Posted by: Upāsaka | 10/16/2018

Negative Visualization

“If you wish to live a life free from sorrow, think of what is going to happen as if it had already happened.” – Epictetus

So much of my time is spent planning how to maximize pleasure while minimizing pain and, truthfully, who could be surprised by that? All beings want happiness and fear suffering. The problem arises when we don’t know how to achieve these ends.

When I review the things I have done I see that my pursuit of pleasure and attempts to escape pain are rarely neutral affairs. No, almost invariably I end up causing harm to others as I frantically try to arrange circumstances to fit my idea of what will bring happiness.

The Dhammic solution is the Eightfold Path of course. Right View, Right Effort and Right Mindfulness would do a lot to extricate one from unskillful compulsions undertaken out of blind and desperate ignorance. And, perhaps the advice of Epictetus to imagine the worst scenario has a role here. I recall the story of a Dhammaduta bhikkhu at the time of the Lord Buddha who was advised that the people in the land he was to visit were cruel and uncouth. Each time a new nightmarish possibility was mentioned he retorted with that there was yet something to be appreciated. If they were to beat him with sticks he replied that at least he wouldn’t be dismembered with swords or something to that effect.

In a similar way, by accepting as true the worst case scenario I may be able to find contentment in every lesser iteration of a situation. The key to this is equanimity of course which brings me back to the 8FP but anything that doesn’t wouldn’t be worth doing anyhow.


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