You might think, “How can the Buddha be so cruel?” Well, the Buddha was not being cruel, for he knew the actual situation. The reality was that man was actually only one yard above the ground, not one hundred as the man thought!
This is a metaphor for how we mistakenly think that when things don’t go our way or when we feel that we are in trouble, “It’s the end of the world!” But from the Buddha’s point of view, we are often greatly exaggerating our difficulties. We are “making a mountain out of a molehill.” The Buddha wanted the man to realize that he was fine, because the ground was only one yard below him!
Hundred Yards Up!
A year ago, I was laboring to complete an assignment of submitting an article for a magazine. The deadline was closing in. I was feeling the pressure. Then all of a sudden, my Microsoft Word program stopped allowing me to type. Then, Word just froze. Even pushing the “escape” key did nothing. I heard my inner voice saying, “Why now? The deadline is right around the corner!”
It was even more frustrating since the computer and the Word program were only nine months old. Feeling the urge to complain forcefully, I called customer service at Microsoft. It kept ringing and took ten minutes just to be put on hold. Then, another ten minutes went by before I finally got a person to help me.
It was a guy, who from the beginning did not seem very sympathetic. A minute into the conversation, he said something in a rather rude tone, which set me off as I begin to raise my voice to tell him that the problem was not my doing but was due to the problem with their product, the Word! Then realizing that I had raised my voice, I caught myself to take a few deep breaths. Regretting raising my voice, I managed somewhat to return to “normal.” After ten minutes or so, the agent did manage to solve the problem.
Soon after the phone call ended, it slowly dawned on me that when I called customer service, I was the guy hanging on a cliff that was hundred yards above the ground. So, I could dare not fall off. I was flailing and wriggling to hang on!
Gradually, I began to see things more objectively. Things were, in reality, not that terrible. True, the deadline was approaching, but I still did have a few more days to the deadline. Even if I had gone over, the magazine surely would have accommodated a slight delay. Plus, if my article did not get into the upcoming issue, it surely would make the next issue. Plus, had I missed the deadline, no one would have lost any sleep over it. In fact, nobody except a couple of editors and myself knew about the article. It was not “the end of the world.”
I was actually only one yard off the ground, not one hundred yards!
Putting into Perspective
In my daily life, this “Cliff Hanging” image has actually proven to be quite effective in helping me to catch myself and to take things more objectively. So, I often share this image in my sermons and classes on Buddhism, for it does help us to prevent us from being rocked by our emotions and thoughts.
Nevertheless, we all fail quite often to catch ourselves, just like in my case with Microsoft Word. That is the fate of us ordinary beings, beset by the workings of Three Poisons of greed, aversion and foolishness (GAF). So, even when the worst of us gets the best of us, it’s important to acknowledge the truth that we are influenced by our GAF more often than we wish to admit.
The teachings of Buddhism, especially that of Shin Buddhism, encourages us to see and acknowledge our failings. That can become the start of our effort to improve ourselves and even to make progress on the path toward Buddhist awakening. In Shin Buddhism, we are accepted just as we are. We are affirmed not despite my GAF but precisely because of my GAF, for we are the prime target of the embracing compassion of Amida. And when we realize that we are accepted just as we are, we actually become more able to realize it when we find ourselves hanging on the cliff and to prevent ourselves from raising our voice, thinking incorrectly that we are 100 yards high. Compared to thirty years ago, I like to think that I am doing better realizing it and preventing it.
You can ask my wife!
Namo Amida Butsu
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Kenshin Tanaka
For those interested, Dr. Tanaka will offer an online virtual course later this year. Watch for registration information in Buddha Post.
Dr. Tanaka offers you access to the free download of his newest book, Jewels: An Introduction to American Buddhism for Youth, Scouts, and the Young at Heart. It contains other humorous stories like the "Cliff Hanger." Also, printed books are available for $6.00, including shipping at:
Print copies also available at Cleveland Buddhist Temple.