If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven
In defence of hypocrites we ought to remember that much hypocrisy derives from a lack of awareness even when we half-choose to remain unaware. Waking up, especially if you have been asleep a long time, is always hard. We resist the transition to a bigger, less passive dimension of reality. We push away the hand shaking us awake or press the snooze button and turn over. This reluctance to be awake is also perceptible in how we vote and spend our free time.
The value of anything can best be understood in reference to its opposite. We value sleep because it helps us be more awake during the day. We value silence so we can communicate better. We value wealth so we can give it away. The relationship between opposites produces balance, healthy living and nice people who are kind and just to those in need. Clinging to one side of the equation – staying in bed all day, talking nonstop, clinging to possessions – drives us deeper into the one-dimensional, illusory world of self-absorption, where we are unaware of the many other dimensions we live and move and have our being in. In such a world life then becomes a continuous selfie shot. Instead, ‘stay awake’, the gospel tells us. The Buddha was walking along one day when a passer-by was struck by his radiance and powerful presence and asked him ‘Are you a god?’ ‘No’. ‘Then are you a wizard?’ ‘No’. ‘Who are you then?’ ‘I am awake,’ the Buddha replied.
Wakefulness is part of the universal wisdom found in all true teaching. To be truly awake is beyond what we think of as morality or, let’s say, it is the fundamental basis of moral judgement. The hypocrite in us is quick to condemn others, enthroning itself on the moral high ground from which it can act with amazing cruelty. But it is in the dimension of dreams, not the real world. We see the effect of wakefulness in the difference between good work that brings out the best in us, producing benefits for others, and work that leads to burnout and divisiveness. In another sense, wakefulness shows the difference between a beautiful artistic representation of the human form and an obscene image.
It is hard to see how in the speed and information overload of modern life we can stay awake without a contemplative practice integrated into daily life. Lacking this, how (even with the best intentions that the hypocrite in us often starts from), can we avoid being swept into the torpor of over-activity, the dream-state of the half-awake?
The same balance that keeps us awake also reduces our hypocrisy. The key is accepting our limitations. Lent is not about putting ourselves down or denying the gift of simple pleasures. It is about accepting that our limitations are the way we steer steady between extremes. Physically we are limited by biological limits that we must fulfil adequately – for example in sleep or food. Intellectually, we are limited by how much data we can take in and also by the need for healthy content, not endless entertainment. Only in the spiritual dimension are there no limits.
Read other Lent Reflections 2019: Week 1