The past week’s Big Story is the newest Congressional mishap starring Mark Foley. This brings to mind two teachings that, if taught in wider circles of influence, would go far to alleviate these types of problems.
First, teaching on the dangers of attachment. While it is natural and necessary for the mind to become attracted to ideas, concepts or objects, it is harmful to cling to our attractions too tightly. In the case of Mr. Foley, as well as many instances in our own lives, the very act of longing for something caused his undoing. His inability to distance himself from the objects of his desires, even those objects were only theoretical, caused human suffering. While all current evidence suggests that no child was hurt by his interests, the potential for damage was high. Regardless, Mr. Foley’s behavior hurt himself, his friends and members of his family.
This leads to the Buddhist teaching of the "three poisons", which are essentially the judgments we make against all things: like it; hate it; indifference. The judgments themselves aren’t problematic, but our attachments to them are. If we like something too much, we suffer because of it. Common examples of too much attachment include various addictions people are subject to, like drugs and alcohol, gambling, greed and gluttony. All these expressions of liking things too much cause suffering of self and others.
Likewise, over-avoidance leads to problems as well. We see what hate can do to people everyday in expressions of anger, murder and warfare. All the myriad shades of negative emotions cause suffering. Even if the hatred is kept at bay, secreted in ones’ heart, health issues can occur so that, the very act of feeling hatred, although not openly acted out, can cause great suffering to the person harboring such feelings.
Even the decision to ignore or be indifferent to a person or idea can cause suffering. Although this is the hardest of the three to quantify, the very act of turning one’s back to an issue can have indirect negative ramifications. The current political strife in Darfur, while not obviously connected to any in the West, is affected by our collective indifference to the plight of this poor nation. The longer we ignore the horrors in Africa, the more innocent lives are lost and ruined. Likely, if we continue to do nothing, the perpetrators will become emboldened to advance such tactics elsewhere on the continent or in the world. Thus, indifference can be as dangerous as hatred itself.
As for Mr. Foley, he could benefit by understanding of the three poisons, and by a concerted effort to wrest control of his life from the choices he’s made. Making value judgments is a necessary part of functioning in our world, but letting those judgments control us is backward. Instead, we should understand how we feel, accept our decisions, and strive to keep an emotional distance from them - a buffer zone, if you will, from which we can keep our perspective and a clear understanding of the benefit or detriment of acting on our impulses. If Mark Foley has such a internal check in place, perhaps he and his family wouldn’t be hurting now.