“The Great Way is not difficult for those not attached to preferences.”
The Great way is not difficult for those who do not have a greater liking for one alternative over another.
The quote seems a bit contradictory to the fact that I’m here starting a blog, doesn’t it? Blogs are supposed to make some sorts of statements. I express my opinion on some matter. I stand up for or against something.
Surely some opinions are better than others? Then why am I using a quote like this right in the beginning of my first blog?
I answer my question by making a detour. I won’t go into elaborating the quote that I’ve taken from a venerable Chinese Zen patriarch who died in early 600.
(Those who want to read the whole text of the patriarch can find it in http://www.mendosa.com/way.html) Instead I will make a jump to the earlier years of my own life, to the sixties, when I was still a little girl…
My roots are in Lapland, in the very North of Finland. When I was a child I used to spend my summers with my mother in those northernmost corners of my country, in the valley of the river Teno. That’s where my Sami mother, who was a teacher, came from. Every summer, after the school year ended, we would pack our luggage and travel hours on end by bus along the winding gravel roads of Lapland, to arrive at Utsjoki.
Crossing the border
The last leg of the trip was done on my uncle’s long and slim riverboat. At our destination we were greeted by my grandfather’s log house, which he had built on the riverbank for his retirement. Through its windows I could easily see the softly undulating hills of Norway on the other side of the river.
As a little girl standing there on the banks of the river, between the hills, it never occurred to me that we were spending our summers almost literally on the border of two countries. In reality, the border of Finland and Norway was merely a concept that did not separate anything. People would freely cross the border, that is, cross the river from one country to another, as they had done for ages, and as they still do.
So I spent my childhood summers on a border that wasn’t really a border. It did not separate anything. Also the scenes in front of my eyes were boundless. The river just kept on running without beginning nor end. I had a vague idea that somewhere it would join the Arctic Ocean. And my grandfather’s log house that in the eyes of a little girl was very big, turned out to be the size of a matchbox, when we climbed up the hill and looked at it down from there.
The nature knows no such thing as boundary. Boundaries are a product of human mind, result of conceptualization. They arise from our need to name, to classify. This need we express by drawing lines between everything, by separating and polarizing phenomena.
The situation in nature is different. A solitary reindeer wandering on the hills probably does not think it is lonely or isolated from its environment, contrary to a poor tourist who has gone astray on the same hills. The reindeer doesn’t think it has lost contact to its herd.
Human thinking happens by making divisions. However, there is a trap hidden in this tendency. I could illustrate like this: You may not notice that number six looks number nine from the opposite angle. Or you may ignore that the other side of a rounded surface is concave. Or that the line you draw on paper not only separates, but also joins both sides of the line.
The divisions and borders work as concepts and on paper, but the reality is fluid and limitless.
The trap of identification
What is the connection between the beginning of my writing and what I’m saying now? Why would it be wise to avoid becoming attached to one’s preferences and opinions? What is so great about being free like that?
Let me try to answer. Firstly, by passionately defending my opinion I draw a mental line around it myself. I identify strongly with what I think and with what I say. My opinion becomes a part of me. It separates me from other people who may have a different opinion.
After that I start to fight for my opinion, namely, if someone dares to threaten it by disagreeing with me. And by defending my opinion I also defend that which I consider to be “me”.
When this is taken far enough, the result is war.
Surely the world needs opinions, statements, beliefs and ideologies. And surely there are situations when it is quite correct and relevant to defend one’s opinion. But isn’t it also true that we could avoid many useless conflicts if we were not so attached to our own ideas and opinions, and if we did not defend them so vehemently by attacking others?
Relativity of opinions
Would life on this planet be happier and more fulfilling for all of us, if we were a little more willing to give up our preferences? Would it be possible for us to see how interrelated and interconnected we all are, instead of seeing everything that separates us from each other?
What if the Great Way would mean to see the relativity of our opinions? Seeing “from a hilltop or mountaintop”, our opinion or preference might shrink to the size of a matchbox. Would that be so scary?
Perhaps the Great Way is also about having a heart that is big enough to embrace others in their wholeness, others upon their Way?
It looks like the boundless landscape of my childhood summers has left a lasting imprint on me. I don’t quite believe in rigid divisions. If I believe in anything, ever more than before, I can say that I believe in all those aspects that connect us as human beings to each other and to the nature.
I’d like to seek a bigger and broader perspective, and help build a world where the unity of opposites would become possible.
P.S. The photo of the Teno valley in its autumn splendor was taken by Pekka Sammallahti.
P.P.S. Have a look at my About page, too.
I will publish a post every last Sunday of the month.