Being virtuous and becoming virtuous are not the same, not at all. Virtue comes into being when there is the understanding of ‘what is’, whereas the process of becoming virtuous is a process of effort; our attempt to be virtuous. This idea of becoming virtuous takes the shape of conforming to certain ideals – whether your own, or those of your church, your teachers, the government or society at large. Being virtuous, however, stems from a clear understanding of what is true. Religious traditions insist that liberation – in whatever form – only comes into being through effort and discipline, through evolution, through the process of becoming – a process of time. Most of us are therefore striving to improve ourselves, to conform to these ideals of ‘what should be’ or ‘what we ought to be’. When we use time in this way – as a means of becoming virtuous – are we really seeing ‘what is’, are we gaining clear understanding of truth? Or are we instead merely avoiding the truth by trying to be ‘what should be’ and thus postponing our genuine understanding of ‘what is’? If we are ignoring or suppressing ‘what is’ in order to pursue our ideals of ‘what should be’, then we will become caught up in a cycle of constant suppression or avoidance. If something is suppressed it is a constant effort to keep it down, to keep it hidden. Similarly, when you overcome something through distraction or ignoring – as in the example of dealing with anger above – there is the constant effort, the constant upkeep to overcome it again and again.
So if I am determined to overcome my anger by making an effort to practice being calm and peaceful, I am using time as a means of solving my problem, as a means of escaping my internal conflict and pain. Is this really solving the problem, am I truly understanding my anger by practising being calm and non-violent? Or am I simply postponing my understanding of anger – or whatever the problem may be – by swapping one conflict, the anger, with another conflict – the tension of constant practising? Okay, you are suffering from internal conflict and, naturally enough, you wish to be free from that conflict. Your reasoning tells you that the original conflict can be overcome by the process of time, by the time spent becoming more virtuous, more godly, more noble, and that by being this shining example of godly virtue the original problem will cease. Now does conforming to one’s own rules to uphold one’s sense of virtue solve the original problem? If you succeed in conforming to your own rules, you will be faced with the new problems of pride, identification and self-deception. Illusions are sweet. We think we are successful, we think we have addressed our original problem, yet inside remains this original conflict and tension, only now it is suppressed. Where there are rules, there is always conflict. A man of understanding lives by no rules, he lives by his understanding. We think the practice of a more noble way of living will rid ourselves from our original conflict. Not only will my idea of what is noble differ from yours, and we therefore quarrel, but the very essence of what it means to practice is conflict. An alcoholic practicing being sober is still in conflict, is he not? This is not to say that there aren’t some short term benefits to such practices, but they are not a long term solution to inner conflict. One side of the mind is disciplining the other, keeping it in order, telling it what to do. This is a process of time, of practice, and it is another form of conflict.