Mindful lawyering: it's not complicated but it's also not easy. Because it's not easy to pay attention with intention, to be kind and friendly all the time, to show restraint and not conceit, to be insightful.
It is a good aspiration, though - not a better one than becoming skillful at litigation or drafting or negotiating, but a complimentary one: the aspiration to cultivating the intention to pay attention; kindness and friendliness towards even the "other" side; insight.
And what could be better for our clients (and the world), than to add that aspiration to the law? What could be better for our own wellbeing as well?
Hi everyone, it’s Judi Cohen and this is Wake Up Call 348. I mentioned last week, we’re coming to the end of the Dhammaphada. There are 26 chapters; last week we looked at Chapter 24, and this week is Chapter 25, Bhikkhus.
A Bhikkhu is a Buddhist monk. A Buddhist nun is called a Bhikkhuni. I don’t know of a neutral gender for Bhikkhu or Bhikkhuni. I do know that the historical Buddha welcomed women into the mindfulness community, and also welcomed all castes. In India 2,600 years ago, this was a radical act. Although we’ve been talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal community for a while, we’re really just starting to look at what that means, what true belonging really means in the law. It’s good to know that at least at the beginning, the mindfulness community seems to have been intentionally inclusive of all.
Chapter 25, the Bhikkhu, outlines the character traits to be cultivated in a monastic mindfulness community. To me, quite a number of them seem relevant to a life in the law.
For example, in terms of devotion to the practice, I was watching a show and the prosecutor was portrayed – not inaccurately, I thought – as someone who works a LOT and is totally devoted to her craft, her mission. Although she’s no nun, the singularity and devotion with which we’re invited (or required?) to practice law is not so different than the devotion invited of a Bhikkhu.
Given this seeming parallel, I thought, why not change the word Bhikkhu to “lawyer” or “attorney” in some of the Chapter 25 verses, and see how it sounds.
The chapter begins with a kind of overview. Here are the first few verses I think are relevant for us:
Restraint of the eye is good, good is restraint of the ear. Restraint of the nose is good, good is restraint of the tongue. Restraint of the body is good, good is restraint of speech. Restraint of the mind is good, good is restraint in all circumstances. Restrained in all circumstances, the lawyer is released from all suffering.
That fits, right? We’re at our best when we’re not being seduced by anything we see or hear or taste or touch – by sense pleasures, even (or maybe especially) the anticipation of a big fee, some kind of accolade. We’re at our best when we restrain ourselves and contemplate the problem in front of us; when we consider all sides, thoughtfully, and with a quiet mind; when we’re restrained.
Here’s the next verse I like for us – again, substituting “attorney” for Bhikkhu”: sweet is the speech of an attorney who restrains their mouth, speaks insightfully, is not conceited, and illuminates the teaching and the goal.” I don’t know if I was ever accused of being “sweet” as an attorney – or if I wanted to be seen as sweet, but how about palatable or appealing, pleasant or kind? Appealing is the speech of an attorney who – again – restrains, in this case, their mouth? For sure when we restrain ourselves from saying anything unkind, even though we’re being fierce, I think our words will be much received, digested, more easefully. And speaks insightfully, is not conceited, and illuminates the teaching and the goal? It seems like our words will also be received with greater ease, and maybe even as more persuasive, if we speak insightfully. Why not always do that if we can?
And if we’re not conceited? In my experience, the minute I ventured into – or even unconsciously slid into – and attitude of conceit, I lost my audience. I maybe even lost a friend.
And finally, illuminates the teaching and the goal – I think in the verse this refers to suffering and the end of suffering, which is both teaching and goal. But could it also refer to the fact that as lawyers, we also have the job, or invitation, to shed light on the issues and how they may be causing suffering, then propose a path or paths that lead to less suffering or even to the end of suffering in the circumstances?
Here’s another verse in Chapter 25: Don’t be negligent; don’t let your mind whirl about in sensual desire. Don’t be negligent and swallow a [molten] iron ball, and then, being burnt, cry out, “This is suffering!” We do do this, or at least I do this. I let my mind wander into sensual desire – wanting something or wanting some attainment – the wanting of which does begin to burn a hole in me. It stops when – IF – I can remember, Oh, this is suffering. The verse is suggesting that a Bhikkhu – and I’d say maybe a lawyer, too, can catch this early – before it begins to burn us.
Or how about, The starting point for an insightful attorney is…contentment, restraint according to the rules of law, and associating with good spiritual attorneys who live purely and untiringly. If one is friendly by habit and skillful in conduct, one will have much delight and bring an end to suffering. I love this for us. Contentment – can we at least occasionally say to ourselves, our clients, or partners, “We have enough: enough cases, big enough draws,” and felt truly content. I think so. I know lawyers who feel that way.
Associate with good spiritual attorneys? We’re doing that now, here, together.
Being friendly by habit and skillful in conduct: I visited my daughter in grad school (she’s becoming a therapist) in Portland, Oregon and we talked about the importance of saying only kind things to and about others, committing to being friendly to and about others, as a skillset. And as a bonus, because in my experience anyway, this tends to be the result: becoming someone whom others feel they can trust. Seems like a good goal for attorneys, too.
And lastly, Oneself, indeed, is one’s own protector. One does, indeed, [make] one’s own destiny. Engaged in the teachings [of mindfulness, but also of law], even a young lawyer lights up this world like the moon set free from a cloud.
Maybe that would be true, too. Maybe it already is. Maybe you are that lawyer, lighting up the world like a moon set free from a cloud.
What a lovely image for our profession.