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Buddhism and Trust
A matter of Trust
Once, years ago, I had a discussion with a friend on the subject of trust. She described herself as a real Pollyanna and said she trusted people until they really let her down. I found this position ridiculous. I insisted that trust had to be earned, not given out like a gift certificate.
I haven’t found anything specifically written by Buddha about trusting others. Should trust be offered freely and with a totally open heart to anyone? Or should it be carefully regulated by the logic of a lifetime?
I, myself, had never been one to trust readily. In fact, for most of my life, very few people were allowed to pass my life-long defenses and join the short list of people I trusted. Generally, I expected the worst, and given how often I’d been disappointed, it still seemed to me a wise policy. I agreed with Shakespeare’s line “It’s a wonder men dare trust themselves.”
But when I became a Buddhist, my goal became to have a peaceful and happy life. Therefore, I was left with a large question…How can I have a peaceful life if I’m suspicious of everyone? By trusting people, I could probably improve myself in a spiritual sense. But this seemed at odds with my self preservation instincts, which warned me not to sit with my back to the door. It was a conundrum. Do I perfect myself or do I protect myself?
Two of the 10 life-states are learning and absorption. Learning is self development gained through experience with others and through sufficient reflection on life. Absorption is gaining insight and wisdom from intuition, taking in life on a visceral level.
So which of the two vessels should I sail on my course in life in? My experience or my instinctual insights? Which would the Buddha recommend? Which would be better for me? Should I unlock all the doors or should I remember the Alamo? If I go by what I’ve experienced, then I’d never turn my back on anyone ever again. But if I opened myself up to truly absorbing life, I could experience potential rewards that can only come with having an open heart and a trusting nature. This sounded tempting but how do I ignore the little devil on my other shoulder who says “Trust should be reserved for those who deserve it.” Is that a paranoid philosophy? Maybe so but as the saying goes “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”
When I finally opened myself up to trust, I was like a Cro-Magnon discovering fire. I was like someone leaving a cave and seeing the sun for the first time. It was frightening but also strangely liberating. It was nice to let my guard down for a change and feel safe with someone. I’d like to feel that more often but my battered instincts warn me that that just because ONE person earned my trust, does that mean I should blindly trust everyone? I have too many scars to take off my armor.
So where did that leave me? What should I do? Do I hunker down behind the castle walls, only inviting in those who bring me the Holy Grail? Or do I walk a high-wire over a bottomless pit of faith and fire, hoping no one cuts the line?
Personally, though my instincts still lean towards protecting myself, I know that it's a very limiting way to live, and a seeking spirit like myself needs to explore a larger universe. So I trust and I get hurt; but even in the hurting, I learn more about the world than I did when I hid behind the barricades.
Of course, it all has to be guided by wisdom and perspective. I wouldn't give a stranger my credit card number. But I've realized that there are times that you must take the risk if you want the reward. And so I trust people now more than I did. Do I get kicked more? Yes! But have I grown more than ever before? Yes, I have. It's a whole new world full of people; some trustworthy, some not. You just have to learn to be a little picky, without being paranoid.
I guess I’ll just have to have a little faith.