Gedun looks at what really brings suffering and what brings happiness:

Renunciation can not be forced. We must look at our sufferings and see them as such. Not in the way where we intellectually look at something and say ‘This action/thing/emotion causes suffering’, because that is easy to do. Rather, we have to contemplate these things to a point where we understand on a heart level that they are bringing us suffering, and then we will naturally want to detach from them. If we give things up on an intellectual basis, then we will still be slaves to them because we will be craving them. If we follow the steps and come to whole awareness, then we will move away from wrong action steadily with a mind that knows better than to crave at such things.

I could easily make poison taste very good. I could give that poison to you everyday and tell you ‘It’s not good for you’, but if you enjoy the poison you will keep drinking it. If you are thinking ‘why would someone drink poison if you tell them it’s poison’ then also ask yourself ‘why do people consume alcohol, drugs, fatty foods, etc.’ So you would drink the poison, and you would probably have to take ill before you would have a true realization ‘this is not good for me… I won’t drink this anymore’. So trying to trick our minds usually does not work, per the same principal. That is fine. We should observe things, though, and find the poisons, and cease to consume them.

We do not, at this point, want to give them up! But our minds ripen correctly when we are present with our actions, and take time to taste the bitterness of poison as we are consuming it. Then we become adepts at only consuming medicine. Then we no longer destroy ourselves.

This truth illustrated itself to me in an unfortunate, and unlikely scenario:

Yesterday, as I began to make lunch, I noticed gnats had gathered around some fruit that sits near a window. As I had opened the window to let in the brisk early autumn air, the gnats had come in to check out the fare of the fruit bowl. Though I would like to say that I am perfectly compassionate and practice pristine ahisma, I do not. I set out a bowl of vinegar and dish soap to catch them up.

This morning, I find two gnats in the bottom of the bowl. The scent of the vinegar attracted them and the dish soap helped to drown them in their desire. A dire fate, but is it not a near perfect reflection of our own routine behavior?

We exercise harmful behavior or harmful mentalities; and some times these are the most pleasurable. Some of these things are pure sense gratification. So we grow fond of these things that smell sweet and taste sour. We seek these things out, we sneak in open windows and stalk around waiting for the chance to indulge. Then we finally have the desire in sight, and we get sucked in and we find ourselves, often, at rock bottom.

We drink the poisons all the time. We go for the vinegar time and time again. We, like the gnats, don’t exercise foresight, don’t see the slippery slope that leads to the rock bottoms and ‘down and outs’. Then when we are there, when we have sickened ourselves with poison, we don’t even have the hindsight to evaluate the path we took to get there.

It is, of course, much easier to be in the now. The more fully present in the moment we are, the easier it is to be aware of what is medicine and what is poison. When we are sick, sometimes we do things to distract the mind away from our symptoms. Often, it is easiest just to sleep. This is the exact same method we use in all other aspects of our lives. We just distract ourselves from the symptoms, and when all else fails we just enter a coma of ignorance.

It is important to be where we truly are, and not fake realizations. At the same time, the more awareness we apply the easier it is to see the path that is directly in front of us. With this approach, I find, it is much harder for us to end up in the bottom of the bowl of vinegar – drowning in poison.

Ven. Chodron”s response to Gedun:

Thanks for this thoughtful piece. It”s great that you”re thinking deeply about the teachings and examining them in light of your own experience. That is the way that genuine understanding and sincere practice come.

By consciously putting out the vinegar and soap with the intention to kill the gnats, were you attracted by vinegar too?

Gedun”s response:

When I found the gnats in the bowl, I thought of something that ‘you’ said to me in a dream while I was at the Abbey (not trying to emphasize dreams). In the dream, Ven. Semkye, Ven. Tarpa, and I were exploring a dilapidated building, and ‘nagas’ were coming up out from the floor boards. I kept hitting them with my walking stick. When I walked out of the building, you were standing there and you said ‘See how you react when you feel like you are in danger? You hurt in fear of being hurt.’ I thought better of the vinegar and now I have put around some non lethal gnat deterrents.