Saturday, June 21, 2008

Keeping Your Balance

Balance (samatta or samata) is a situation in which different things exist in equal and mutually beneficial amounts. Having one virtuous quality to counterpoise another is an essential element in the development of a healthy and growing spiritual practice. The Buddha specifically recommended maintaining a balance between faith and wisdom, and between effort and concentration. Faith opens the mind to the possibility of things that cannot be immediately experienced or understood. But if faith does not go hand in hand with caution, questioning and even a healthy scepticism, it can be very misleading. Buddhaghosa said: ‘One strong in faith but weak in wisdom has uncritical and groundless confidence. One strong in wisdom but weak in faith errs on the side of cunning and is as hard to cure as one whose sickness is caused by a medicine. When the two are balanced, one has confidence only where there is ground for it’ (Vis.129). However, balance has a place in other aspects of the Buddhist life too. There should be a balance between fellowship and solitude, study and meditation, seriousness and light-heartedness, self-concern and helping others, etc.
Once, a monk named Sona was practising walking meditation with such determination that his feet started to bleed. The Buddha came to know of this and asked Sona: ‘Before you became a monk weren't you skilled in playing the lute?’ ‘I was, Lord.’ ‘And when the strings were too tight or too loose was the music pleasant and tuneful?’ ‘No, Lord.’ ‘And when the strings were neither too tight nor too loose was the music pleasant?’ ‘Yes, Lord.’ ‘In the same way, when too intense an effort results in agitation and when it is too weak it results in slackness. Therefore Sona, keep your energy in balance, be sensitive to a balance between the faculties, and you will attain your goal’ (A.III,373).

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