Do you ever notice there's a stickiness to the unkind things you say or do? How they stay with you, a kind of grief or remorse following you throughout the day, or through life? And how the same thing's true for the kind things: a moment later, and even years later, there's a kind of rejoicing and gladness that comes right back up, when you remember having been kind. On this episode of Wake Up Call, to grieve, or rejoice - that is the question. Enjoy.
Hey there, this is Judi Cohen, and this is Wake Up Call #306. We’ve been exploring the first chapter of the Dhammapada, which is called the Dichotomies, so named because each of the teachings explains how, if we point one way, one thing happens, if we point another, another thing happens, and it’s ours to choose.
We’ve looked at the opening lines, which talk about how suffering follows as the wagon wheel follows the hoof of an ox when we speak with a “corrupted mind” and “happiness follows like a never-departing shadow” when we speak with a peaceful mind. We’ve looked at the teaching that, “many do not realize that we here must die. For those who realize this, quarrels end,” meaning, life’s short and knowing that, quarrels, with one another and with each moment, are a waste of that precious time.
Today I want to talk about some lines in the first chapter that present another dichotomy. The first line is, “One who does evil grieves in this life, grieves in the next, grieves in both worlds. Seeing one’s own defiled acts brings grief and affliction.”
The second is, “One who makes merit rejoices in this life, rejoices in the next, rejoices in both worlds.”
I know when I do something “evil,” or let’s just say “unkind,” I do grieve. I regret what I’ve done. I had to call Comcast and it took me four representatives to get an appointment, and by that fourth person I might have said Comcast was the most ridiculous company I’ve ever dealt with. I regret that. A friend was expressing doubt about the worthiness of their opponent, and I joined in. I grieve my lack of kindness. If you can, think of something right now that you said or did recently that was unkind, and check in. Do you regret it? Does it bring you grief?
I think when we’re paying attention, especially on a somatic level, we do feel grief. There is affliction. We want to go back and say something more thoughtful, something wiser, something more compassionate. We want to un-ring the bell.
All of that is happening in real time, in real life, but the text says, “One who does evil grieves in this life, grieves in the next, grieves in both worlds.” So, what does it mean to grieve in this life and the next and in both worlds?
Maybe from a classical perspective it literally means, reincarnation. But I think about it differently. When I’m paying attention moment to moment, one of the things I can see is how many identities arise and pass away over & over throughout my day.
Sometimes I daydream that I’m in a different place in life than I am, or that I’m in a different life altogether: different location, different history, different body.
Sometimes I’m in “professional” mode, or “teacher” mode, and then I close my screen or walk out of a conference room and I know I’m not that person anymore. I’m in a different mode, different identity.
Sometimes I’m visiting with my daughter or my dad and I’m a mom or a daughter, both of which are so natural that I barely notice those identities dying when I’m no longer with them, then being re-born when I call them.
Each identity we have has a life, arising or being born when we think of ourselves as such & such, or because of circumstances (like when I’m visiting my dad), and passing away or dying when the thought dies or the circumstances change.
Have you thought about identity this way? This idea that the identity of parent is born and dies dozens of times a day, as does the identity of lawyer or teacher or friend or partner? That’s the way I think about the teaching that, “One who does evil grieves in this life, grieves in the next, grieves in both worlds.” When I do evil, do something unkind, it doesn’t just evaporate. It doesn’t just stay in the past. It follows me throughout my day, throughout the various identities that are born and die. Even if I’m no longer in confident mode with my colleague who was dissing their opponent and my identity has shifted completely to, say, friend out to dinner with friends, inside, if I check in, if I’m honest, I’m still grieving that I didn’t have the presence of mind to say something kind about that opponent. The grief follows me from incarnation to incarnation throughout my day. In fact if I’m really being honest, I’m still grieving a few things I said ten years ago, thirty years ago, in law school, maybe even in middle school. It’s shocking how much that stuff follows from one identity – from one life – to the next.
But the good news is, “One who makes merit rejoices in this life, rejoices in the next, rejoices in both worlds.” Meaning, if we pay attention and are intentionally kind, if we “make merit” as the text says, we can feel it in our bodies in the moment, and also as we move from incarnation to incarnation throughout the day, and throughout our lives. There’s a kind of rejoicing that really does stick, from identity to incarnation to incarnation.
My favorite example is "miracling" people on the Golden Gate Bridge. The toll on the Golden Gate Bridge right now is almost nine bucks, but long ago in a galaxy far, far away, the toll used to be a dollar. And you had to have a dollar – there was no electronic counter and the toll takers didn’t make change. (But maybe they did make change when I was a kid.) Anyway, I lived in Sausalito, which is just over the bridge, and worked in San Francisco, and there was no such thing as traffic, so I’d drive across the bridge to work every day. (It was also possible to pull up downtown and park – a thought for another day.)
I was making decent money as a baby lawyer - $35,000 a year – and one of my favorite things to do was to prepare two dollars, hand them both to the toll-taker, tell them the second dollar was for the car behind me, then zip off down Doyle Drive and into the city before the car behind me could catch up and say thanks. The term “miracling,” in case you don’t know, comes from an old custom of giving away any extra tickets for a Grateful Dead show instead of charging for them – from the song “I Need a Miracle.” Anyway, every time I miracle someone at the Golden Gate Bridge toll plaza, I had this surge of rejoicing: rejoicing in giving someone a completely unexpected joyful moment; and rejoicing that I could actually afford to do that.
And the thing is, all these years, all these decades later, and all these lives later, just the recollection of those miracle moments, is a rejoicing. And the telling of the story to you, is a rejoicing.
One who makes merit rejoices in this life, rejoices in the next, rejoices in both worlds.