April 13, 2007

Saving the World

Today, this moment, if someone asked me to describe myself with one word, it would be “ambitious.” Not wealth-and-power ambitious, but save-the-world ambition. Can I save the world?

In sangha this week, we spoke of delusion. The First Noble Truth is the Truth of Suffering. The Second Noble Truth is the Truth of the Causes of Suffering, delusion or ignorance. Delusion, or ignorance, is the veil through which we see the world, distorting reality based on our preconceived notions. It is very personal. That is where our perception of self is strongest, where our base personality is rooted, in our delusions, for it is also a delusion.

I wonder now about my approach to the dharma. Long ago I resolved to become an extrovert because I felt in a world teeming with people, extroversion would ensure both my survival and success. I wanted to understand why people do the things they do. I have studied the dharma always with the thought, “Oh, so that’s why people do that.” People, not I, but people. Of course, I am part of people, but that is a small intellectual understanding. My delusionary (is that a word?) self, fueled by ego, insists in its own independence. I am I and everyone else is people.

The Second Noble Truth is personal, it strikes out directly at ‘I,’ that greatest delusion. I can explain away the actions of others as based on delusions, but without an intimate knowledge of these delusions, I still cannot really understand why they act. My delusions, on the other hand, become all too clear the more I study the dharma. Suddenly it is not the world to be saved, but myself.

Now I realize why the Theravadan traditions emphasize enlightenment for oneself and only oneself. That is not to say I have given up, only that I have refocused. I cannot get anywhere by deluding myself into believing I am only in this to gain understanding of all humanity’s ills and joys without stopping to notice that I am part of humanity. Thus the Mahayana pledge “May I gain enlightenment for the sake of all beings and may I remain until all beings gain enlightenment.”

Of course I can.

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