Freedom to Love
If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
Hate is not conquered by hate, hate is conquered by love.
Buddha’s Teachings, Dhammapada
We hold these truths to be self-evident … [that we are] endowed with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
United States Declaration of Independence
What is Liberty? What is Happiness? Is it the right to buy whatever we want? To do whatever we want? Or is it Freedom from suffering? Freedom from fear and oppression? Freedom from want?
Beloved brothers and sisters in America and around the world, we must now see that we are one people. Whether it is nuclear war, or the destruction of our food, water, and natural resources through reckless consumption -- these can cause us all so much harm.
Yet we continue to confuse Liberty with the pursuit of selfish desire, to confuse Happiness with the pursuit of wealth and sensual pleasure. We confuse progress with our ability to make and buy things, instead of seeing it as our capacity to love. And we confuse our own limited view with greater truth, neglecting to search for larger meaning, difficult to reach.
Jesus might ask us: what good is making a profit, of having a free market, if we are not creating real freedom and real happiness? Should we pursue profit while millions are hungry and dying in poverty?
How can we ask the poor, especially the children, all over Earth, to pursue freedom when they may have not met their basic needs?
From the gospels we have Jesus identifying with those who are neglected: “For I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.” If we do not help those in need, we cut ourselves off from life, from love.
We really are all in this together. And not just the people of Earth, but the whole Earth -- the plants, animals, air, soil, water. All depend on each other. It is only the practice of awareness, of love, that can lead us to experience this truth -- that we are one body, one life all together.
We stand at a great moment, and on a great precipice; one that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has warned us about: “Either we can live together as brothers and sisters or we perish together as fools.”
Jesus lived in a time not unlike ours -- in a society ravaged by inequity, division, oppression, and violence. The Buddha also faced violence and discrimination in his society. Yet both of these ordinary people, like us, and also children of God, like us -- they offered good news that they shared without discrimination. They shared a path of freedom, of understanding and love, of brotherhood and sisterhood, of peace and wellbeing that is available right here and now.
All of our spiritual ancestors are alive. All of the insight and wisdom of all the peoples of the Earth, of every time and tradition, of science and reason, is alive -- right here, right now, right in us. This is the Kingdom of God -- the power of love and life, right here in us. The good news is that suffering always carries within it the seeds of insight, and reveals the path of understanding, compassion, and wellbeing.This is the essence of the Buddha’s teaching. From Dr. King: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice”. Justice is not other than action infused with insight and understanding.
We are part of that "arc of Justice". We have something to do, something to cultivate. From the Christian tradition we have the term “Holy Spirit”. Today we could say, “the healthiest mind”. Healthy from Holy, whole, and mind from Spirit. One aspect of a healthy mind is our capacity to be present. Mindfulness, awareness, or awakening means being present and open to our experience -- embracing, investigating, and understanding it. This is presence. This is also love because awareness allows us to offer deep joy and friendship, as well as to see suffering and to see its roots. This is the basis of understanding and compassion. When we see with eyes of understanding and compassion we know immediately how to help.
With awareness we can recognize the universal forces of greed, hate, fear, and indifference within each of our hearts. We can learn to recognize, embrace, and transform these forces -- but we need help to do that. We need teachers, training, and community. Further, we must protect ourselves. We have to call on our media, our corporations, and on ourselves to stop watering the seeds of greed, division, violence, craving, and fear within us.
We must also learn how to reach out and communicate with others -- especially those who are angry and afraid, and those with differing views. It takes time to listen in order to understand.
It is possible to put the teachings of love into practice. Being less busy and living more simply will give us the time and space to connect, to help our neighbors, to cultivate the mind of love which is the Holy Spirit. We can turn off the TV, the computer, and the phone. We can work less, buy less, and spend more time with family and friends outdoors. We can share our mind of love, building our strength together in community. As we find refuge, let us offer refuge to all.
Without violence, we can protect all life -- ourselves, the water, the air and the soil. To do this we need courage, and a great act of courage is to stop, to be 100 percent present for this one precious moment of life. This is our freedom. This is our life. This is our chance to love.
In this the season of Hope, now is the time.
Brother True Dharma Fulfillment
(Brother Fulfillment is a monastic brother with Christian roots living at Blue Cliff Monastery.)