When Are We Allowed to Have Expectations?

When are we allowed to have expectations?

I know, I know. Some of you are probably thinking “But I thought having expectations leads to distraught and suffering?” Well, matter of fact, having expectations is part and parcel of everything. Because we expect to quench our thirst by drinking water, so we drink. And experience has shown that it did in the past not just for individuals but for almost all known cases. So we solve our thirst by this expectation and/or assumption, acquire water, drink it and ultimately quench our thirst. Will a day come when water won’t quench our thirst? Maybe, when the conditions are different, but in the mean time, drink … water, that is.

But that is not the point of this post. The point is this. Just as such simple expectation helps us along our simple basic needs of sustenance of our body, perhaps other forms of expectations are justified as well?

Take for example, that of a school, where students come from all places to study. Depending on the school, the subject(s) may differ and the focus of the school varies accordingly. Or it could be the other way round, where the school’s focus determines the subjects to be taught etc. Irregardless, what is common is that there is an expectation from the students to learn something from the school and there is also an expectation from the school on the students to learn, or at least want to learn. Just because someone wants to learn something, does not necessarily translate to being able to learn something. Of course ‘force feeding’ of knowledge works to some extent and students may still learn without their wanting to.

Are schools entitled to the expectation that students want to change?

But the matter at hand here is, are schools entitled to the expectation that students have the desire or wish to learn? Or let me rephrase myself. To learn means to change. Whether at a superficial level or internalised manner, to learn means to change. At a superficial level, it means to increase, substitute or combine existing knowledge with new learnings. This is, to change. At a deeper level, it means possibly accepting the new found learnings and in some cases, extending, in others removal of existing learnings and translating them to different expressions of views, speech and actions. Again, it means to change. To want to learn means to want to change. So the question becomes “Are schools entitled to the expectation that students want to change?”

Awhile ago, I spoke to some students and urged them to give up air-conditioning. It’s August in Singapore and was without doubt on the hotter end of the weather chart, but surely a little bit of heat and humidity will not move us right? After all, don’t we proclaim profound teachings on how “we shall not be moved by the Eight Winds (of (1) Praise (2) Blame (3) Suffering (4) Happiness (5) Benefit (6) Damage (7) Gain (8) Loss)?” No, the students shall have none of that. In retort, the students claim,

Venerable, just because you can do it, you cannot expect us to do it. We are all different.” (Referring to not using air-conditioning.)

Venerable, that is the teachings, this is real-life, how can you apply the teachings to real-life? We have to apply worldly thinking to worldly real-life.”

While you recover from shock, let’s suspend our judgement and analyse the first statement. On one hand, it does make sense. We are all different and hence cannot be expected to have the same level of practice and dexterity. Why didn’t I think of that? I’m quite slow sometimes and I left it at that. Further, even the powers-beyond-me (no, not god or Buddha etc) agreed to them using the air-conditioner. But besides being slow, I also have this habit of self-reflection, or at least I like to think I’m doing that and not revoking past grudges.

So of late, I was doing my self-reflection and reviewing what I’ve done right and wrong and also trying to review them in terms of the five khandas, or nama-rupa or contemplating on the emptiness of them all. Then I pondered on it for one minute too long and struck on the extent of their retort. On one hand, if a person can do it, the same cannot be expected of them. Yet on the other hand, if a person is not even able to do it, wouldn’t anyone retort with “If you cannot even do it, how can you expect us to do it?” Now note that to their benefit, this is unproven systematically that they would retort in this manner, but something tells me that its not far from the
truth.

As you may have caught on the drift, by their first retort, and an extrapolated second retort, it covers all grounds for refusing any expectations to change. In other words, they might as well have said “Venerable, don’t expect us to change. We are all different.” which brings us full circle to the question “Are schools entitled to the expectation that students want to change?”

It’s not bad to be wrong. It’s bad to wish to stay wrong and not want to be right.

If a student goes to a school not wishing to change, why go to a school? Note that I’m not referring to ‘change’ itself, but the minimal of ‘wish to change’. To be able to change, it takes time. But to start off, one should at least have a wish to change. It’s not wrong to be wrong. It’s wrong to wish to stay wrong and not want to be right.

For that matter, let’s open the gates and extend the scope. How about being a Buddhist monk or any religious clergy? Should they not be expected to change or at the least have the wish to change? Extending further, being a Buddhist, taking refuge in the Triple Gem constitutes change and to start off, having the desire and wish to change. It is important to understand that without this fundamental wish, whatever ceremonies one may go through, they will continue to be external ceremonies, and it will be difficult if not impossible to internalise the teachings and ultimately change. If it were true even for the very early stage of adoption of Buddhist teachings, then all the more it should be true for those who come to a school to learn; for to learn is to change.

Are you ready to change?

EDIT: Edited for readability and corrections on punctuations. 🙂