the practical buddhist : essentials

if you want to smoke, then smoke; if you want to drink, then drink. who am I to judge?

This post is about honoring the personal freedom of individual choice, whether or not you personally approve of that choice. The Buddha taught that judgement was an unskilled action to take and therefore resulted in negative karma.

Are you willing to choose negative consequences just to make a point?

Smoke ’em If You Got ’em

You lead a stressful life. You don’t have many vices, but the one activity you enjoy on occasion is smoking a cigarette. You were never a habitual smoker, something you’re personally glad about, but you still like to occasionally smoke a cigarette or two. You’re careful not to light up when children are about and always give others a wide berth.

Does it risk a negative impression of Buddhism if a non-Buddhist sees you smoking? Is this a burden you should even accept? How many false impressions can you personally be responsible for while walking your path?

Barkeep? Another, Please…

It’s Friday night and you’re so happy it’s the weekend you could dance a jig in the middle of the street. You’ve made plans to meet up with some friends at a favorite bar, then  get a bite to eat before heading to the new club that just opened up.

You’re most likely going to drink more than you should and probably should not risk driving. Knowing this you opt for public transportation to get to the bar and rely on an appointed designated driver for the rest of the night’s safe transportation.

As an observer, does this plan invoke a since of judgement in you? Does having this plan in place make the behavior of planned drinking make the behavior less objectionable or do you still object to the individuals’ personal choice?

The Real Issue is Bias

The real issue here isn’t smoking or drinking. It has to do with allowing the behavior of another to invoke a sense of judgement within ourselves about their chosen behavior.  What if the situations I described involved fancy dinners and decadent desserts? Would the choices to eat these treats make us feel the same sense of righteousness and judgement? Most likely, not. Most of us don’t have the same biases toward desserts that we have toward cigarettes or Bourbon.

The real issue at play is bias. While one person sees smoking as evil incarnated, another sees it as a personal behavior that can be moderated for the safety of non-smokers nearby. While one person sees drinking alcohol as a weakness or a crutch, another sees it as an activity that promotes harmony and laughter.

It’s our biases that result in a reaction of judgement.

My Bias Against ‘Big Religion’

I have a bias again Big Religion (BR). I own it and it’s my issue. It stems from the personal experiences of being rejected by those within the religious system when I decided to leave the tribe. It was so pronounced, that a church Pastor actually told me that “I needed to start acting like a Christian” if I wanted his help in mediating a difficult situation between me and and my ex-wife and her husband. (I tell the complete story in the book.)

I’m also opposed to enforcing a belief system on young children before they have the intellectual capacity to evaluate truth and make decisions for themselves about intellectual issues that will shape the rest of their lives.

Over the years, I allowed this bias to affect me in a number of ways. I became very judgmental about those individuals who opted for membership in BR. My opposition to BR was such that I was so public in my opposition that I allowed it to affect my personal relationships with one of my sons and my daughter who chose a life within BR.

I’ve come to a place now that I can see how my personal bias again BR resulted in behavior on my part that led to this distance. I’ve begun making amends for my bias with both of my children and, though they choose to remain within BR, I can now respect this as a personal choice.  Even though I don’t agree with their choice,  I no longer descend into a judgmental reaction.

Choosing to Examine Our Biases

Biases are  the result of societal factors such as family, culture, nationalism, and economics. I’m not naive enough to think we can change our biases as easy as we change our clothes, but as Practical Buddhists we can choose to examine our biases and come to an informed decision as to whether or not they contribute to a compassionate outlook or one of judgement.

In my experience, judgement leads to suffering. Perhaps the questions we should ask in relation to our biases is two-fold:

  1. Does this bias lead me to be compassionate or judgmental?
  2. Does this bias lead to suffering or liberation from suffering?

The answers aren’t always easy. In my case, my biases against BR are a mixed bag. On one hand they led to to less suffering and more personal freedom within the Dharma; but on the other hand they led me to exercise judgmental behavior. The results of our inquiry and examination don’t always lead to clear results and we have to inquire further and examine more deeply.

Back to the Smoke and Drink

Does smoking an occasional cigarette and enjoying a Bourbon make you more compassionate or judgmental? Does seeing a same-sex couple kiss in public make you more compassionate or judgmental?

That’s for you to evaluate, sit with, and decide. You can also leave a comment on social media if you have a reaction you’d like to share.