Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Wise Discrimination

The Buddha, the most practical of teachers, defined the wise man or woman in a thoroughly practical way: "One who will gladly give up a smaller pleasure to gain a greater joy." That is discrimination, the precious capacity to see life clearly and choose wisely. When it is understood, every choice becomes an opportunity for training the mind.
--Eknath Easwaran, Conquest of Mind, p. 66

Easwaran has written that he loves great symphonies, novels, and other works of art but that what he loves most is the "perfectly crafted life." That to him, and to me, is the supreme work of art, more beautiful and inspiring even than Michelangelo's David. Indeed, it seems to me, we can look at how we live our lives as a process of sculpting. Every choice we make chips away a piece of the precious stone we've been given. Every bad choice makes it that much harder to craft a great work of living art; every good choice fosters our effort. Sooner or later, we will run out of stone, and the potential we once had to sculpt a moving, breathing David will have crumbled into dust. Why waste time when we don't know how much we have left? Why make bad choices that undermine the most important project of a lifetime?

I have made countless bad choices, and I'll be fifty-five in March. I don't know how much stone I have left, and I have many, many mistakes to overcome to forge my modest masterpiece from what raw material remains.

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