Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor tradition; nor rumor; nor what is in a scripture; nor surmise; nor axiom; nor specious reasoning; nor bias towards one’s beliefs; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.' When you yourselves know: 'These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and abide in them.
I recently sat on a two-week jury trial in a personal injury case, and it continues to preoccupy my mind. So many issues raised, so many challenges--particularly in view of everything I have learned over the years from the Buddhist teachings. For example:
MEDITATION: I believe that my daily practice proved a useful resource in a number of ways; first, of course, in simply paying attention, noticing when the mind began to drift, and bringing it back in focus. Then, too, the practice was helpful in keeping the mind open, even at moments when it was tempted to draw conclusions and make judgments. I was fairly readily able to discern its movements, one way or the other, and bring it back to center.
METTA--the exercise of goodwill and compassion. The dharma teaches compassion for all, but I suppose particularly for those who are suffering--in the case, the plaintiff, who claimed to have sustained an (almost) irreversible back injury in the rear-end collision that occasioned his lawsuit. That was obvious and simple: who could fail to feel compassion for a man in severe pain? Compassion, though, does not necessarily include approving his suit. And how about compassion for the young man who ran into him, just 18 years old at the time of the collision, whose life prospects could be seriously impaired by an adverse judgment? And... what about all the others involved? It was an interesting exercise, to practice goodwill for attorneys and witnesses on BOTH side of the dispute...
... especially when BLAME and GREED reared their ugly heads. The mind recoiled at the staggering sums of money--up to $800 an hour!--charged by "expert" witnesses, who therefore had a vested interest in the outcome. It was hard fair-mind work, to separate out their testimony from their fees. Then, too, the plaintiff's attorney had "let slip" from the start--during jury selection--that he would be asking $22 million in damages, for a rear-end collision that caused no more than a bent fender on the plaintiff's Mercedes SUV. Again, the mind reeled, and needed constant reminders to weigh the evidence rather than the money.
It was necessary, too, to bring some skillful mindfulness to bear on the instinctive, emotional responses--LIKE and DISLIKE--of attorneys, witnesses and principals in the case; to keep reminding myself that this could not be about whom I liked or disliked, but about whether I could believe their story or trust their testimony. Too often, I watched "like" and "trust" beginning to walk off hand in hand--no less than "dislike" and "distrust."
Also in play was the not-small matter of KARMA--as least insofar was I understand the subtleties and complexities of this concept. To what extent can one person be held responsible for the misfortune of another? I told one of the attorneys, during the selection process, that I don't really believe in "accidents"--but perhaps failed to explain quite what I meant: that every action has its consequence, as much for the plaintiff as for the defendant, whose momentary inattention was clearly the most obvious and immediate cause. But to blame all the plaintiff's pain and suffering for the rest of his life on a single, relatively minor impact seemed to me inappropriate and wrong. Once more, however, it was my job to keep reminding myself to keep an open mind.
As jury members, we were presented with two CONFLICTING REALITIES--I hasten to add, in often excruciating detail. To discern which of these was true, or at least truer than the other, required some skillful discrimination. It's clear that there are different kinds of "judgment"--one that involves personal bias, instinct, intuition and the other reason, discernment, balance. The trick is to avoid the first and acknowledge the importance of the latter, and to hold in mind the difference between the two.
Lastly--and I realize I'm beginning to get long-winded, perhaps repetitive--there was the reminder that the AGING process almost inevitably brings pain along with it. What we, as jurors, learned about the spine and the deterioration of the disks that form the cushion between the vertebrae was an education in physical decay and in the multiple sources of pain that inhabit the vulnerable human body. Pain is virtually inevitable as we grow older; but it's important to remember that suffering--our way of clinging on to pain--is optional. Our plaintiff, now climbing toward his late forties, failed to prove to the satisfaction of the jury that it was the collision, and not in good part the natural aging process, along with other variables, that was the origin of his pain. Watching the process unfold--with my own aching back!--I could not help but be attuned, at frequent intervals, to the accumulation of my own years and the approach of debilitating age. At this personal level of SELF-AWARENESS, THEN the trial was in many ways an important lesson and reminder of the profound value of the dharma.