- What Is Wrong with Us?What Is Wrong with the World? A Buddhist Perspective
When being asked to join the Society of Buddhist-Christian Studies panel "What Is Wrong with Us? What Is Wrong with the World?," I felt honored and acquiesced with some sense of dread. As soon as I actually had a chance to ponder about this topic, I regretted having agreed to the engagement. For one thing, this topic seems to be the broadest topic conceivable: given the extremely large amount of news of destruction and injustice around the world, where do I even begin? For another, what can I possibly say that is beyond, or simply different from, what has already been said in the long traditions of Buddhism and Christianity? As I thought about what I could write, I noticed that my attention at each moment is always gravitated toward the experiences I recently had with my colleagues and my students, as well as the articles I recently read. Perhaps, then, the only thing I can adequately assess is "what is wrong with me." Or perhaps I can talk about "what is wrong with other people around me." As it quickly became painfully obvious that I would much prefer discussing "what is wrong with other people around me" to discussing "what is wrong with me," it also became clear to me that all of the teachings I have studied and all of the thoughts I have had on the topic can actually be presented from this angle: self and others.
While the only topic I can address with any sense of adequacy is perhaps "what is wrong with me," it seems much easier, and much more satisfying, to talk about "what is wrong with other people around me." The others who have given me grief. The others who insulted me or looked down on me. The others who angered me or frustrated me. The others who refused to listen to me. Surely that accounts for what is wrong with me: the others. "What is wrong with me" is caused by what others did to me. But that is not what Buddhist teachings say and not what Buddhist practices would imply, and from what little I know, that is not what Christian teachings say, either. By Buddhist standards, this line of thinking is a display of egocentric consideration that we call "ignorance" or "delusion" (Pāli: avijjā; Skt.: avidyā), one of the fundamental propellers of samsāra. And doesn't the Bible speak of casting out the beam in one's own eye before doing something about the mote in someone else's eye (Matt. 7:5)? Shirking the responsibility by counting the wrongs of others rather than confronting the wrongs of oneself is perhaps the most fundamental wrong. [End Page 17]
So does this mean I should retreat to the discussion on "what is wrong with me"? But shifting the focus of discussion from "what is wrong with the world" to "what is wrong with me" seems every bit as egocentric as judging the wrongs of the world. Besides, cognitive psychologists told us that we are often inaccurate in evaluating ourselves or our situations. For example, one of the reasons that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) has become a trend is that studies have found basic mindfulness training effective in reducing anxiety and fear because, on the one hand, mindfulness prevents perception "from going astray to conceptual proliferation (papañca)," and on the other hand it "prevents feelings from developing into emotional disturbances."1 That is, prior to basic mindfulness training, the subjects in those studies would experience anxiety and fear because they would ruminate excessively about how others may perceive or react to the self (which very often is not true at all) and have emotional reactions to their own ruminations about the reality as they perceive it.2 Also, some studies find that people do not even accurately perceive their friendship with others: only about a half of the people that they consider to be good friends would consider them to be good friends in return.3 If the subjects of these studies are...