Power, Potency, Control, and Our Lives



Maitreya Bodhisattva by Payal Vora Thiksey Monastery, Ladakh, India (Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

Maitreya Bodhisattva by Payal Vora Thiksey Monastery, Ladakh, India (Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

There are five powers in Buddhist tradition, each controlling a negative while they are positive in and of themselves. Power in Southern culture is something that everyone has but chooses carefully when to wield; the idea is to humble others by being humble yourself, and neglecting a forbearing use of authority, which included abstaining from its use altogether. What is discovered is that power exists in its absence and finds itself even more effective at moving and changing our world without being wielded like a sword. Power has many manifestations, and that makes it all the more “potent” in moving us. It is important for us to define power in order to identify it and thus abstain from its use.

Power is strength. Strength is the ability to do, to make, and to be. This in Buddhism is the second power, Energy, which controls laziness, sloth, or idleness. So in our Anglophone definition of power it is easy to overlook different forms of power or control. For instance, is faith powerful? One might ask what it controls, or moves. It eliminates doubt. Again, faith has the power to remove doubt, a negative aspect of our day-to-day spiritual (or religious) lives. Mindfulness, how is this powerful? Admittedly, it gives us power over our own thoughts, and once that realization is made fully, one may begin to understand how deep and far-reaching mindfulness, – control over heedlessness or thoughtlessness – can be into improving not just our own lives but the lives of others.

The power, or, the strength to concentrate. How lovely is it to control one’s distraction! Now see how narrow and limited our definition has become. The concept of samadhi entails the mind being one-pointed, sharp, and maintaining individual awareness. This is the fourth power, and it is what brings about the fifth power of wisdom.


“Robert E Lee 1838” by William Edward West (1788-1857) Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Wisdom is the power to overwhelm ignorance with discernment. This is what Robert Lee speaks of in his defining treatise on what constitutes a gentleman in 19th century America. He states plainly that judicious lack of the use of power can be more humbling that power being wielded in the ways it is usually understood, and that wisdom is the ability to know which is appropriate. It is true, that all of these powers become misused and thus are railed against because power’s use is not governed by wisdom, discernment, and learned execution. The greatest kings with the most lasting legacies are the wisest. The power of wisdom is the aspect of our nature that not only forgives a wrong but forgets it as well. Without wisdom, one might think a wrong was so grave as to seek revenge.

In Constitutional philosophy and the derivation of power, a bishop of Rochester asserted that man, being like the oxen, or sheep, cannot rule themselves. Man, being of higher mind than oxen or sheep, cannot find its intellectual equal here on earth, and those that thought Man’s own reason could rule them now no longer rule or even exist (He mentions the Greeks, Iberians, and Romans.) Thus, Man must look to God for a ruler. Now, this being told from the point of view of a 17th century Bishop in England gives us only a narrow view of the ultimate truth of which he was referring to. This being that man is not the pinnacle of existence. On the contrary, man’s powers are far eclipsed by those of Bodhisattvas, Prophets, a higher mind, the stars, Karma, or an Almighty. From these we draw up our laws, our ideas of inherent “goodness” or “badness,” an original refutation of that dangerous nihilism. It is a railing voice against that mindset that asks “What does even matter if I do or don’t do a thing?” It is an affirmation that true power exists, and that man cannot be the decider of his own fate. The Bishop of Rochester uses the word “grafted” to describe these ideas within collective human consciousness, and I find that to be accurate. In the end he goes on to say that the people are the ministers of God’s government here on earth, and so even revolution is still divinely derived.

All power, whether political, social, spiritual, or physical, has its place to be used and even more instances where its absence is the true “power” and “control.” We are given powers not to use them but to test ourselves. When one holds certain advantages over another, their interactions serve as a true test of good conduct, character, morality, and ethics.

– Alex White, Copy Editor

AlexAlex White lives in Florence, Alabama and is from Decatur, Alabama. A self-styled Buddho-survivalist, he enjoys the outdoors and is an avid angler and dachshund enthusiast. He maintains a poetry blog “Visions of the Afterworld” and copy edits for Garden Spices Magazine.


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