12 June 2012


There is a difference between acknowledging that a particular detail may be rather insignificant and having a generalized disdain for details of all kinds.  It's a takes a goodly measure of discernment to see the former; it takes a goodly measure of confusion to fall into the latter.

Details keep us humble.  They prod us toward greater ego-attrition as their own needs and timetables and characteristics move into the forefront of our awareness.  I recently heard a teisho on chocolate making in which I became aware of the fact that there is a one degree window of workability to chocolate.   One degree.  Whether one feels like it or not, once that particular temperature has been reached, it's time to act.  At that moment, it doesn't matter if your friend calls or nature calls; the chocolate has called, and that's the only thing to respond to.

Of course, some details may well be beside the point.  Whether I use a plain paper towel or one printed with a flower motif matters not in getting up the spill.  Whether Tuesday or Wednesday is a better day to do laundry is not an arguable point.  Whether I get the oil changed at Duke of Oil or JiffyLube doesn't make the least difference.  But whether I wipe the spill or not, whether I do laundry or not, and whether I get the oil changed or not – these are not up for grabs without significant consequences.  Even though wiping up a spill is not a Nobel Prize winning activity, at the time of the spill, it the most important thing in the world.  The smallest, here, is the largest, too.

So I find myself suspicious of someone who shrugs off details as if they were all so many trivialities, particularly if that person tends instead to a large-scale, rather grandiose, perspective.  Administrators and CEOs oftentimes fall into that camp, and anyone who has ever worked for such folk knows how frustrating it can be to know just how much grit and determination and effort is required to get something small but important done, only to hear it poo-pooed because it doesn't register on the big picture radar.  I have watched homes, institutions, and relationships fall into ruins because the lowly details were left unattended to while the big picture cosmetics were given pride of place. 

One of the best translations of praj├▒a I've heard is "discernment."  Discernment requires a nose for detail.  Far from being the sign of a small mind, right attention to detail is a mark of awakening and the only sure basis for effective compassion. 

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