Sending an Engineer, an Accountant and a Lawyer to Fix a Burnt Lamp

In a fictitious company, “OverKillRUs”, a ceiling light just went dead, and so an engineer, an accountant and a lawyer was sent in to take a look. The engineer took a look and said “This is a 100W bi-pin lamp that runs on balast housing.  The ballast and starter looks ok, it is the fluorescent tube that is burnt out, we need to replace it”.

The accountant took the tube in hand, checked his notebook for inventory and started punching in some numbers.  After some time, he declared “This tube was bought 3 years and 5 months ago, and if amortized over its intended five years would have brought in an … … and therefore, considering everything, we should replace this tube with a cheaper tube so as to defray the overall maintenance cost.”

At that, the lawyer quipped “I say, we sue the manufacturer!”

The above is based on an email joke that I read a long time ago.  It was funny then and even funnier now, as I believe I must have inevitably upgraded it a bit.  Funny how things get remembered over time.  But that is not the point in this post.  Today, I just want to write something short about mental conditioning.

After becoming a monk, when I recalled the above email joke, I read it differently, with
slightly more connection with mental conditioning.  While the above is a joke, the principle is rather true in real life.  We often see how nurses or doctors look at everything with caution, noting how germs and bacteria may be present, while some teachers may act like everyone else is a student or a kid, waiting for a lesson to be dished out.

Other times, it may be a gambler who see all numbers as part of a winning sequence, or a green tree-hugger who sees everything in terms of carbon footprint.  This is all because of the mental conditioning that we go through daily, consciously or unconsciously.

Religion can also be a form of mental conditioning, enabling or crippling us, depending on your views, to see things in a new perspective.  So, depending on your beliefs, scoring As can be because we worked hard, or because we worked hard enough, or harder than the average person, or because the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas guided us, or even through some divine intervention.  Or it may be because you are really that good.

By now, we should be quite convinced that mental conditioning affects how we may perceive relationships, things and events around us.  It affects how we perceive this world.

Although I am a Buddhist monk, or perhaps even more so because I am a Buddhist monk, I won’t go so far as to negate other belief systems nor discredit the beliefs.  Instead, I want to focus on the impact of such mental conditioning.  I am more concerned with the result of it.

If we learn a certain teaching or adopt a certain set of belief, and it leads towards more contempt towards others, more anger, more hatred or disdain towards others and their beliefs (either because they and their beliefs are different or viewed as wrong), and leads one to act in ways that is harmful towards others and oneself, then we should perhaps relook at either a) the teaching / belief, or b) the way it is being taught, or c) the way we are adopting it.  I am assuming that we all want to have peace, happiness and harmony unanimously and that teachings or beliefs that are targeted at destroying others, oneself or both are not in the consideration here.  Sometimes such teachings are masqueraded as being peaceful when it really is not, and through the above review, we would have to reconsider it under (a).

If the above review find that it leads toward more want, more coveting, more greed, more grasping, more craving and so on, and it leads one to act in ways that is harmful towards others and oneself, then again, we should perhaps relook at either a) the teaching / belief, or b) the way it is being taught, or c) the way we are adopting it.

If such review find that it leads toward more ignorance, more uncertainty, more guessing, more blind-believing or blind faith, more unquestioning submission through dogmatic indoctrination, and it leads one to act in ways that is harmful towards others and oneself, then again, we should perhaps relook at either a) the teaching / belief, or b) the way it is being taught, or c) the way we are adopting it.

So I say, since we are conditioning ourselves anyway, instead of conditioning ourselves to believe that buying that condo or car is going to make us happ(ier)y, adopt a “mental conditioning” that help us develop kindness and empathy (or sympathy at least) towards others.  And don’t stop there, adopt more mental habits or conditionings that are helpful to our mental health, such as learning to want to smile at others, or wanting to be happy.

Try today, retrain your mind!

Reference:

AnguttaraNikaya 3.65   PTS: A i 188 Thai III.66
Kalama Sutta: The Instruction to the Kalamas

4 thoughts on “Sending an Engineer, an Accountant and a Lawyer to Fix a Burnt Lamp”

  1. Thank you for this post. Your ABC breakdown of how teaching is absorbed is really useful. It gives different facets of how one’s beliefs can be examined and corrected. I will use this.

  2. Sadhu Bhante for all your sharings,

    I’m a Buddhist; a believer of the triple gem for almost 5 years… but also a daughter who has a different set of beliefs from my mother. After all these years of not expecting any further understanding from my mother – my beliefs has gradually led me away; bringing about distance between us…so has my beliefs/ faith brought about peace, harmony or happiness to myself and others? Time to time, I’d find myself asking: which is important – one’s own happiness/salvation or one’s obedience to your parents for their definition of “wordly happiness”? Can there truly ever be a resolution in reality when there is differences between “my and your” beliefs?

    1. @Pris: Hi there, thank you for sharing. It must be challenging to practise different beliefs / faiths under one roof; it is even trickier when it is our parents we are dealing with.

      Learning and practising Buddhism can and should gradually help us be more patient and tolerant towards others. While we may not subscribe to our parents’ beliefs, we can be filial to them in many other ways. Spend time with them, listen to them, talk to them, accompany them to the market, bring them for walks etc.

      Resolution between beliefs … need resolution between the two parties involved. It is indeed uneasy to do so. Start with ‘befriending’ your mother and genuinely spend time with her, bearing in mind, those activities that are wholesome, vs that which is unwholesome. The resolution part should be a natural progression, and not simply a goal we work at. ^_^

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