The Nature of Choice

Every morning I set out two glass bowls, for our porridge, that is for my partner and I. The bowls are not equal, one is older and more worn, the other is much newer. I noticed that I was choosing the newer bowl for my own porridge. I turned my mind to this and noticed that subconsciously I was deciding that the newer bowl should be mine; I somehow deserved the better bowl. This is only a small, everyday thing but it highlights how ones ego ‘feathers its nest’ and the nature of choice.

We are constantly making small decisions that are in our own best interest; we fall far short of the most novice Bodhisattva. We are really at the Centre of our mandala, we are only concerned with how we are going to succeed in this world and come out on top.

Without awareness of our actions, both large and even the small ones, we will not be able to let go of our strong self-interest.

So how do we achieve this awareness? We need to be aware of how our consciousness, that is our self -interested consciousness gets created. All the time our senses are experiencing the world around us, coming into contact with that which is outside of our bodies. In the case of my porridge bowls, my senses saw and felt them. But that was not all that happened. I added to that sense experience my own habitual tendencies to look after number one, to make a decision that creates a stronger experience of self as opposed to realising that the sense of self is just a created experience not a real experience.

We make decisions all the time and we like to think that we make rational decisions. But the conscious ratiocinations of our minds are only part of it. The unconscious or hidden factors which our minds bring to bear on a decision are often a bigger part of the result. The history we have, or that we have had, with a similar situation comes back to haunt us, to help us make that difficult decision supposedly easier. To look at an experience or a decision with fresh bright eyes is hard work and very difficult. You cannot do it all at once, you have to pick a small example to work on, like my porridge bowls.

Ask yourself what is my experience and what action have I moved forward with and carried out from that simple experience? What is the real experience and what have I added to the experience.

When I look at those porridge bowls tomorrow morning, it will not be the same as yesterday. By a simple thought experiment, I have changed the way I behave and there is no going back. It is truly one small step for my mind but that small step places me firmly on the path to living with just direct experience.

I have just come off a retreat. It was an online retreat for Order Members and I spent the week living in my shrine room located in my garden. The retreat was based around the so-called Tibetan Book of the Dead. This is an ancient text that was buried by Padmasambhava in the 8th Century to be discovered at some point in the future. Much of the retreat consisted in reading out the text in a ritual setting, with mantras, offerings and chanting that all helped to bring the text ‘alive’ and give us a sense of the meaning of Bardo, the transition from one state to the next, in this case from death to birth. This retreat had great relevance to the hidden factors which made me choose one porridge bowl over another.

Most factors are due to my conditioning, my upbringing, but some of those factors are fairly universal. One such universal and major factor is the fear of death. We allow the fear of death to cloud our lives and corrupt our decision making. It can even make us fear so much that we stop the enjoyment of living, so we make the wrong decisions in life.

Death is inevitable, we will all die, the only uncertainty is when that will happen. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, although giving a possible explanation of the between death and rebirth experience, also gives a colourful and strong argument to practice now and a set of activities, such as meditation and ethical practice, to get on with whilst you can before death inevitably occurs.

We all have these hidden factors, even world leaders can make bad decisions, made out of fear. So we must be careful of how we are driven by those factors and try to take a step back, and give some awareness to the decisions we make, as even our seemingly small decisions can have effects on those around us, and even further out into the world we all share for a little while.

A final point is that with so much coverage in the news we can’t help being drawn, at least emotionally, into the conflict happening between Ukraine and Russia. Our hearts go out to all those suffering in this deadly affair. It is difficult not to take sides and make a judgement on who is right and who is wrong. But such conflicts often have very complex and long roots that make understanding what is going on difficult. However, we can respond with compassion towards all those involved. We can put them into our Metta practice and reach out to all those suffering. The Triratna Centre in Poland is doing all it can to help, housing refugees in its building and offering as much help as it is able. The appeal they made for funds reached its target within minutes. So If we are able then we can give to the DEC (Disaster and Emergency Fund) appeal, where donations will be matched by the UK government and go towards humanitarian aid.

In times of war, Give rise in yourself to the mind of compassion,
Helping living beings, Abandon the will to fight.’
Vimalakirti Nidesha

Enjoy the Centre in April. Spring is here and there are many new things to try happening at the Centre this month. I am sure I will see you all soon but that will depend on those decisions we make.

Bodhivamsa

Chair of Ipswich Buddhist Centre

March 2022