The Carrot and the Stick

Pat: Well, I never expected to say this and sound so cynical, but maybe it's because right now I'm in the middle of chasing a lot of stuff to do with the war. But I'm a little suspicious because whether it's Christianity or Buddhism or any of this stuff--it just seems like you spent a lot of time these last couple of weeks about how we all have this buddha nature. We all have this capacity, and so much of Christianity is we all have the capacity to have this godlike quality. But yet the reality is ... as a human being what we have is maybe moments where we actually--if you're lucky--get to be awake; where you're lucky you get to have spiritual practice; where you're lucky you get to be compassionate, kind and all those things. 
But yet these traditions and these practices are set up to encourage to you to do it as a life time--yet constantly. Why don't we then teach that what we are going to get, or be or do are moments? Rather than teach that we should try and have 100 percent of spiritual practice. But by the way, you're probably only going to get five minutes. Because it's a set up to constantly feel like--and the truth is we're just a bunch of losing jerks [laughter] and I think we'd be better off if we started out with that premise. Because then every time you got five minutes, you'd feel like a winner.

Ken: That's basically as far as I'm concerned, the point of this chapter.

Pat: But the book starts out saying, "Oh, guess what, you know, you have buddha nature." Well the fact is maybe I do, maybe I don't. But most of the time I may have it within me, and I love that thing we talked about last week; it's always there, it's constant, you can find it. But in a way I might find it more often if my expectation is for five minutes in a lifetime. Do you know what I mean? We're always chasing this ideal rather than starting with the premise that we're violent jerks.

Ken: I agree with you. There's the carrot and stick approach, right? Now if you have a donkey--the carrot approach is you hold a carrot in front of the donkey. And the donkey starts to move towards the carrot. What do you do with the carrot at that point? You pull it further away. I don't like the carrot approach. Because the attention of the donkey is on the carrot--it's not in the present, it's on the expectation and you never get there.

Now the stick approach is a little different. The stick approach is you get a good solid stick and you whack the donkey on the rear. And the donkey goes, “This is not a good place to be, I need to do something,” so it starts to move. And once the donkey starts to move, you don't keep whacking it. It's totally different from the carrot approach. And so the donkey learns that if he relates to his present condition he can do something about it and then he is in a different state. He just has to keep walking, that's all.

And people say, why do you talk about all the difficulties? I talk about all the difficulties because referring to Joseph Goldstein’s point--it's the difficulties, the discomfort in our life which actually motivates us, causes us to do something. It's not the comforts that cause us to do something it's the discomforts, the struggles. "Why am I having such a hard time, I've got to do something about it."

And the difference between the two chapters [chapters 1 and 2 of Jewel Ornament of Liberation] could be described as this: we all have the potential to do something about it, but the opportunity to do something about it is relatively rare. Okay. And I think you're right, the opportunity is relatively rare, so when the opportunity arises, make use of it. Does that make sense to you?


The carrot and stick story also appears in session 4 of Awakening from Belief and in Bringing Practice Alive.