I think the thing I like most about Buddhism is the gentle way that your teacher tries to show you how to be compassionate and gentle with yourself. The whole thing is to be kind and gentle to yourself, and then you can be that way to others, in a genuine and patient manner.
This is from a little “mini chapter” in a book by Cheri Huber where one of her students asks about a funny event that occurred when she was leading a precepts ceremony. Besides being funny, it’s a wonderful analogy for presenting the attitude that is most helpful in addressing one’s “mistakes”.
If there’s a trace of right and wrong,
True-mind is lost, confused, distraught.
Third Zen Patriarch Seng Tsan
Q: For those of us who weren’t there, could you tell us a little about the precept ceremony? Rumor has it that there’s a great story about somebody going the wrong way...
A: Going the wrong way, yes. Some of you know that I am notorious for getting lost. And it’s not just too much meditation, it’s an actual something in the brain that’s not there in me: the sense of direction. I’ve lived here for six years and I cannot go across town without coming back here first. If I’m at the grocery store and I want to go to the Post Office, I have to come here, not that it’s on the way –it’s not –but because I don’t know how to get there any other way. This is something I’ve had to make my peace with.
At the precepts ceremony, I went the wrong way. With everybody following me. Only one way existed in my mind; there was no hesitation. I headed out, and all the people taking the precepts were walking with me. And as I was walking along, there was a growing intuition that things didn’t look quite right. But then there was sort of a feeling of, “Nah –don’t worry,” because here at the retreat center where I know where everything is, it just wouldn’t be possible to get lost, to go the wrong way.
Eventually, I got to the critical point where I realized I was in the wrong place. So I just turned around and went back. The other people who were involved in the ceremony –I don’t want to tell you too much because some of you are going to participate in this ceremony later and I think it’s fun not to know how it goes. Anyway, there’s stuff that happens that people participating in the ceremony would not ordinarily know about, and it kind of ruins it to know. And when you make an unexpected U-turn and go back, it’s all revealed. Like the curtain going up on the play at the wrong time. Or maybe even the whole set comes up, and you’re looking into the back of the theatre, costume changes and all that.
So as I was kin-hinning, their term for slow walking meditation along there, I thought, “Well, this is great, you know.” Not only that I go out and, with no debate, head straight onto the wrong road, in the wrong direction, but when that becomes clear, just turn around and go the other direction. When you do that, especially when you do it with your eyes wide open, you get to see all the magic –you get to see how everything really works. When we waste our time worrying, first of all, about which is the right way to go, and then agonizing over having gone the wrong way, or whatever, we miss the magic –the magic not only of what we see as we’re going down the wrong road, but especially when we double back and get on the right road.
It was exactly like spiritual practice.