Dharma Talk: “Giraffes Are Selfish”

NOTE: The following Dharma Talk was given by Rev. Charama on Sunday, October 31st, 2017:

I love The Andy Griffith Show. For my money, Barney Fife is one of the greatest TV characters ever written.

A lot can be learned from TAGS, as it’s affectionately known among fans.

For example, in Season 3, Episode 30 (titled “Dogs, Dogs, Dogs”), Barney has just driven a few dozen stray dogs into the country and dropped them off because he thinks they’d be better off in the wild than running loose on the streets of Mayberry.

As he’s explaining what he did to Opie and Andy, a storm arises, his confidence wanes, and he unwittingly scrambles to justify his actions by comparing dogs to giraffes – and finds giraffes wanting.

This is a brilliant piece of acting.

If you doubt me, watch it here.

But it’s much more than that.

When Barney declares, “Boy, giraffes are selfish” he offers us a clear demonstration of the wisdom behind the first three lines from the Buddhist Dhammadpa:

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.

Barney’s thoughts created a world in which dogs take care of their own but giraffes are selfish.

And he believed it.

If the Dhammapada isn’t to your liking, try Philippians 4:8-9 (ESV translation),

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

If the Bible isn’t to your liking, recall all of the self-help/motivational posters you’ve seen throughout the years. “Your attitude determines your altitude,” for example.

If the Dhammapada, the Bible, or self-help/motivational posters aren’t to your liking, do you remember the book “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale? It’s been around for 65 years.

Or, how about “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill? That book was written in 1937 – 80 years ago.

Here’s the point: no matter how you slice it, and regardless of the source, the statement “with our thoughts we make the world” is indisputable.

Therefore, if we “think about” a world with characteristics opposite from those listed in that passage of Philippians, or if we don’t let go of the negative, hateful thoughts the first chapter of the Dhammapada warns us about, what will be the outcome?

Our minds will change. Our attitudes will change. Our moods will change.

And our world will change, accordingly.

Barney’s assessment of giraffes is hilarious.

Yet, how often do we – based on nothing more than “making something” (perhaps fueled by our own selfishness, bitterness, or outright hatred) – create a world in which our “enemy” is imbued with qualities and attributes 180 degrees different from how he/she is in real life?

I know we do it. Because I hear/read the equivalent of “Boy, giraffes are selfish” in real life, sometimes in coffee shops, sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) on Facebook. Whenever I do, I recall this wonderful scene from TAGS.

I wish real life was as funny as The Andy Griffith Show. Because it’s one thing to create (and believe in) a world in which giraffes are selfish…but it’s another thing entirely to create a world in which we see enemies everywhere based on little more than the thoughts we’ve allowed to control us.

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