I was talking to a friend who’s a therapist last night about decision horizons. He told me that he learned about a treatment technique for people suffering from borderline personality disorder where they imagine a scenario in which they might act out (yelling, hitting, etc.) and write down the advantages and disadvantages of tolerating the situation (not acting out) and not tolerating the situation (acting out). What they typically find is not that the lists of the advantages of tolerance and disadvantages of intolerance are longer or more compelling than their opposites. Instead, they find that the advantages of intolerance and disadvantages of tolerance are shorter term, while the advantages of tolerance and disadvantages of intolerance are longer term.
We were discussing this because my friend had asked how things had been going since I took the bodhisattva vow, and I was telling him that where I end up practicing most is at work. As my work has shifted from development to management, I’ve learned that interpersonal issues can only be effectively managed with an eye to the long term. Though there are corporate environments where turnover is such that there are no long term interactions, mine isn’t one. I’ve been there eight years, and I’m still relatively new. Many of the people I work with have been there twenty years or more. In such an environment, there’s no point in short term victories. Even if you’re “right,” you’ll have to keep working with the person you’ve gotten the best of next month, next year, and for years after that. You can’t gain a sustainable advantage at someone else’s expense unless you’re willing to work at it constantly for the rest of your career (which isn’t to say that there aren’t those who try).
This goes back to the bodhisattva vow because trying to gain an advantage over a reality from which we’re indivisible and suffering as we try to sustain that advantage is the definition of samsara. The bodhisattva vow isn’t something that’s imposed on those who take it; it’s not an ideal to which they’re indoctrinated and told to aspire. The bodhisattva vow is based on the insight that we cannot leave this reality for another, so if we want to suffer less, we have to end suffering here. We’ll only be enlightened, if we’re to be enlightened, here, with this group of sentient beings. This has been an important personal lesson for me. In the past, I’ve simply left any situation that I wasn’t happy in, whether it meant going away to school, getting new friends, or changing jobs (or even careers). I probably intended my entry onto the Buddhist Path to be another such escape, but it keeps leading me right back to the life I wanted to get away from.