December 15, 2005


Most of us think opinions are really important. They define who we are, who our friends are, what political party is the best, how the country should be run. But how important are they really?

There's an old story that goes like this:

The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbours as one living a pure life.

A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, without any warning, her parents discovered she was with child.

This made her parents angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment at last named Hakuin.

In great anger the parent went to the master. "Is that so?" was all he would say.

After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbours and everything else he needed.

A year later the girl-mother could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth - the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fishmarket.

The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back.

Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was: "Is that so?"

I'm really not qualified to comment on this story, but I think it applies to a recent conversation I had on another blog (see my December 6 post if you're really interested, but I wouldn't bother if I were you). So this is just my take on the story, for what that's worth. My opinion, heh heh.

Why doesn't old Master Hakuin seem to care about his reputation? Well, my guess is that he had a very wide perspective.

When you think the ego is who you really are, opinions are everything. Your opinions are really, really important, and anyone who contradicts your opinions must be your enemy, because their opinions contradict yours, and they must think their opinions are really important too, so now you get into a fight over who's right and who's wrong. But when you realize that your ego (your opinions, thoughts, ideas, etc.) is just the tiniest fraction of who you are, those opinions don't seem anywhere near as important anymore. Master Hakuin knew his real being was a love and oneness with others, much larger than his ego. He knew that his reputation just wasn't very important in the big picture. He had perspective.

That's not to say opinions and reputation aren't important at all. I was watching Dr. Wayne Dyer's "The Power of Intention" on PBS last night. He said something like "The ego is the source of all our problems, and every spiritual tradition says we have to get rid of it." I'm paraphrasing, but it was something close to that. There are a lot of other "gurus" who say the same thing, talk about "ego dissolution" or "ego destruction." There was a lot of other weird contradictory stuff on that show, but I don't want to go into all of it here.

It's true that most of our problems come directly from the misplaced importance we place on our egos, but in my opinion :-), trying to get rid of it is misguided, and impossible anyway.

Opinions are important, we really do need our egos.

You can't make the simplest decision without an ego. But when you have a wide perspective, and you really open your heart and care about other people, you see that opinions aren't nearly as important as we usually think they are. A lot of the time, it's better to turn the other cheek, even if you're in the right. Sometimes you have to let the other person "win," just because your relationship with them is more important than convincing them that your opinion is right.

What's more important: being right, or being loved?

Recognizing that your opinions aren't really important doesn't mean you turn into a doormat either, because your opinions still matter exactly as much as anyone else's opinions. Respect others, and expect them to respect you. But if they're disrespectful, it means you don't have to get all worked up about it, because you know their opinion of you doesn't really matter much in the big picture. We're all human beings, we're all in this together, and we need to learn to find respectful ways of reconciling our differences. Or better yet, take a close look at whether this particular difference needs to be reconciled at all.

Is that so?


At December 16, 2005, Blogger reallynotimportant said...

It's true that most of our problems come directly from the misplaced importance we place on our egos, but in my opinion :-), trying to get rid of it is misguided, and impossible anyway.

I think you are slightly off on your interpretation of the story. I think the heart of that story is acceptance of your circumstances. The 'reputation' or opinions bit is secondary. I take this view on the story because in many ways I am living through my version of it and it is a tough one.

I think on the opinions side of things, it is not that having opinions is wrong it is the attachment to those opinions and the identity with them that is the issue.

I have lots of opinions on lots of things. Sometimes I am too eager to share them (QED :-) ) However, if you define yourself in terms of the opinions you hold then all sorts of problems arise because when your opinion is denigrated or rejected then it feels as if it is You the Self/Ego that has been insulted and of course that leads to some sort of conflict.

When you can accept that all your opinions are just thoughts and are not Self-Defining then non-attachment becomes easier. "I am a fabulous Ballet Dancer" is an opinion", "I do Ballet" is a statement of fact. One has strong emotion attached to it (and is part of the Self identity) and one does not.

I have learnt that in myself and others whenever a strong emotion is attached to an 'opinion' then that opinion is arising from the Self as an identifier of something.

When someone attacks one of your own opinions and you feel some sort of emotional tug then that is a clue that some part of your Self is identified with that opinion.

I've written some stuff on dismantling the Self/Ego a little on my Blog (Self1-4 and Enlightenment). I believe it is possible. Whether it is a good idea or not, I don't know.

Of course this is just my opinion and has no merit :-)

At December 16, 2005, Blogger Jules said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At December 16, 2005, Blogger Jules said...

It's interesting how different people take away different valuable things from the same story. I agree, acceptance of circumstances is at the heart of the story. But what brought the story to my mind was recent conversations in which a certain person was trying to pick a fight because he felt his reputation had been sullied, so that's the part I focused on.

I think we are saying pretty much the same things about opinions, I just prefer different language. From my perspective, the phrase "dismantling the ego" implies that the opinions go away, no ego, no opinions. I don't think they do, or even that they should. I think it's possible to repress the ego, but I don't think it's a good thing. Maybe you ARE a fabulous ballet dancer, there's nothing wrong with having that opinion. :-) As long as you're not attached to it (because you recognize you're also far more than just a fabulous ballet dancer) then whether you have that opinion or not, it doesn't matter so much.

Just like you said, the source of the problem is defining yourself in terms of your opinions. So often, we only value the ego, because we're afraid it's all we've got.

At December 16, 2005, Blogger reallynotimportant said...

Just like you said, the source of the problem is defining yourself in terms of your opinions. So often, we only value the ego, because we're afraid it's all we've got.

The biggest lie of the ego is that it is that it is who we are and nothing else. Once you realise that you are not your ego then it will start to wither away.

On the subject of a certain someone. I have posted on my take on the alexander technique from my own perspective. The short answer is that it is not actually a new discovery and many people I think would find it useful - it is just not the ideal place to start. The chief proponent of it is of coure driving people away from it but that is another matter.



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