Whoever lives contemplating pleasant things, with senses unrestrained, in food immoderate, indolent, inactive, him verily Mara overthrows, as the wind (overthrows) a weak tree.
Whoever lives contemplating “the Impurities”, with senses restrained, in food moderate, full of faith, full of sustained energy, him Mara overthrows not, as the wind (does not overthrow) a rocky mountain. ~Dhammapada
If you ask a wine expert how to test a wine, they will tell you to first eat a bit of apple. The acid in the apple will reveal the flaws in a wine. Ask a wine expert how to sell a wine, they will tell you to always serve wine with cheese, which always compliments pulls the flavor of wine. The proverb, “buy on apples, sell on cheese” shows the importance of context in all experience.
In Buddhism, context is the foundation. When we think of the three poisons—aversion, craving, and ignorance (often cited as hate, greed and delusion)—we can see how context is the key factor to the relationships we have with the world around us.
EXAMPLE “A”: Employee Susan, who avoids her boss, may have a relationship that is terrifying to her. The boss may always be overly critical and rude. Facing the problem may create a worse work environment for her or even risk being fired. So instead she walks up the stairs to avoid being caught in an elevator with him. Her palms sweat when his name comes up on caller ID. She hides in her office during lunch. She avoids her boss at all costs and each time she meets with her boss she puts one more brick in the foundation of this fear.
EXAMPLE “B”: As the door opens and reveals his blind date, John’s eyes open and smile widens. His anxiety is replaced with excitement as he sees a very attractive woman. Throughout the night, his date proves that she is an inconsiderate rude person, but as long as she keeps smiling at him, he just ignores similar behavior that Susan’s boss displays. John’s sensual lust for the woman draws him to her and is more than willing to ignore grossly obvious incompatibilities between the both of them. Months later, when they break up, John ask himself, “what did I see in her?”
EXAMPLE “C”: Alex was walking down the path to his campground. All of a sudden, he froze in his tracks. His hair stood up on the back of his neck. As he scanned the ground in the moonlight he saw what caused him alarm: a very large snake poised ready to strike. Alex’s heart raced as he tried to think of ways to escape. Pain stung his chest, like a dagger, and he fell over dead. The next morning the other campers found him laying on the ground next to a bit of rope slightly uncoiled.
While these examples are obvious, they demonstrate how our experience with the world is effected as much by our perception, our relationships and our awareness of what is going on around us JUST as much as what is actually occurring. We all too often have an experience and react to it emotionally with no awareness of our responsibility and culpability to that experience. When blood boils after someone cuts us off on the highway, we instantly blame the other driver and his reckless actions.
An aware mind would see that more awareness of the road would have seen the actions of the other driver. An aware mind would recognize that the other driver poor driving is not a personal attack on you. An aware mind would realize that one more car in front of you will have no true effect in the time your trip will take. An aware mind would see the triggers of ego clicking, the arising of emotion through ignorance, conceit and rationalization; and quench the flames with loving kindness. In other words, putting in context, the events of a person cutting you off in the highway will avoid the anger that seems such a normal response. Conditioning the mind to reorient is a viewpoint shifts the context of all relationships. And this is what the Buddha taught.
Buddhism may be physically painful when meditating on the mat – the legs fall asleep, the back aches, the nose itches— however; it sharpens the mind to the moment, and gives opportunity to broaden the mind. What are our relationships with the world around us? Is this pain in the knee really as unbearable as it seems initially, or am I just so used to avoiding pain that I instantly shift and move at the slightest discomfort? Are the noises around me truly disrupting my practice or is my desire for tranquility so profound that any imperfection leads to mental suffering? Am I really the person I believe I am, or have I been conditioned so sincerely that I am brainwashed to think that my reactions to the world are inherent to my nature?
Investigating these qualities in meditation is the first step in understanding how we add context to the world around us: How we “eat apples” when we want to be critical and “eat cheese” when we want the world to seem more pleasant. Never investigating our direct unadulterated experience with the wine (aka “life”), we never educate ourselves to its full experience.
Without removing the context created by our conditioning, we have no true understanding of the world around us. We will forever be avoiding people, judging them 2 dimensionally, lusting for Ms. Wrong,; and making judgments in life based on delusional and ignorant information. It is in this slumbering twilight that most of us live in called samsara. The Buddha (which means “awakened one”) was able to shine the light of clear understanding and wisdom so that we all brush the sleep from our eyes and see that we are the owners of our misery, because we spend more time drinking from life’s cup with opinion rather than compassion.