Faith in Reality

I returned from the vacation that wasn’t quite a vacation, and had four days of much needed rest before returning to work. Actually, it was four and a half days before returning to work, because I spent Monday morning at my internist’s office getting my annual physical (everything looks good) combined with a pre-operative check-up. And when I finally did get back into the office, I found that my management had addressed just about everything that had overwhelmed me. I’m impressed to the point of awe by how progressively and pragmatically the whole situation was handled. And aside from the disorientation of things going so well and having to adjust to an abrupt shift in my responsibilities (and feeling more than a little guilty about how much people have inconvenienced themselves on my behalf), I’ve been recovering. I’ve been tapering off of the Clonazepam and, if nothing comes up in the meantime, will complete that process this weekend.

This will allow me to prepare for the next disruption, which is next Thursday’s encore tympanomastiodectomy. The ear hasn’t healed itself, so that’s still going to be necessary. I saw the ear doctor right before I went away, and he outlined the things he would do differently (use a larger, thicker graft of skin from my hip, and try to open the ear canal wider to get more air onto the skin as it heals) in hopes that it will heal differently. He continues to be irked that this hasn’t gone better, and that’s promising. I think he wants this fixed more than I do.

Lately, I’ve been reading Tsong-Kha-Pa’s The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment. It’s difficult to describe. It’s sort of the complete text and practice manual for Gelukpa Buddhism, though it’s probably only going to make sense to someone who’s already studied a fair amount. I’m finding it very helpful, even though I’m a Kagyu Buddhist, in pulling together the disparate threads of texts, practices, and wisdom, and laying them out in a practical, straightforward way. In Chapter 3, “How to Listen to and Explain the Teachings,” I came across this:

2. Think of the instructor as a doctor. For example, when you are stricken by a severe illness…, you seek a skilled doctor. Upon consulting your doctor, you are greatly delighted and listen to whatever your doctor says, revering him or her respectfully. Likewise, seek in this way a teacher who imparts the teachings…

It struck me that this isn’t the way we consult doctors any more. I’ve mentioned before the fact that expertise, especially doctors’ expertise, has come to be less valued, but more than that, the idea of faith that consulting a doctor (or a teacher) in that way depends on is increasingly rare. Though it’s important that we take responsibility for ourselves, we cannot separate ourselves from those on whom we might rely. This is the paradox that most of us would see around the notion of the guru in Tibetan Buddhism. The American tradition, starting perhaps with Emerson, seems to be to jealously guard the right to make our own choices. However, though I believe Emerson would have also urged us to take responsibility for the results of those choices, that seems to be a vanishing aspect of the American tradition. To make a sweeping generalization, people expect to decide for themselves whether or not they’ll follow their doctors’ instructions (or, as they’re more likely to be referred to now, advice), but the responsibility for whether or not they get well lies entirely with their doctors.

The Tibetan guru seems to turn that arrangement around: Someone else is given the right to make our choices for us, but we must accept full karmic responsibility for the results of those choices. I haven’t yet reached, and may never reach, the point in my practice where I have a guru, but I find contemplating the possibility instructive. We have fairly limited influence over what happens to us, especially if we believe ourselves to be separate from reality, and as we practice accepting responsibility for what happens to us nonetheless, we experience more fully the truth that we aren’t separate from reality. In this way, we finally learn to have faith in reality and not hold ourselves apart from it. If my doctor cannot fix my ear, that’s an outcome with which I’ll have to live, and holding someone else responsible for that won’t make it any easier. And my management has already rewarded my faith in the reality that I’m not currently able to make my professional experience bearable on my own.

One Reply to “Faith in Reality”

  1. Excellent observation about doctors and our responses to them. You’re totally right.

    Take care – I hope the inconvenience and discomfort of the upcoming tympanomastiodectomy is minimal!


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