What’s wrong in being realistic?

Ajahn Brahm recently gave a very insightful talk on the pitfalls of excessive positivity. It is ironic how much emphasis is placed on being positive as the foundation for success. Regardless of what life throws at us, society has placed positivity on a high pedestal where any notion of realism is branded as negativity. Resorting to extreme positions, society has made most people afraid of showing any acceptance of the sufferings of life.

As someone who has had her fair share of ups-and downs, I have experienced the fear of taking a realistic view on the situation. Hearing this talk, I wondered why I was so inclined to take this particular view. Fear of being labelled a ‘negative’ person, fear of impeding my own ambitions, even assuming that acceptance led to making the situation worse.

Let’s think about why being overtly positive can do more harm than good.

We ignore what we’re going through- resort to our egos, external forces (both real and imaginary)

Illness, financial problems, unemployment etc. Many people approach these issues by thinking- oh, things will improve-I deserve happiness so everything will work out great. Or else they pray in hope of divine intervention.The inherent problem in this attitude is that they world does not revolve around us. We’re not the special beings that deserve the best in the world. It just doesn’t make sense for two people who apply to the same job assume that they both deserve it. Even  they prayed to the same god and they equally felt they were so special, it is just not possible for two people to fill the same position.

Seeing our troubles as they are

Understanding the reality of our situations can help us adjust our efforts in improving things. We make a more sincere effort if we knew the odds are against us, rather than relax and assume everything will fall on our laps. Sorry- the world doesn’t work that way. I’m not arguing for being pessimistic, but rather realistic. A great analogy used by Ajahn Brahm and his teacher Ajahn Chah was the simile of the beautiful crystal glass. We see a sparkling crystal glass or dish. We admire it, we treasure it and hold it in high esteem. Then one day, it falls and shatters to bits. We are distraught. We mourn for it, we tear our hair wondering why did it have to fall down etc.. The realist would see the glass for what it is-a glass. Glass can break ( unless it was made otherwise). It is the nature of glass. The glass equals “breaking”. It’s like crying over split milk when you know it is in the nature of milk to spill when you least expect it!!

Ajahn Brahm brings up a great approach to dealing with tough situations. The Buddha always stressed that all conditioned phenomena are impermanent. Our suffering is conditioned-it is made up of causes and conditions. Our happiness is conditioned-it is also dependent of certain causes and conditions. If something gives us pleasure, we are deluded to thinking it is static, unshakable and unchanging. If we understand that our job, for instance, can disappear in an instance, we do not fall in to despair when it does. Rather than think that a job would fall on our laps, we work hard and try our best on improving our chances. When we are sick, if we see that our bodies are not made of steel and are indeed fragile and prone to disease, we can cope better with our illness than wallow in pain and sorrow.

We need to let go of deluding ourselves with ‘think positive and everything magically works out great”. Being more grounded gives us a more genuine grasp of what life’s about and the nature of existence. Where’s the negativity in that? 🙂

This is a great talk by this Buddhist Master, and I hope it helps you in your life as it does in mine.

Animism with a twist….

Recent Opinion piece on the NYT highlighted the ‘earthquake sermon’ phenomena of religious justification of natural disasters. This article responds to comments made by some religious personalities that borderline on blind faith peppered with a touch of self-gratification at not being killed themselves.

I learned a new word too- ‘theodicy’ the”justification of God’s good government of the world in the face of evil and pain”.

Hmm….seems almost like the volcano/sun god/thunder worship with a twist…