by Jeffrey Brooks

Cities are filled with obstacles and places we can’t go. Buildings and bridges, people and cars, lights and signs, almost all are restricted and strange, separate from us. For the most part there is nothing we want in them, and nothing they want from us. So these things and people are not meaningful to us. At best they are background or obstacles.

They are not meaningless in and of themselves. They are just meaningless to us until we want something from them or they want something from us. If we recognize this we can see a divergence between the true nature of reality and the way we experience reality.

If you stand at the edge of a field and look down where the land slopes away to the tree line in the moonlight you may be transported by the beauty of what you see. You may think how marvelous it is that such a sight could just appear, without anyone making it.

If you see it in contrast to the built environment of a city its beauty may be overwhelming to you. You may see an eagle soaring against the sunset sky, swooping low toward the ground where you stand and feel stunned at the power and the grace of living creatures that somehow miraculously appear in the world.

Let’s say it comes close enough so that you can hear the wind move across it wings. So beautiful.

This field you walk across has nothing growing in it today. It is autumn and cold. That makes it easy to walk across. You can feel the contours of the land and feel a connection to the earth beneath your feet in a way you never can on a sidewalk or a paved road.

A while ago someone hungry walked here. There was no food for them. The land that looks like a miracle of creation to you looked barren and forbidding to them. Just more empty land to walk across as their strength ebbed away.

The land has no nature of being beautiful or ugly. But the condition of the mind and the life of the observer may see it as glorious or grim, or anything else. By noticing this we can see the divergence of the true nature of the world from the way in which we see it.

We can pass beyond this limitation. We can see the true nature of reality. By learning how to do this, and then doing it, we can be free of suffering. This is because our suffering comes from acting on the basis of a fragmented reality; a reality which is distorted by our habits of mind and does not exist in fact. Like trying to get to our destination using a road map that has some pieces missing and some pieces wrong.

You walk across this field and you get to the tree line and see a squirrel picking up an acorn. If you were very hungry and tired you might feel envy for the little fellow, finding so many tasty things to eat, things which for you are not food at all.

If you were on a nature walk you might see the squirrel as cute and busy, with thick gray fur and an essential ecological niche.

If you were looking for something down there, something no one would believe was there, something carefully hidden, something no one should even know is there, you would not even see the squirrel.

If you were an eagle swooping low you might instantly silently shift your angle of descent, reach out and grab the squirrel from behind with your claws and carry the terrified, desperate, helpless dinner away.

Then you would feel happy that your belly would be full and your offspring could live another day.

Nowadays most modern people relate to the squirrel. They think it is terrible when something like this happens. We might ignore the eagle and want him to be a vegetarian. In olden times it seems people more related to the eagle. Praised his power and emulated it. Native American peoples for example, often imitated the eagle and used his feathers. They rarely dressed as squirrels. Eagle power gave them the hope that they and their children could live another day. Nowadays, modern people, who feel comfortable, fear predation not starvation. So, many people relate to the squirrel.

It was a specific frame of mind that led the Indians to their perception of the world and it is a specific frame of mind that leads modern people to theirs, and neither is complete. Neither corresponds to the true nature of reality. In this sense ignorance of the true nature of reality exists in the hearts and minds of most of us, and it is this fragmentary and distorted understanding which causes us to act in ways which produce results which differ from what we hope.

People will do all sorts of things we think will make us happy but which have unexpected consequences. Animals cannot decide to create good karma or bad. They eat or they don’t.  They are eaten or they are not. They feel desire which is satisfied for a moment or it is not. That is it for an animal.

For people it does not have to be that way. We can learn to see more deeply and have a wider view of the interrelationships of life. We can see that skill and virtue and taking care of people provide a self confidence and spiritual nourishment for us and everyone we meet; this is something that self serving cruelty cannot do.

It is good to know the difference between virtue and non virtue. Even though now, in our decadent society, the difference is obscured. It is good to know what to do and what to avoid and to get the presence of mind to recognize them as the choices appear. It is good to surround yourself with good people, and to fill your heart with good purpose.

Because when you look out on any landscape, or into any face, in the city or in the country, at home or on the road, there will be infinite possibilities. We cannot always choose what conditions we will face. But if we know the difference between right and wrong, between truth and deception, we can decide what to do when we face them.

Jeff Brooks has been teaching Buddhism and martial arts for more than 20 years. His law enforcement career has included assignments in patrol, as a police instructor of firearms, defensive tactics, anti-terrorism and use of force; and in criminal investigations.

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