Tonight was the night I went to the temple and practiced loving kindness meditation. As is usual, after mediation we have a short discussion led by the resident head monk. He started it off with, “I hope everyone had a good meditation. Well, any meditation is good whether your mind is still or not. We came and we practiced and it sometimes brings us peace and sometimes not.” I love the rejoicing even when it doesn’t go quite like we planned. Next he asked, “Is your mediation in Spring different from your mediation in Winter?” No one answered. He laughed and said, “Maybe we need to wait until we really get into Spring then!” He went right into the topic that I wasn’t expecting. Comparison. He said that earlier in the week he ran into a friend whom he had previously studied with at the University. Both were students at the same level working towards their PhD. He asked the man how he was and the man told him that he was done with his research and was going to defend it. Bhante wished him well but later he reflected on what transpired and realized how awful he felt. He hasn’t even started his research and he felt like this man and him had been equals but now here this other man was ahead of him.
Bhante said he was perfectly fine until he spoke with this student friend but the moment he decided to compare himself a lot of deep seeded issues of worth came up. He recognized it and looked at it. First,I must say the guts to look at something so painful is quite an undertaking. Not many are willing to do so. But in times of pain rather than continue with the suffering by causing more suffering we stop and we look. We go into the dark part and go straight to the suffering. He looked and found himself comparing and beginning a practice of self-hate with himself. It was something he had not expected but there he was with his suffering.
Suffering often times has referred pains. What seems to be happening at the surface is actually a million times darker and of greater magnitude at the roots. But most people don’t like to head “down there”, down into the soil of the soul, down where it’s dark, down where the seed is. But if one does not enter the dark parts and go and see what is there then the source will never be found and without knowing what the source offers how can we know what to do with what is at the surface? The surface always leads to the source, just as a plant that grows above the ground and is dying, we look to the Earth and the seed and begin to treat it.
What Bhante said was quite a shock to me yet so beautiful and so accurately described all my suffering. In India the word māna in Pali means “conceit”. It sums up what happens when we compare. There are three kinds of comparison. First, we can see someone as greater than us. Second, we can see someone as less than us. And third, we can see someone as equal, which may seem o.k. until we think we deserve equal treatment because we are the equal to someone, thus deserving the equal treatment they get. And the comparison of ourselves to others is not all. We also compare ourselves with ourselves, which breeds even greater self-hate. We can never be good enough. Either one time was better than the other or vice versa. All of it at its source is suffering. If we resolve ourselves to be in the present moment, to operate in loving kindness, including towards ourselves, we resolve to not compare ourselves with others.
For me, WOW. How often have I hated myself because of myself, or struggled because I compared myself with another, or worst, thought of myself as being better than another? Too often to count. Comparison kills. It is the line that separates me from anyone and anyone from one another. It creates the lines that establish an individual as a sovereign state. It’s a recipe for disaster. It makes it so hard to just be. To see that no matter what, you cannot compare anyone or anything with another because the dynamics and intricateness of each part that makes up a person or thing is never the same nor will it ever be. But in those differences we are also the same. Each fold in our journey, in our story, is like a fingerprint, there are no two that are the same. We can identify with the stories that resonate but the reason they resonate is because they too were created in darkness and sprouted in similar soils. But they broke the surface in their own time and lean toward the sun in different ways. When you love yourself there can be no self-hatred and that in turn feeds your seed and spreads in the soil towards all the rest.
Comparison only breeds suffering which is a disease that spreads like wild fire. It is not a natural state. It is a habit that we create and is fostered by what we surround ourselves with but when we choose to stop the comparison and recognize that we are connected and we sprout and grow all in our own time, that is when we end suffering. Bhante said comparison is ignorance, which isn’t the lack of knowledge, quite the opposite, it is the lack of recognizing the evidence around us even when we have all the knowledge. And I agree. Comparison and its ignorance is not love.
I choose love.