September 16, 2016 at 3:45 pm #112Acharya Sujatin (temple host)Moderator
QUESTION: What is the right attitude to have toward guilt feelings?
SHORT ANSWER: It is unproductive and wasteful of life to attack oneself for being what one is.
An Assault Upon Ourselves
First we must distinguish between guilt feelings and objective guilt. Secondly, we must take into account that guilt and justification have a particular role in our culture due to our history of monotheism on the one hand and ancient Greek ideas about justice as the highest good on the other. Thirdly, guilt feelings are closely bound up with pride and conceit in that much of what presents as feelings of guilt is really an assault by ourselves upon ourselves for having generated evidence that we are actually not the type of person that we want to believe that we are. Our self ideal says one thing and the evidence says something else and we prefer to punish ourselves for betraying the truth so that we can continue to hang onto our illusion. Another way of saying this is that we do not want to face our shadow.
Human nature is deep and complex and derives from a long evolutionary and karmic history. We have within us all shades of tendency. We are angels and devils. We cherish, preserve and protect life and we are destructive and murderous. We respect one another, the other’s rights and property and we are rivalrous, avaricious, greedy and prone to take what we have no right to. We speak words of love, kindness and compassion and we gossip, lie, weave skeins of half truths, tell exagerated stories and stir up quarrels. We are sexual beings who express love and care with our bodies in delightful ways and we lust after all manner of satisfactions that we know would bring pain and trouble to others. We enjoy healthy habits of life but are also extremely vulnerable to compulsions and addictions of many kinds. In the course of our evolution humans have destroyed many other species, fought innumerable wars, raped, pillaged, desecrated, betrayed, abandoned and destroyed and, correspondingly, have also been the victims of all such iniquities. All this is in us. Taken as a whole we call it the shadow.
Avidya: Not Wanting to Look
Generally speaking we do not want to look at this side of ourselves. We do not want to see the harm we do and especially we do not want to see the impulses within us that lead us toward becoming victims and persecutors. We do not want to see our own greed, hate or arrogance. However, the paradox is that the less willing we are to see the shadow side of ourselves the more likely we are to act it out in subtle ways without realising what we are doing. We then find ourselves in a position of feeling guilty or of deceiving ourselves about the evidence before us. However, such feelings of guilt are themselves just another way of making victims of ourselves and such deception only feeds the repression that leads to further acting out. Typically, therefore, ordinary people who have done little or no insight work are caught in cycles of self-waste, squandering their life energy in the effort to expunge the evidence of the reality of their nature.
The problems is particularly difficult in a culture in which the prevailing metaphysic has been one that believes that at the end of life one will be held to account for everything that one has done with terrible consequences awating whosoever is incapable of justifying themselves before the ultimate tribunal. The problem is easier in Buddhism because there is no such Judgement Day reckoning. Karma accumulates piecemeal and each wilful act brings its own consequences. Thus Buddhism sees error where judgement religions see sin. Also, it is relatively easier to accept that everybody makes errors then to see everybody as a sinner. In the early form of monotheism, although we are all sinners we could rely upon God’s mercy, but as believe in God has weakened we have tended to abandon the salvific aspect without losing the judgemental part which is rather unfortunate.
The solution is, therefore, to look deeply into our nature and see both the yin and the yang of it. This enables us to see that all are in the same boat and as we realise our own vulnerability and suseptibility to error so we can better appreciate that it must be the same for everyone else. From this flows fellow-feeling and mutual understanding, something that our world is much in need of. It is by this means, rather than by the inculcation of guilt, that our world will become a more loving and peaceful community.
~ Dharmavidya, November 16, 2015
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