07 September 2015

Drop reputation and fly

Pic courtesy telemisr.net
Errol Alphonso, my friend and benefactor, is an indefatigable miner of the Internet, meticulous separator of grain from chaff therein and a generous disseminator of information he believes is useful to receiver. He has subscribed to a quote-yielding website. He picks and chooses what to send and therefore whatever he stuffs into my inbox is of great value to me.

A few days ago he forwarded the following quote by Margaret Mitchell: “Until you’ve lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was.”

Reputation is not unimportant. How people see you does matter. If perhaps you acquire or are conferred with a reputation of being deceitful you might well find roadblocks that stop you at every turn. This is why people spend enormous amounts of time, energy and even money to look good in the eyes of others. This is advertising which is a thriving industry.

If your reputation gets sullied in some way your marketability suffers. Some are so insecure that they equate reputation loss to the end of the world. And even those who lose their reputation are so fixated with it that they get busy trying to regain it, so busy that they don’t pause long enough to realize it is a burden they can do without.

I think it is about getting priorities mixed up. I remember an incident that took place in Ratnapura about three years ago. As the Secretary of the Tournament Committee of the Chess Federation of Sri Lanka, I went to make sure everything was alright at the Ratnapura District qualifying event of the National Youth Chess Championship.

There was a mother of a player who wanted us to allow her son to play in the tournament. As I was considering her request, she said pin siddha wei (you will gain much merit, ie in the Karmic sense) by way of further appeal. Pin epa (I don’t need such merit) I replied. In the end, after discussing the matter with other officials, the child was granted permission to play.

The lady thanked me, pin siddha wei and immediately corrected herself, aah pin epaa kiwwane (you said you didn’t need it). She wanted to clarify: Bauddha nemeida (aren’t you a Buddhist?). I said I was indeed a Buddhist. She seemed confused. I said pin karanne pau kaarayo (only sinners act in order to obtain merit). It was tongue-in-cheek of course.

I have a very limited understanding on things pertaining to the Dhamma, but I believe that what is important or let’s say ‘useful’ is to abide by the principles articulated by our Budun Wahanse. If that produces a good reputation, fine. If not, we might lose out in the short time, but then again if we, even subject to our monumental ignorance, do what we believe is what is recommended as ‘good’ subsequent to the employment of reason, I think the chances are that are sansaric journey is not lengthened.

We live in a collective and therefore our actions and though are shaped by the general notions of good and evil. It is not easy to see beyond such frames, I readily acknowledge.

On the other hand, consciously or unconsciously, we all indulge constantly in a weighing of two propositions: try to nurture the image that others prefer us to inhabit or be who we want to be without arrogantly, aggressively and without sensitivity plucking out the eyes of those who see differently.

My Vice Principal at Royal College, the late Christie Gunasekara once said ‘do what you think is right whether or not the world appreciates’. Tough.

Highly recommended though. When one tries to be who one really is the world condemns more often than not. On the other hand, I’ve found that sooner or later the world appreciates or at least indulges. There are material costs involved of course but in the larger order of things, these matter very little.

My friends tell me now and then that people use my name in blog-comment.

Some are smart for they qualify comment with references that would indicate to the careless reader that they are indeed Malinda Seneviratne, the columnist you are reading right now. I’ve seen such comments and counter-comments by people who say they are disappointed in me.

I don’t have the energy nor inclination to correct such things. My ‘reputation’ (whatever that may mean) is just a passing thing, subject to the natural laws of birth, decay and death.

In the larger span of history, my moment in this lifetime is like a fraction of a second and moreover one that is shared with a countless number of others. It began with dust and ends with it. No big deal. It hurts, annoys and sometimes makes me angry.

As always I turn to my greatest teacher, Siddhartha Gauthama. He has all the answers. I meditate on impermanence and compassion.

Life is such a light thing and lightness of being is so blissful that reputation building seems such a worthless thing. I stray often, yes, but never too far that I forget the way back to the true path that leads to a more decent and beneficial kind of existence. Or so I like to think.

*This was probably written for 'The Daily News' between 2009 and 2011.  Errol has since passed on.  

(The writer can be reached at msenevira@gmail.com )