This raises the question, why do we … why does our ego … take offense? In an earlier post, "When Nothing Offends," I addressed the question from one perspective. Here is another.
We take offense because we don’t accept that things are the way they are because it’s just the way it is. And that is the basic answer. If we would accept things, we would not take offense, and thus we would not suffer.
But during a recent meditation, I thought that given the problem many people have with acceptance, it might be helpful looking at this somewhat differently. An obvious place to start would seem to be that we take offense because something happens that we don’t like or that impacts us negatively.
Is it that straight-forward, though? I would posit that we take offense because we feel that the person or group purposefully acted in the way which offended us. We feel a victim … whether of a perceived slight or something worse … and part of feeling a victim is feeling that someone has done something to us purposefully, whether it be an individual or the “system.”
But what if the offensive act was not the result of purposeful choice? It is a core Buddhist teaching that we are all born with our true Buddha nature intact. However, after birth our learned experiences overwhelm our Buddha nature and form our ego, the basis for all of our actions.
How we act is thus a function of our learned experience not our true Buddha nature. Different people react to a given situation in different ways not because they make a choice between one reaction or another but because they are programmed by their different learned experiences to respond in different ways. They essentially have little choice, no free will.
So if you believe in this teaching of the Buddha, would you still feel slighted? Would you still take offense? Probably not. You would more likely just shrug your shoulders and move on. This is another way of coming to the understanding that things are the way they are because it’s just the way it is.
The same holds true when we feel that the larger society is doing something that harms us. Everyone from the highest to the lowest is programmed to act as they act. Again, it’s just the way it is.
As a practicing Buddhist, you hopefully have an awareness that you personally do have a choice … at least if your are present … because you understand that all feelings and perceptions are just functions of the mind; they are not you. And that reality is not what your mind relates. Yet even with that awareness, you know only too well how difficult it is to free yourself from the intervention of your mind, to be present.
The vast majority of people unfortunately have no such awareness, and thus have no choice and just walk through their life asleep. They are deserving of compassion, not contempt.