I am often asked to make decisions for people, or to advise them. It is
much too easy to tell people what to do, but too dumb and useless for me to fall
into doing it much. Although, there’s no shortage of those around who seem glad
to do so, thus disempowering others and going out on a limb themselves.
Of course if one is a professional being paid for expert advice, such as a
lawyer or accountant, that could be another matter. It is far trickier in
the humanistic realm– spiritual direction, therapy, life skills management
counselor, etc. Each of us has to own our own experience, make and live with our choices, and try to do the best we can. The rest is mere commentary.
I prefer to ask people questions, and see if together we can’t get to the
bottom of things, consider root causes and their consequences–and future implications
of different possible decisions and directions– and develop the
discernment that can bring wiser, more informed choices, action and
understanding. All this is part of the development of wisdom (prajna), one
of the most important of the transformative virtues of the Bodhisattva, the awakening spiritual warrior.
One definition of prajna– transcendental wisdom– is “the best knowledge” or “highest wisdom”. This is something that we can learn to cultivate & develop — through learning, reflection, meditation and experience-integration. It includes keen discrimination and clarity of purpose. We have to know what we want and
where we are trying to go if we have any real hope of achieving anything. Knowing who we are is also most helpful.
Otherwise we are constantly, as the song goes, “Looking for love in all the
wrong places.” This helps no one and leads nowhere.
Looking into what we want, wish for, and desire is an important part of any
decision-making process. We must consider our motivation; “everything
depends on motivation” the Dalai Lama often says, echoing ancient Mahayana
Buddhist texts on the Bodhisattva’s way of life and way of benefitting the world.
What we need is also relevant– to be able to honestly know, acknowledge and consider. Then we have some chance of living creatively and proactively, rather than simply reacting
semi-consciously (if not entirely unconsciously) to circumstances and
conditions. Through cultivating conscious awareness we can choose how and if to respond to what life brings us, not just living in the animal realm of blind instinct and knee-jerk reactions.
One thing we most need to know, when making significant choices and
distinguishing between different paths is what to undertake and adopt and
what to abandon. This is often the essential question around choice-making.
Being mindful, attentive, and reflective before leaping into action is
helpful at most critical junctures. Being decisive has its own power and
magnetism, even when we are off the mark. The Buddhist scriptures and some
of my own lamas’ magnificence and skillful means have taught me that a
genuine Bodhisattva should have great plans, elevated vision and vast
aspirations. Boldness has its own power and magic, as Goethe famously said.
Enlightened leadership manuals always recommend considering what is the
best for the greatest good, and to consider what will be of temporal and
ultimate benefit to others and secondarily to oneself. This means being
compassionate in one’s dealing and decision-making in order to be a virtuous
leader or even just a good parent or citizen. It means changing from an
orientation of ME to one of WE, as in Mohammed Ali’s great short pome,
extemporaneously declaimed on request a Harvard commencement: “You / me/
we.” Few have said it better, tauter, or shorter than that.
When the Dalai Lama met privately with Pres. Clinton in Wash. DC in the
early Nineties, the lama told the leader:” You are the most powerful man in
the world. Every decision you make should be motivated by compassion.”
“One cannot exist today as a person — one cannot exist in full consciousness — without having to have a showdown with one’s self, without having to define what it is that one lives by, without being clear in one’s own mind what matters and what does not matter.”
~ Dorothy Thompson, 1939