful rather than violent, calm rather than angry, and so on. You think about the best ideological systems to obey to become a better person and blame others for failing to follow along.
You create dualities of good and bad, right and wrong, judging and forming opinions.
You try to be better daily. You prepare so much to be a good person because you have been taught to compare, analyze, judge, and think about every situation.
Yet there is no trying. There is only what is peaceful and what is not peaceful. Many holy books have been filled with words about non-violence for centuries and people are still angry, jealous, greedy, hateful, and so on.
When you claim that you believe in the ideals of peace, but are not peaceful within or in relationship to the world, you’re acting hypocritically.
When you separate, when you condemn others while justifying your righteousness, you’re trapped. You have not learned how to see what is.
Most people are not actually with each other. They form ideas and then act on the nuanced relationships between those ideas. They live on images, on symbols, rather than being with someone in the present. The more they cling to ideas, the more they live in a universe of abstraction.
You must be able to see totally. It is one thing to intellectually understand, to examine yourself under an analysis of symbols, but is quite another thing to completely see, to be aware of what happens within you.
You are never free until you can see what you depend on, what causes you to suffer, what brings you joy, without trying to hide or deny these things within yourself. From relationship — to yourself, to the group, to society, to all of life interconnected in the universe — you can be aware.
People think themselves into their relative neurological realities. In these “realities,” there are underlying assumptions about what is true and false, right and wrong, essential and not essential, real and fake.
They think about the universe through the neuro-filter of a Marxist, Atheist, Christian, Buddhist, feminist, Democrat, Republican, protestor, doctor, Caucasian male, African female, cynic, optimist, lover, fighter, bad son, good daughter, and on, and on.
People make constant assumptions about their identities and the identities of others. While it is easier to see the prejudices and biases in others, it is far more difficult to see those same inclinations within.
Most people not only don’t know but they don’t know what they don’t know. Their “reality” appears to be the true one, while other people’s realities, the further they diverge, seem increasingly bizarre and nonsensical.
When the Thinker is convinced of a given reality, then the Thinker will unconsciously work to organize all “evidence” in favor of it being true. Signals that are consistent with a favored reality are absorbed into their overall model of reality while other signals are forgotten, ignored, rejected, rationalized, and resisted.
Brains are made of matter in spacetime. They weigh close to three pounds, are composed of a gel-like form, transmit “ideas” with electro-chemical signals, varying in innumerable neuronal sequences, while suspended in cerebrospinal fluid.
Brains generate many ideas — influenced by everything that impacted them, from texts written a thousand years ago to a drama on TV to a fight with a sibling. Ideas are not equal to reality, but ideas can make up the models of a given reality.
While brains resemble the hardware of a computer, ideas resemble the software. Anything, from psychedelic drugs to an idea about political revolution to eating only a vegetarian diet, can change the consciousness of a person.
Certain programs can be written onto the hardware of the brain: genetic imperatives and imprinting, conditioning and learning. The mind is bound to what it imprints at vulnerable stages of its development. Its software turns into hardware overtime, which sets the structure for conscious thought.
Out of an infinite number of signals in the universe, when a person’s growing brain is imprinted at different stages of life, that person develops a sense of self. Further learning and conditioning adds to the structural foundation, thus creating a more intricate model of what reality is.
In the oral bio-survival circuit, people are hardwired in the most primitive parts of their nervous systems to seek security, nourishment, and a womb-like sense of safety, while avoiding what is harmful, dangerous, and threatening.
Domesticated primates (humans) are genetically hardwired to seek security within their family, immediate group, and tribe. They can be further conditioned to seek security in symbolic groups that they identify with such as a country, a political party, the religion they were raised in, and so on. They can even transfer this security-need onto symbols such as money, which in itself is of no value (you cannot eat money) except in the agreed upon value determined by other members of that particular group.
“In traditional society, belonging to the tribe was bio-security; exile was terror, and real threat of death. In modern society, having the tickets (money) is bio-security; having the tickets withdrawn is terror.”
Humans who do not belong to the same group are often categorized as outsiders and are perceived as hostile, aggressive, or challenging to that group’s interests and purpose. Any element, from a dissident person to an idea, which threatens the security of the group, is resisted and rejected.
The emotional-territorial circuit is involved with power. People are unconsciously in a struggle for status in a social group. In a tribe, members fit into various roles with different responsibilities and functions. Some members assume top dog roles while others fall into bottom dog roles.
These roles can be divided into the four quadrants of “I’m ok/you’re ok, I’m ok/you’re not ok, I’m not ok/you’re not ok, I’m not ok/you’re ok,” to use the terminology of Transactional Analysis.
This model, among other similar models. that represent the earliest imprinting, and subsequent conditioning, of one’s ego role in society, will vary based on how strong the imprinting is, how the dynamics of the group are in relation to the individual and societal structure, how well one can be conditioned out of robotically accepting an imprinted role, and so on.
Furthermore, each of the quadrants, while convenient as a tool for practical use, can be divided into subtler categories (with no end in sight). Nobody exists in one of the quadrants absolutely, but rather, will fall on a spectrum between extremes, which shifts overtime, as one’s nervous system changes.
Humans (domesticated primates) use symbols and are used by symbols. These symbols include, but are not limited to, art, music, mathematics, maps, and words.
Many symbols rule people’s lives without their conscious awareness of them such as with the wheel, the Roman road systems, the alphabet, agriculture, the State, and so on.
Some symbols, such as words, already have assumptions about reality buried in them, suggesting certain psychological states, emotional tones, explanations of the physical universe, and references to innumerable aspects of what makes up existence and meaning and purpose.
The semantic circuit makes distinctions out of raw experiences. It puts labels on life, dividing and sub-dividing, routine with categorization.
Every generation adds information to the previous ones, re-classifying the outdated information of the past. New connections arise between what has existed before, leading to insights in knowledge.
While entropy is the increasing disorder overtime in a closed system, information is negative entropy, coherence and order, where understandings birth out of chaos. As information increases more rapidly, so does a recognition of patterns from a randomness of events.
Over ever shorter spans of time, information is exponentially increasing, marking advancements in science, technology, music, art, and so on.
People are still using their more primitive circuits, despite this so-called progress. They have evolved with the reptilian and mammalian brains of earlier epochs in time.
Their rational, semantic, or time-binding circuits can be manipulated easily by fear of outsiders, threats to their status and safety, criticisms of the authorities that they trust in, appeals to tribal loyalty at the expense of those who are seen as inferior, dangerous, alien to them, etc.
While the first two circuits establish homeostasis in a civilization, the third circuit seeks higher states. The third circuit has always been controlled, partially or totally, by rules, taboos, prohibitions, laws, traditions, rituals, cultural games — most of which are unconscious, unstated, or seen as “common sense.”
Those who are in power want to control third-circuit insights, and establish order, because what is unknown and new and radical challenges the power structures already in place. There has always been fluctuations between progressive ideas and tradition, but as time increases, so does informational content.
That informational content may support. life such as with the LGBT, environmental, black, and feminist movements, recent medicines that treat diseases, scientific revolutions, and so on. At the same time, informational content could threaten to destroy all of life, such as with bombs, pollution, assault rifles, child labor, war between certain groups of domesticated primates over a sliver of territory, etc.
Everything that has manifested in civilization — from planes and trains, skyscrapers and roads and houses, nuclear weapons and clothes and microwaves — birthed from ideas, connecting symbolically in various people’s imaginations, developing, changing, self-correcting, evolving.
From the manifestation of imaginations, people live with a potential for unknown amounts of growth and destruction. In a world of limited resources, overpopulation, and institutions that seek to maintain their primate order with bombs, a manipulation of the third-circuit, and ink excretions on paper to establish their power over land and water and air, there is another force that is accelerating: information. From information there is a potential for high knowledge, liberation, and awareness.
The socio-sexual circuit first awakens during adolescence — at the onset of puberty. At this most vulnerable stage in human development, sexual preferences, taboos, dysfunctions, and fetishes have the highest chance of being imprinted.
These imprints can be due to chance, trauma, genetics, and environmental influences. People often mimic what’s deemed as acceptable by their local culture and hide what is not, keeping certain parts of their sexual profiles secret.
Every tribe has their own rules as to what is considered sexually moral and immoral. There are often, in every society, controls over a person’s sexual self-identification and subsequent behaviors. Whether the rules are ignorant, biased, misinformed, enlightened, liberated, and so on, is one matter. The innate purpose behind these rules, however, is to control the survival and variability and evolution of the gene pool. It is also to have power over what people can do and cannot do, socially controlling their choices and values.
Despite this attempt at control, there will always be unknown variables in sexual attraction, reproduction, mating, and future evolution.
Robert Anton Wilson said, “Taboo and morality are tribal attempts to govern the random element — to select the desired future.”
Those who act as guides and leaders in the local group, such as priests and shamans, philosophers and politicians, define what symbols are considered to be acceptable and what symbols are not.
From categorizing certain symbols as acceptable, moral, and right, those in power control the limits of information. Ideas seen as immoral, unacceptable, eccentric, and so on, are repressed, blocked, and forbidden.
The socio-sexual circuit keeps a check on the time-binding, rational third-circuit, to prevent the unrestrained rise of innovation and to keep order.
Children are often taught to follow the rules of society. They are not commonly taught to question, to criticize authority, and to become independent in thought.
Tribal guides, from parents and teachers to priests and police, desire for children to think and act semi-robotically, mimicking group values, following the traditions of the past, so they can be accepted into preferred roles in their group.
Most people are programmed to be just smart enough to do their roles properly, but not smart enough to question the roles they are placed under. They are trained to follow certain unspoken rules within their groups (of gender, class, race, age, and so on) and not to question them much.
They will vote for leaders who appeal to their primitive circuits, such as politicians claiming to be patriots, denouncing all outsiders that threaten their traditional values.
To stir up fear in the masses based on outside threats, to speak eloquently of change and hope, is a way to manipulate the human need for security and fear of losing it to the unknown.
Groups often use tactics to re-imprint individual nervous systems. Many cults, governments, militaries, religions, and terrorist groups, who’ve effectively re-imprinted (brainwashed) those initially outside their groups, used methods of isolation from conflicting reality-tunnels, punishments for unacceptable behavior with rewards for acceptable behavior, reinforcement of group superiority over individual inferiority, mind-altering drugs on occasion, initiations into status in the group with fear of the unknown (outside perspectives) along with comfort in the group (protective mother/father figure), and so on.
“The easiest way to get brainwashed is to be born. All of the above principles then immediately go into action, a process which social psychologists euphemistically call socialization. The bio-survival circuit automatically hooks onto or bonds to the most appropriate mother or mothering object; the emotional-territorial circuit looks for a ‘role’ or ego-identification in the family or tribe; the semantic circuit learns to imitate and then use the local reality-grids (symbol systems); the socio-sexual circuit is imprinted by whatever mating experiences are initially available at puberty.”
Domesticated primates (humans) have nervous systems that can adapt to wildly different reality-tunnels. Whereas in the past, groups could exist separately from other groups and maintain their sense of stable reality, in modern times, in an ever-connected world, groups bump into each other constantly, clashing with each other over what reality (symbol system) is. The symbol system that they hold to be true and logical, to other groups, is false and nonsensical. Furthermore, they confuse the symbol system (map of reality) with reality itself.
To dogmatic believers inside the group, their reality is the only true reality and everyone else who opposes them is deluded, immoral, or heretical.
In present times, to come into contact with so many different reality-tunnels is to be challenged with threats to group identity. The more dogmatic the group, the more dangerous the outsiders are or can be.
Beyond the first four circuits of the nervous system is the neurosomatic circuit.
Pranayama breathing, meditation, visualization of white light, prolonged sexual play without orgasm, psychedelic and cannabis consumption, among other techniques, trigger highly pleasant or unpleasant sensory states, depending on whether those who do these practices are experienced or unprepared amateurs.
Many yogis, gurus, mystics, and heretics have described this circuit as orgasmic experience, union with all/God/the infinite/the divine, crossing the abyss, and so on. Some enter this state through terrible internal struggle while others seem to naturally flow there without suffering.
The fifth circuit is intuitive and non-linear. Whereas the third-circuit hyper-thinking rationalist builds linear maps of reality, and the second circuit alpha male acts based on who is dominant in the social hierarchy, the fifth circuit mystic senses the gestalt, the organic whole, between data points in infinity.
The neurogenetic circuit goes beyond all previous circuits. It is the circuit of genetic memory, of the collective unconscious, of the Tao, of non-duality. Coincidences are significant and paradoxes are solved with wordless understanding. There is no true distinction between what exists out there and what exists within.
In this circuit, all of infinity fits into a flicker of sunlight. All of the cosmos, from quarks to planets, from the Big Bang to a sigh in the present moment, is interconnected, mutually rising and falling, becoming and not becoming. Life and death intertwine like the root systems of expanding trees.
The mind becomes what it focuses on. A mind that thinks about thinking is meta-thinking. To think about thinking about thinking, ad Infinitum, to reflect life like a mirror without clinging onto the changing experience, to be totally absorbed in an idea, a feeling, a moment, without any mental separation, is to use the meta-programming circuit.
This seventh circuit can program all lower circuits and switch between them like the channels of a TV. Similar to non action in Taoism, the meta-programmer adapts to what it engages but does not hold on.
The human brain may be psychically small compared to the universe, but within the brain, all of the universe hums. As the mind encounters certain reality-tunnels, the mind can be those reality-tunnels, while knowing of ever more.
The neurological system takes in a limited number of “existential” information, or a limited number of data points, out of the infinity of the universe.
The nervous system creates models of reality from changing data, editing, re-combining, classifying, removing, and adding information, mostly without conscious awareness.
So many thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and sensations are experienced every millisecond. Most of people’s lives are forgotten, rejected from their belief systems, re-classified to fit into their relative models of reality from what happened, ignored totally, and so on.
Usually only fragments of experiences are selected before they are analyzed, edited, classified, judged, and rationalized.
Humans then narrow their perceptions further through filtering themselves in different symbol systems of race, class, gender, politics, religion, height, fitness, personal hobbies, sexuality, ad Infinitum, creating reality-tunnels for themselves.
Domesticated primates are a lot more creative than they realize. They are the artists of their own existence, capable of, but not always aware of, neurologically programming their relationship with the universe.
All human systems have degrees of order and chaos within them. As this balance shifts, so does the system and those who are embedded in it. The more complex the system becomes informationally, the more unstable it will become as well. Moreover, with information increasing exponentially, there will be major transformations in the system, radically changing the realities of future people — sometimes intentionally, most often not.
Look at the difference in perception between a hunter-gatherer and an industrialist, an astrologer in ancient Egypt and a quantum physicist in the twentieth century, a factory worker in 1890 and a computer software engineer.
The breakdown of an old system could be the sign of a breakthrough into another model of reality, another visionary step, another way of seeing.
From death comes life again. In all of life, however, there is still an element of death. Like a caterpillar bursting through the rigid hold of its cocoon, and then flapping out its bright wings, for only a moment, for only a brief span of time, before it too returns back to the earth.
Systems are not isolated information organisms, destined to evolve or self-destruct alone. They are interconnected with the energies of other systems and gleam with promise like the beads of Indra’s Net.
As entropy is a measure of the increasing disorder in a closed system, there is still a quantum probability of energy underlying the fabric of every event non-locally. As information increases in an uncertain but probabilistic state of coherence to chaos, order to disorder, systems change and neurological realities will adapt within, until there is another transformation in future consciousness.
Which master do you serve: the fleeting approval of the multitude or your own integrity?
You may strive to be honored after your death. When you are dead, however, you will no longer be with the living and all that they say will not be heard by you.
Furthermore, you will not have any control over what the living speak about, even if they decide to speak about you.
If people do talk about you, how soon will their conversations shift from praise and blame to indifference?
Those who do remember you will also die. Their memories will fade with them. Their stories forever lost in time.
Your name may not even be as significant as the greatest humans from generations past who are now less than the whispers on lips.
Every sage and poet, king and slave, every lover and child and warrior and scientist, everyone who was born and breathed in the cool air, everyone from hundreds to thousands of years before, had perished into bones and dirt and shadows. Their lives were so fleeting, here, then gone.
Forgotten in unknown pasts.
Just because someone appears happier by being famous doesn’t mean that they are happy. Appearances of happiness are not happiness.
It is common for people to have a first impression of an event or a person. While the unwise take that impression to be true and make value judgements about it, the wise will use their reason to investigate why they felt a given way and whether their feeling was justified. After they’ve patiently evaluated their initial impression, they will let go of it, and then move on. Those who are unwise will cling to their impressions. They will desire what is external and uncontrollable, such as reputation and fame and power and money.
The wise will be present and focus on who they are and what they can change while the unwise will worry about the past and the future.
Fame is not worthwhile if it causes you to lose your dignity, self-respect, kindness, turning you into a hypocrite, coward, or tyrant.
Praise is a fickle pleasure. Applause is empty of meaning beyond a moment in infinity. Nothing lasts and everything is soon forgotten. Desiring fame is only a tiresome burden.
Don’t fall under the spell of vanity, believing that you are more important than others. If you are convinced of how special you are, then you are seduced away from your reason.
Seek to be a good person rather than seeking to be known as a good person. Everyone is connected as citizens of the world.
When you want to attain a higher social status, people will have power over you. You’ll be enslaved to their approval and disapproval.
Always be indifferent to praise and blame.
When praised, laugh internally at their silly words. When blamed or sneered at, don’t concern yourself with what you cannot control.
Before you talk about being a good person, be a good person. Do not let crowds seduce you away from your discipline, your virtue, your actions. You are responsible for the type of person you are. Master yourself rather than manipulating other people.
Epictetus was born as a slave in Ancient Greece. He became a prominent Stoic philosopher during the Roman Imperial Period, later influencing such people as Marcus Aurelius. Although he never wrote his teachings down, his pupil, Arrian, did.
His main works are the Enchiridion and the Discourses.
Some things are in our control while other things are not. We should focus on what is in our control.
Our desires and aversions, how we choose to think and act, our pursuits and goals and preferences, are in our control (to a degree).
What is not in our control are the bodies that we are born with, our reputation, old age, illness, and death.
When we try to control the things that are not in our control, we will suffer. We must look directly at what we can control and not burden ourselves with what is not in our control.
Our expectations are not life. We must mentally prepare for adversities while being content with what we have, not wishing for what we cannot control.
Other people’s opinions are their own. Instead of manipulating what they think about us, we should work on mastering our own virtue.
Let’s look at what is within our power and act wisely rather than looking at another person for our worth.
We are all born with different abilities, privileges, struggles. Instead of judging ourselves, let’s act out our roles with dignity.
While we didn’t choose to be born or to be placed under certain circumstances, we can choose our own attitudes and ideas and actions.
We should demonstrate our philosophy through how we live. Our true master is within us first.
We should never sacrifice our humanity for the fleeting approval of others.
It is easy to be seduced by what is external and uncontrollable, but in doing so, we may risk our own integrity.
If we compromise who we are for long enough, we may lose who we are forever.
Every difficulty is a question.
We must answer with how we live.
Spend time with those who help us to grow and avoid those who diminish us. Endure those who insult us with humor, humility, and kindness.
We don’t need to explain who we are to those who refuse to understand us. We only need to focus on what’s in our power, letting go of opinions and speculation and gossip.
We don’t need to talk about ourselves like we are important. There is no need for us to boast or blame. We can remain quiet, but when speaking, speak objectively.
Review what has happened at the end of each day. Investigate what we have done well and poorly. We can cultivate habits that are virtuous while remaining compassionate toward our mistakes.
“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our actions. The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others. Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you. Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you not be harmed.”
― Epictetus, Enchiridion and Selections from the Discourses
Our expectations for life is not life itself. We often want for things to be as we wish and avoid things that are not as we wish. Then when things happen against what we desire, we suffer, instead of looking directly at what is.
We must look directly at life.
Then we can act wisely with what we can control.
People will grow old, become sick, die, and lose their material possessions eventually.
Nothing is entirely our own, not even our lives. We are temporary travelers in this universe and will return to the universe after enough time has passed.
Meditate on this everyday.
We shouldn’t hide from facts that are uncomfortable, uncertain, and painful.
We shouldn’t speculate about what we don’t know, anxiously hoping for what exists only in our imaginations, dwelling with regrets about the past.
Let’s be present and learn what we can do.
We shouldn’t reduce ourselves to our judgements. While others gossip, we can remain silent. While opinions are let loose, we can stick to factual information. While people are angry and blame, we can stay patient and look within. While groups hate and form divisions, our hearts can open to the world.
Our attitudes are in our control, even when dealing with the tragedies that befall us.
We become what we regularly consume. If we surround ourselves with fearful people and sensationalized news reports, these sources will impress upon our minds and emotionally weigh us down.
While it’s crucial to be informed, we must care for our wellbeing, and should, when possible, avoid what causes suffering to ourselves and others.
When we must endure negative things, let us do so with dignity and honor, not falling into laziness, hatred, jealousy, anger, and greed.
Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away. That evening, all of his neighbors came around to commiserate. They said, “We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is most unfortunate.” The farmer said, “Maybe.” The next day the horse came back bringing seven wild horses with it, and in the evening everybody came back and said, “Oh, isn’t that lucky. What a great turn of events. You now have eight horses!” The farmer again said, “Maybe.”
The following day his son tried to break one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors then said, “Oh dear, that’s too bad,” and the farmer responded, “Maybe.” The next day the conscription officers came around to conscript people into the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. Again all the neighbors came around and said, “Isn’t that great!” Again, he said, “Maybe.”
The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity, and it’s really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad — because you never know what will be the consequence of the misfortune; or, you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.
Alan Watts telling the parable
What is good arises with the bad. What is bad arises with the good. There is no in without an out or an up without a down.
Each depends upon the other, follows the other, is within the other, changing from extreme to extreme, and from nuance to nuance, in an intricate web.
Life is a changing process with no definite end. Things happen to people and then people judge those events as right or wrong, good or bad. They make divisions in the world of symbols and act as if those divisions are true. Separating the whole into an innumerable number of parts and clinging to specific parts, while denying the rest of life.
It is easy to make judgements about life. When something unpleasant happens, a person claims that it is terrible, clinging to an idea of terribleness. When something appears to be good, then someone will claim it as good and cling to an idea of good, but will suffer when it goes away.
Those who are wise are not attached to ideas of good and bad, right and wrong, ugliness and beauty. They patiently watch without judgement, aware of change, and open to what may come. They are not as fixed on conclusions about the answer in life, but rather, live in the mystery. They listen in stillness, not overflowing with opinions about how something appears, or should be, or what they believe about it. Mindfully, they accept what is arising and passing. They do not hide from their fear or anxiety or uncertainty. They flow with what comes, not stuck to their thoughts, open to unfolding nuances.