“If, when you do good, you get stuck on your goodness, you’ll never get free. Wherever you’re stuck, that’s where there’s becoming and birth.”
(Ajahn Fuang Jotiko)
A couple of days ago I was already lying in bed. It was late evening. Thoughts floated by. I remembered how something that was said could not be taken back. When I encounter and get to know somebody I am usually quite cautious what to say and what to remain silent about. Given enough time a friendship can develop because I can trust that the secrets I reveal are never going to be used against me.
Lying still in the dark room I remembered a TV series called Ein Engel auf Erden. I used to watch it as a kid. It was produced during the 1980s in the US and popular also in Europe. I forgot what the episodes were about but I remember that it was the time I attended grammar school and went home to watch Michael Landon that I became aware how important it is to be able to talk to people in order to help changing things for the better. That angel knew how to speak. He affected others so strongly. People listened to him.
A bit later thoughts came up that had to do with listening closely to hip hop, rap, poetry, day-to-day street philosophy. And while I was lying on my back watching the ceiling rise and fall I fell asleep … or maybe I didn’t. Thomas D turned up in my mind and told me about my sword. Mein Schwert reminded me of the power of words. Everything I say has an impact – primarily it impacts me.
So go ahead! Be an angel, yes, but one with a flaming sword!
What came up next was an ecclesiastical image of Archangel Michael who with his flaming sword conquests the mighty dragon. Another image that came up was the guardian’s flaming sword that attracts all the attention of the conquistador in the movie The Fountain.
Why do I mention all this? Actually, I wanted to write about being good, about living a good life on earth. About sincerity and integrity. About virtue and virtuosity. This is what I mean when I say someone is good. I can trust this person because I know what he says is coming from heart. I can rely on him because he is upright and knows that a promise is to be kept. I know I can trust him because he has proven his values.
There is a form of goodyness, as I’d like to call it, that is sticky. It is giddy and gets me wound up. It is the opposite of being earnest, sincere, righteous. It is often found in religious circles. Blindly and stupidly believing dogmas about things thou shalt not do is a sign of fear, not faith. It is based on the childish view that an all mighty father will punish us if we don’t adhere to his rules.
True faith arises as soon as I can trust in my own abilities. This includes my ability to let go of my belief that I am in control to be good. Yes, I can choose what to do. But can I choose what to think? Can I choose to refrain from putting acts of body, speech and mind into categories of good and bad?
As long as I keep doing that I am going to suffer from being a saviour with a conceited worldview on the one hand and being a sinner with bad conscience on the other. I don’t want to be a martyr and I don’t want to be a devil. Both of these tendencies exist in human nature. Both of them want to make their voice heard. And to live life to its fullest I have to listen to both of them.
Socrates talked about his inner daemon, ‘daimonion‘ when referring to the voice of conscience. He was advised what not to do. Never did the voice try to tell him what he should do.
This is exactly what I need to develop if I want to be good instead of goody-good. A proper understanding of what is skilful and what is not skilful. And to abide by that. Not because the precepts say so or the teacher commands it or the doctor suggests it but simply because it’s the best for me and it’s the best for mother nature in the given situation.
There are two main ingredients that serve me well to make a distinction between simply and naturally Doing good and just trying too hard to Be good.
1. To see clearly what is going on: awareness.
2. To see clearly what needs to be done: wisdom.