Thursday, January 10, 2008

Liberation of Creatures: Further Commentary

In the lengthy Perfectly Natural Reaction post, below, I discuss certain elements of the framework of practice in classical terms, i.e. comparing all sentient beings to one's parents. This is how it has been evoked for centuries: this is the traditional exposition.

Yet--- and I have briefly touched on this elsewhere--- I do recognize that many westerners fancy themselves to experience great difficulty using the memory of their parents to rouse bodhicitta. In fact, many westerners believe this to be a "uniquely western" circumstance, and demand that lamas make all sorts of accommodations. However, I would like to point out that this is not a peculiarly or uniquely western situation. For example: in Tibet, it was not uncommon to wrench youngsters from their parents at a very early age and send them off to the monastery. Many of these children -- some as young as five or six -- never saw their parents again. As they became older, they would of course hear these comparisons and they would think, "I don't even know my mother. How can I equate my experience of my mother with my feelings toward all sentient beings." More often than not, these were private thoughts -- in the old days one didn't have the luxuries one has now: one didn't confront teachers or go strutting about, mouthing off. Tibetan monasteries were not democratic institutions, you know?

In recent years, I have come to understand that a seemingly large number of people have very conflicted feelings about their parents. I have been absolutely astounded to hear stories about parental abuse. These things are so foreign to my own experience that I confess I was shocked. I simply had no frame of reference.

I do not think it is useful to avoid these feelings. It would seem that many people are still struggling with issues of forgiveness, and that their struggle is clouding their understanding of bodhicitta. So, I think one should confront these issues head on, and come to some sort of emotional resolution as quickly as possible. I recognize that this is not necessarily a "quick" process, but I still think a certain speed is essential. It is a medical certainty that people who exercise forgiveness live longer, healthier lives than those who do not or cannot.

In a worst-case scenario, let us assume that you were abused by a parent, and now you don't know how to grip the unconscious aspects of the experience. You may have intellectualized the conscious aspects, but the unconscious aspects keep evading you. For example: you may have a particularly disturbed or suspicious thought process around the holidays. You may be playing the perfect host, or hostess, but something comes up to throw you off.

Holidays in your childhood may have been a nightmare of drunken beatings. You may be overtly attempting to rectify this by making your own version of the holidays picture perfect, but something always comes up to throw you off. Maybe you, yourself, have begun drinking. Maybe you, yourself, are unconsciously seeking to return to the chaos in order to fix it. Maybe you are unconsciously and continually seeking cathartic episodes -- like the ones in your childhood -- simply because that is your only experience with love or what passes for love. So, you are covertly derailing what you are overtly trying to fix.

Please look at an image of Padmasambhava, or of your teacher, or of your yidam. I can assure you that you are loved unconditionally. I can absolutely promise you this. There is no mistake. Somewhere in this universe, you are loved unconditionally. What you must do is learn to gradually exchange your experience of broken love for this other love -- this unconditional love that is continually being offered to you by all the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions.

People usually take one of two approaches to an injury. Either they say, "I'm going to find a way to help others who have received, or are about to receive this injury," or they become quite cold and callous. In the case of parental abuse, this is insidious, because the childhood coping mechanism may include withdrawal, or the deadening of one's emotions.

So, along with the exchange of experience -- or "replacing memory" -- there is the additional task of confronting the experiences head on and putting them to good use.

Thus, if your mother beat you without mercy in a drunken rage, brought sailors home to join in the horror, and if you simply cannot work up any family feeling for her at all, then try thinking that all sentient beings have, at one time or another, experienced like and similar abuse. Try thinking that the poor creatures in front of you have been abused, and that it is likely they will be abused again --- it is likely they will be killed -- but, because they have met you, they have the opportunity to experience something beneficial.

They have this opportunity because you are a Buddhist, and in some respects, that makes you a messenger of that unconditional love of which I spoke earlier.

I want to add that, as time goes by, you will stop being the messenger and you will become the message.

To do otherwise is to become that thing you find it difficult to forgive.

I am always praying for your happiness.

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