What is True Safety?

Posted by on Nov 16, 2016 in Articles | 0 comments

What is True Safety?

From a Buddhist perspective, danger is normal.

Guest post by  Thanissaro Bhikkhu

With the post election distress many of my brothers and sisters, i.e. yoga students this past week, I found this article offered very helpful guidance. I share a few high points in my mind here, yet invite you to read the article in its entirety.

A short reflection that is often chanted..

in Theravada monasteries states, in part, “I am subject to aging . . . subject to illness . . . subject to death.” That’s the standard English translation, but the standard Thai translation is more pointed: “Aging is normal for me . . . illness is normal . . . death is normal for me.” The extended version of the reflection goes on to say that these things are normal for everyone, no matter where. To be born into any world is to be born into a place where these dangers are normal. They lie in wait right here in the body that at birth we laid claim to, and the world around us is full of triggers that can bring these dangers out into the open at any time.

As the reflection concludes, these are good themes to reflect on every day—to keep us heedful of the fact that dangers are to be expected and are not an aberration. That way we can be prepared for them. Otherwise, we tend to forget—and our illusions of safety, when they’re challenged, often lead to unrealistic desires for absolute safety that can cause us to create unnecessary dangers for ourselves and people around us.

It’s an often-overlooked feature of the Buddha’s teachings that he identified the basis for all our good and skillful qualities as heedfulness—not innate goodness or compassion: heedfulness. To recognize that there are dangers both within and without, that your actions can make the difference between suffering from those dangers and not….

So it’s useful to reflect on some of the Buddha’s teachings on safety, to get his perspective on the dangers we all must encounter. Because it’s hard to keep complex teachings in mind when you’re face to face with danger, “here are a few of ” the main principles of the Buddha’s safety instructions…

Total safety is possible, but only in nirvana. As long as you’re not there yet, you have to accept the fact that you’ll be forced again and again to sacrifice some things in order to save others that are more valuable. Life in samsara is full of trade-offs, and wisdom consists of learning to make wise trades.

Your most lasting possessions are your actions. Your body is yours only till death; your loved ones, at best, are yours no longer than that. The results of your actions, though, can carry well past death, so make sure that you don’t sacrifice the goodness of your thoughts, words, and deeds to save things that will slip through your fingers like water.

To find some safety in the world, you first have to give safety to the entire world. If you’re determined to observe the precepts in all situations, you’re giving a gift of safety to everyone….

 The primary danger from other people lies not so much in what they do to you but in what they can get you to do. Their karma is their karma; your karma is yours. Even when you’re mistreated by others, their karma doesn’t become your karma—unless you start mistreating them in return.

• You can protect yourself from harmful words by, again, training the mind. The best protection against unskillful speech is to depersonalize it, and two techniques are especially effective in this regard.

One is to remember that human speech all over the world has always been, and always will be, either kind or unkind, true or false, beneficial or harmful. The fact that people may be saying unkind, false, or harmful things to you right now is nothing out of the ordinary. Like all dangers, it’s normal, so there’s no reason to feel that you’re being singled out for any special mistreatment.

The second technique is to tell yourself when something harmful is being said, “An unpleasant sound is making contact at the ear.” And leave it at that. Don’t build any internal narratives around that contact that will stab at your heart. You have ears, so you’re bound to hear both pleasant and unpleasant sounds. But you can also develop discernment around how you use your ears…

Obviously, these principles build on the working hypothesis of karma and rebirth—a hypothesis that, we’re told, is no longer viable in our modern/postmodern times. But none of us have to be prisoners of our times. After all, what vision of life does the modern/postmodern worldview offer? Fish fighting one another for the last gulp of water in a shrinking pool, all ending in death. What made the Buddha special was that he looked for a safety that lasted beyond death, and—having found it—showed others how to find it too. Along the way, he offered the possibility of safety with honor, something that modern/postmodern views can’t provide.

The dhamma is said to be timeless. In this world where death is so normal, now is as good a time as any to put that claim to the test.

Thanks to Thanissaro Bhikkhu and the online buddhist blog at tricycle.org Thanissaro Bhikkhu is the abbot of Metta Forest Monastery and the author and translator of numerous meditation guides. His latest book is The Karma of Mindfulness.

“I wish you heedfulness and love with compassion in the face of fear of death. Thanks for reading! ” Lillah




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