Everybody has freedom

6.5 mins read.

Here is a quick article to share something that has been helping me of late and that might help you if you’re anything like me. Coincidentally, sitting in one of my favorite cafés, enjoying a coffee as big as my head, and eavesdropping as usual, I just heard:

Whittier cafe“Everyone is supposed to do what they want to do.” “Agreed. We are all free agents.”

Which is what I wanted to talk about. Geshe Kelsang often says:

Everybody has freedom.

Well, on one level, we really don’t because we are bound and trapped by our delusions and karma. But on the other hand everyone needs to follow their own wishes and has to follow their own karma, and meditating on this has been helping me to stop feeling discouraged that I can’t help more people.

Yeah, you heard that right. There are always some people who “get” us and listen to our wise words of counsel or follow our fantastic example, and there are others who just don’t and won’t. And all power to them. Why should they.

Always rely upon a happy mind alone

In general, I love that Lojong commitment to “Always rely upon a happy mind alone” because it alerts me to when a delusion is brewing, even when it is masquerading as love or superior intention. How do I know? Because I stop feeling so relaxed. I personally prefer to feel super relaxed day and night, so I have learned to tell when tension is beginning to simmer.

disappointmentRecently, I was wondering where some inner tension was coming from. And I detected an old culprit. Over the years, every now and then I want to control people. It is not obvious, not even to me; but when I look carefully I notice that I am becoming discouraged or disappointed because people I feel some responsibility for give up their meditation practice or stop going for refuge or whatever it is. Alternatively, they don’t get interested in meditation in the first place, even though I have tried as painstakingly and skillfully as I can to explain how great it is.

Disappointment only comes from attachment, in this case attachment to them doing what I think they should be doing because it would be good for them. I can’t give any examples, I’m afraid, because that would be too obvious. You know who you are! (Kidding, you have no idea.)

Okay, one example, just to embarrass them. I was thinking about how much my mom and dad would benefit from meditation practice. This is not a new thought — I have had it on and off for almost 40 years. Truth is, however, they are just perfect already. Sure, they could maybe do with more refuge, like everyone else, who couldn’t. But I decided quite awhile ago to just let them be, mentally speaking, and just appreciate them and everyone else unconditionally. As always, I also handed them over into the care of Buddha Tara, reciting Tara’s mantra as a request to all 21 Taras to keep them safe and well.

(Quick seguey: This is not least because Geshe-la once told me that my parents have a strong connection with Buddha Tara. This happened to be on the same occasion that he suggested I stopped preaching Dharma to my parents and just have “normal conversations”. Funny thing is, I hadn’t told him I was preaching, not at all, so I was a bit taken aback when he brought it up. I was preaching, though. I was 18 at the time. I had found Dharma and I was preaching to everyone. Lol.

Tara playWhile on the subject of Geshe-la and my parents – after he met them in London some decades ago, he told me they were “very spiritual”, while closing his eyes and gently rubbing his heart. I have been meaning to let them know that for years, so there it is.)

In any event, during a Skype conversation that I had with these same parents about an hour ago (discussing amongst other things how there is no point people watching the stock market right now amidst all these coronavirus fears unless they want their minds to go up and down as quickly as the Dow), my 84-year-old dad volunteered out of the blue: “I have been saying that mantra “OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SOHA”. He does it at the end of his Pilates class when they all sit “sort of cross legged” for a few minutes.

Nuff said.

Abandon all hope for results

It never works to push. Not externally, obviously, as nothing is more off-putting than feeling judged or found wanting under the guise of someone being interested in your spiritual development. But just as importantly internally, tying our hopes into people Fat Panda 2responding to our attempts to help them in the way we think they oughta. It’s ridiculous, really, when you see it written down in black and white. We can barely control our own minds let alone anyone else’s.

This is where I love contemplating Geshe-la’s phrase “Everybody has freedom.” When I meditate on that, I lose all desire to fix outcomes. Instead I just want to be here for people if they need or want me and to offer what help I can while “abandoning all hope for results” as it says in Lojong. Everyone has their own karma and everyone sees a different world – I sometimes think we are all just going around looking in a mirror. As a friend Doug said to me the other day, “We are all doing the best we can based on what we know.”

Like I said, sometimes people “get you”, and see what you are trying to show them. Other times they don’t. But it doesn’t matter. They have their own freedom. They have their own path and journey. What I can control is my own mind. That’s it. I can practice all the stages of Sutra and Tantra instead of trying to fix this dream from the outside in.

Also, I doubtless disappoint people all the time in my failure to “get” them. Sorry!

Fat Panda

Why do I have expectations of certain people and not the vast majority of others? That is just grasping at me and mine, nothing to do with pure love. As one Fat Pandaexample, I don’t mind that our current foster cat Fat Panda (real name Alissa) doesn’t get it. She doesn’t get much at all, to be honest. But I don’t care. She doesn’t have to get anything or do anything for me to respect her and wish her happiness. And if any of you are in need of a cuddly cat who lost her tail, she’s your girl.

Patient acceptance

If you find you have attachment to the people close to you (“me and mine”) responding in certain ways to your efforts, disappointed when they won’t or can’t, my suggestion is to try and let go of the grasping and let the chips fall as they may. Everyone has freedom. It is ok. This is a practice of patience, of welcoming wholeheartedly whatever arises without wishing it were otherwise. We can use every appearance, no matter how seemingly disappointing, as a motivation to increase our wisdom and attain enlightenment. This is hugely more relaxing, for a start, and I would argue that we need to be relaxed before we can fully generate all the other positive states of mind.

gesheturtle

Over the decades, a lot of people have found Kadampa Buddhism and gotten really close to Geshe Kelsang and then, for whatever reason, gone away. I’ve had a chance to observe him sometimes when this has happened, and he has never seemed too bothered. He knows that everyone has freedom. I think he has a far more long-term view and confidence in his disciples and others, always relating to the future Buddha within. He just carries on offering Buddhism to whoever wants it, to whoever gets it, but with equal no-strings-attached love and respect for everyone. “Try, don’t worry” is one of his sayings. His relaxed and always light-hearted example is incredibly helpful to me.

That’s some quick thoughts on the subject. Over to you for any comments.

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Attachment to the status quo 

Falling in love (again) according to Buddhism

I’m continuing with the subject of love, desire and attachment started in this article.

Our attachment can be very strong. We’re in love with the idea of love in this society. It sometimes seems as if our whole society is focused on finding the right person — we need someone to complete us. We can’t be happy on our ownsome. “I need someone to give me that security, to hold my hand in the movies. That person is waiting. I know there’s happiness waiting somewhere for me. The credits will roll for me.” (Don’t you find it interesting how the credits roll just at that point when people have finally landed in each other’s arms – they have to be quick about it, too, before the story proceeds any further.)

As time goes on in our search for the ideal partner, we are often willing to settle for less. This is because when we are young, half an hour in front of the mirror can make us look like a million dollars, but as we get older we need that half an hour just to make ourselves look vaguely presentable. In an article about baby boomers not too long ago, the implication was that we are not allowed to get old or stop searching for the ideal partner. No, we are simply “seasoned”, like a well cooked leg of lamb or a rusty frying pan. Apparently there are umpteen books explaining how you can attract someone even into your sixties, seventies, eighties… It isn’t all on the outside, but it does help if you take care of your appearance and, if you can afford the nips and tucks, go ahead! It doesn’t ever stop! You’re not even allowed to relax when you’re seventy, much less when you’re under forty. According to this article, you’re not encouraged to recall that you’ve already had a partner (or five) and don’t want to go through all of that again.

What might Buddha say about this? Not that people should never partner up, or should be scared away from love. Perhaps that seeking happiness so desperately from outside in any form is a fool’s game as it is incapable of giving us real or lasting happiness. Especially if the other person is as neurotic as we are!  How are they going to give us security when they can’t even find it themselves?

Falling in love (again)

So let’s look at the kind of thing that happens when we fall in love. If our attachment comes on strong, it is like falling in a ditch — completely out of our control.

Let’s say we’re hanging out with good friends. We’re having a whale of a time, joking, affectionate, enjoying a great night out, until suddenly a really attractive person (to our eyes) walks into the restaurant. Suddenly our happiness is over there. We’re feeling a bit bereft. We’re fast forgetting about our friends because now it’s, “I’ve got to meet that person!” Then they walk out the door, taking our happiness with them!

The scheming begins. How to get their number, set up a date, have their kids. There seem to be three stages to this kind of desire—scheming, indulging, and recovery. Scheming – they are going to complete me, this is it!  Maybe we’re lucky enough and we do get their phone number, their email. We wait by the phone – are people still waiting by the phone now?  Well, in the old days, before we were plugged 24/7 into the cloud, it went something like this: “I’ll just go buy some groceries, I’ll be away for an hour or so, then by the time I’ve got home they are bound to have called.” But no messages. No emails either. Nowadays, maybe no texts, or FB messages. This is painful. We get a call from our best friend, “No, I can’t talk just now, I can’t tie up the line”, then another from our mom, and we try not to sound too disappointed, “Yes, I know you gave birth to me but ….” Any addiction we had to email and Facebook is now really overpowering, but at the same time none of our messages is of the slightest interest.

Then maybe the right caller ID or a relevant email does show up, and, ecstatically relieved, we do manage to hook up. We take a thousand photos of our happiness on our Smart phone, from every angle. Everything about them is delicious and special – their perfume, their eating habits, the way they drive… They can do no wrong. The fact that others don’t get it, or even see faults in our angel, is just a sad indictment on their lack of discrimination.

This phase of romantic indulgence goes on, they tell us from studies, for about six months.

Then at some point we say to this person, “Honey, I really love you and want you to be happy.” And they reply, “I’m really glad to hear you say that because I’ve been taking ballroom dancing classes and I’ve fallen for Giovanna, she’s Italian.”  Suddenly everything goes pear-shaped. That wasn’t what we meant.  We say, “But I didn’t want you to be happy if you’re not giving me happiness!”

Now all the objects of happiness are causes of suffering. The same perfume is now unbearable, the same car is a horrible reminder. All the things that seemed causes of our happiness are now causes of our pain. Maybe we take all their stuff and throw it out of the window. “Take all of your stuff and get out!”  We think it’s all their fault, but really the scales have fallen from our eyes and we are realizing that they weren’t the source of our happiness to begin with.

With attachment, we are set up from the get go for disillusionment when that person inevitably cannot deliver the happiness we sought in them, when they cannot live up to our hype. We need time to recover because thwarted attachment is very, very painful. It can make people feel down for months. It can drive people to kill themselves. And it is very dangerous because when we’re in the indulging phase it can look so good that we forget its outcome and fall for it time and time again.

As mentioned, attachment is called “sticky desire” If you have hairy arms, you can try this experiment, if not you’ll just have to imagine it. Plaster a sticky band aid onto your arm, leave it for a bit, and then tear it off. How does that feel? At some point also we are separated one way or another from our object of attachment, and it hurts. Tears. We often want to lash out.

In Transform Your Life, Geshe Kelsang says:

“If we are skillful, friends can be like treasure chests, from whom we can gain the precious wealth of love, compassion, patience, and so forth. For our friends to function in this way, however, our love for them must be free from attachment. If our love for our friends is mixed with strong attachment, it will be conditional on their behaving in ways that please us, and as soon as they do something we disapprove of, our fondness for them may turn to anger.”

Honey on a razor’s edge

Buddha used an exquisite analogy for attachment: it is like licking honey from a razor’s edge. If we want just the honey, we need to get rid of the attachment. But we don’t need to get rid of the intimacy or closeness. We can have that closeness without attachment. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be close to others but there’s everything wrong with trying to be close to others through attachment. In fact, strong attachment actually makes us hungrier, we can never get enough.

It is only with love that the gap between people is bridged. In attachment, it’s all about a dualistic “me and you”; we’re not actually in union. Because the object of attachment is necessarily “out there”, and we are “in here”, we can never get close to it any more than a donkey can catch up to the carrot on the stick. True intimacy, true “us”, comes from love – affectionate, cherishing, and wishing love.

Since this article, I have written some more on this popular subject here: Love without pain and Want better relationships?

Your turn: what do you think about Buddha’s analysis of love and attachment from your own experience?