Dealing with Limitations by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
- "The Buddha talks about three basic ways of finding happiness: generosity, virtue, and meditation. These are all tools, but they each have their different limitations. Generosity is sometimes limited by how much time you have, how much energy, and of course the material resources you can draw on. You have to learn to be very judicious in how you apply your resources. You can't pour them all into one basket, because then you'll have nothing left when you need them for other purposes. So even though we're taught to have limitless goodwill, limitless compassion, limitless empathetic joy for all beings, there's only so much we can actually give to any particular being in any particular situation. That creates a distance between an attitude you can develop and your ability to act on that attitude.
This is where equanimity comes in: when you realize that there are certain areas where you simply can't make a difference or areas where you can make a difference but they're going to require time. You have to learn how to husband your resources so you can devote yourself to that task for whatever amount of time it's going to require.
Then there's virtue. It, too, has its limitations. As I've already noted, once you're a being you have to feed. So it's impossible for any of us to be totally harmless. But we can focus on the areas where it's really important to develop harmlessness. This is what the precepts are for. As the Buddha said, when you make your precepts limitless in other words, you decide that you're not going to kill under any circumstances, you're not going to steal under any circumstances from anyone at all, no illicit sex, no lying, no intoxicants ever at all, period that's a universal gift. You give limitless protection to all beings, and you gain a share in that limitless protection as well. So that's one area where you can push the limits pretty far. You can start embracing the concept of all living beings, resolving that you're not going to harm any of them in any of these five ways. It's not total harmlessness, but it's a major step in the right direction. Then there's meditation, which as one of the forms of making merit starts out with meditation on goodwill. Here again you run into limitations. On the one hand, you're supposed to develop limitless goodwill for all beings. The "limitless" here means that it's for all beings in all situations no matter what they do. You don't question whether they deserve your goodwill, or if you deserve goodwill. You simply focus on the idea that it'd be good for all beings that all beings find true happiness. The world would be a much better place for everyone. So you want everyone to find true happiness. You make that one of your basic motivations.
On the other hand, though, you encounter situations where you can't make everybody happy. After all, the quest for true happiness is something each person has to do for him or herself. It's a question of skill. You can't just push a skill on anybody. People have to see the need to develop the skill. They have to be willing to put in the time and the energy to do that. And they have to be in a position where they can. Sometimes people are too old or too sick to make much progress in that direction.
This is where you need equanimity again. Your equanimity has to be limitless as well. In other words, you have to be able to call on it whenever it's needed. There are bound to be certain situations that are beyond your control in terms of what you can give, in terms of your time and energy. And there are limitations on what you can do for other people given the limitations of their kamma as well. So you have to be able to call on this attitude of limitless equanimity whenever needed.
To develop these four brahma-viharas in a limitless way, you need to fight off the limiting attitudes in your mind. The various forms of aversion ill will, resentment, cruelty are the main limitations on the first three brahma-viharas. The limitation on equanimity is affection. The people you really love, to whom you'd like to give all you can, but who you can't help as much as you'd like: They're the ones for whom it's hard to feel equanimity, but they're also the ones who require your equanimity the most. That's why you have to realize that even affection can be a limitation and that there are times when you need to put it aside. It's not that you don't love those people or don't wish them well. You simply realize that nothing is accomplished by the sort of affection that wants to deny the limits of kamma, that's got you beating your head against a wall when you could be going through a door in the wall not too far away in other words, being of help in areas where you can be of help.
So a lot of our practice is learning how to deal with limitations, how to find where your powers are, how far you can push them in a skillful direction. When you meet up with a limitation, learn to recognize whether it's permanent or temporary. Then you apply whatever tools you can find to developing your powers in as compassionate and wise a way as possible to work around those limitations."
From: Dealing with Limitations by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
For Free Distribution, as a gift of Dhamma
With metta / Antony.