The Transformative Power of Negligence

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Negligence was not a dismissal of the world but a conscious choice to untangle from attachment, fostering mindful living and appreciation of each moment. ILLUSTRATION: Annla/iStock

By Yin Nwe Ko

In the tapestry of life, certain moments stand out as pivotal, marking a turning point that shapes our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. One such epoch in my narrative unfolded during my ninth-grade year. It was a time when my family confronted the challenges of my father’s illness, diagnosed as anaemia. Little did I know that this experience would be a catalyst for a profound exploration into the realms of mental health and the transformative power of negligence.
The echoes of that period still resonate in my memory. My father, once a robust figure in our household, was suddenly confined to a hospital bed. The elders murmured about anaemia; a condition that not only weakened him physically but also left an indelible mark on his psyche. As the days passed and my father’s health gradually improved, a peculiar pattern emerged — a subtle transformation that unfolded in the shadows of evening.
Despite his efforts to project an image of health, a discerning eye could catch the flicker of fear in his eyes as darkness enveloped our surroundings. In those moments, he awaited the arrival of an intimate friend, a beacon of comfort in the encroaching night. It became a routine; a friend’s visit in the early evening brought joy and animated conversations, but my father’s demeanour shifted as the departure hour loomed. He would insist that his friend stay the night, a plea often met with understanding.
Our home became a haven for my father’s friends. Almost every day, one of them would grace our doorstep, bringing with them laughter, camaraderie, and a temporary respite from my father’s fear of the impending night. Little did I comprehend the depth of his struggle — an internal battle that transcended the physical ailment of anaemia. It wasn’t just about the depletion of red blood cells; it was about a mental state that haunted him, even in the presence of loved ones.
As I reflect on those days, I see a mirror reflecting not only my father’s struggle but a foreshadowing of my own journey. In its intricate design, life wove a connection between us not just through shared genetics but through a shared vulnerability to the unseen struggles of the mind.
Fast forward to my later years, and I grappled with a similar unease. Diagnosed with hypertension rather than anaemia, I navigated the complexities of my own mental landscape. The fear of solitude, once my father’s burden, became my own, especially when left alone at home. While my condition was not as debilitating as my father’s, it manifested as an inferior state of mind, a subtle but persistent companion in my daily life.
In my less-informed days, I sought solace in various medications, hoping to alleviate the mental disquiet. However, the relief I sought remained elusive. It was in the midst of this search for understanding that serendipity played its hand, leading me to a transformative encounter with the teachings of Lord Buddha, as expounded by Sitagu Sayadawgyi.
Sitagu Sayadawgyi’s sermon unfolded like a revelation, providing a profound definition of Buddhism beyond religious confines. It was presented as a guide for life, a blueprint for navigating the complexities of existence. At its core was the concept of cultivating a stable mind, a prerequisite for embellishing one’s life. The sermon introduced three contemplative practices to achieve this coveted mental stability:
1. Not having pleasure upon those who came to me.
2. Not having any worry or grief upon those who left me.
3. Not having expectations about who would come to me and when.
As I delved into these principles, I realized they were more than just guidelines; they were tantamount to practising negligence. The term, often misunderstood in common parlance, held profound significance in the literature of Buddhism. Far from its negative connotations, negligence, as expounded by Sitagu Sayadawgyi, was a practice of detachment, a conscious effort to disentangle oneself from the shackles of emotional attachment.
The virtuous person, according to Buddhism, is one who can seamlessly embody these three principles. Such an individual not only stabilizes their mind but also attains a certain happiness that transcends the ephemeral pleasures of the world. Conversely, attachment to any of the aforementioned ways leads to mental unrest and unhappiness — a misery that permeates both the mental and physical realms.
The revelation of negligence as a path to mental stability struck a chord within me. It was as if I had stumbled upon a divine medicine, a remedy for the ailments that had plagued my mind for years. The stability of the mind emerged as the crux, and through the practice of negligence, I discovered a path to achieve it.
In the wake of this revelation, my journey took a new trajectory. I embarked on a conscious effort to incorporate negligence into my daily life. It was a process of unlearning deeply ingrained attachment patterns and embracing a detachment mindset. The initial steps were challenging, as the tendrils of attachment clung tenaciously to my consciousness.
The first principle — Not having pleasure upon those who came to me — demanded a shift in perspective. It was about appreciating the transient nature of joy derived from external sources and understanding that true happiness could only spring from within. As I navigated social interactions with this newfound awareness, I observed a subtle shift in my emotional landscape. The joy derived from external stimuli became less potent, and a sense of inner contentment started to blossom.
The second principle — Not having any worry or grief upon those who left me — presented its own set of challenges. It required acknowledging the impermanence of relationships and accepting the ebb and flow of human connections. In the face of physical or emotional departures, I endeavoured to cultivate an attitude of equanimity. The pangs of separation, once poignant, began to lose their sharpness as I embraced the inherent transience of life.
The third principle — Not having expectations about who would come to me and when — proved to be a profound lesson in relinquishing control. It was about surrendering to the unpredictability of life and releasing the mental constructs of anticipated outcomes. As I embraced the uncertainty of each day, a sense of freedom blossomed. The mental burden of expectations lifted, paving the way for a more profound connection with the present moment.
As these principles gradually took root in my daily life, I noticed a profound shift in my mental landscape. The once-looming fear of solitude began to dissipate. Once fraught with unease, the moments of being alone became an opportunity for introspection and inner peace. I realized that true stability of the mind was not about avoiding solitude but about embracing it with an open heart.
In the broader context, the practice of negligence extended beyond my personal sphere. It became a lens through which I viewed the world, a guiding principle in navigating the complexities of relationships, and a source of resilience in the face of life’s inevitable challenges. The teachings of Lord Buddha channelled through Sitagu Sayadawgyi’s sermon, became a compass that steered me towards a more meaningful and fulfilling existence.
In essence, negligence was not a neglectful dismissal of the world but a conscious choice to disentangle oneself from the web of attachment that often ensnares the mind. It was a practice of mindful living, an invitation to savour the richness of each moment without being shackled.

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