I felt that our coming together on Wednesdays captures the four paths. When we meditate for one hour, we are walking on the path of psychology, observing the working of our own mind and developing equanimity. When we reflect on passages like this, we are indulging in the path of knowledge. When we have a few minutes of gratitude at the end, that is when we practice love. When CFMom makes food for us, when volunteers serve it, and help cleanup or stuff smile cards later, we are walking on the path of work. Infact, by our very act of coming together on a Wednesday, we have chosen to share our pursuit with others and thereby support each other's journeys. That itself is an example of selfless work.
I found myself wondering what Swami V meant by "freedom," attaining which, one experiences "unspeakable bliss." Having just returned from a 10-day retreat (the path of psychology, to be sure), the explanation fresh in my mind was "freedom from mental defilements."
It is pertinent to share two insights from the 10-day, that connect with freedom. Although my wife's Ayurvedic instructions helped me a lot to eat well, and I had pretty much stopped overeating this time, by Day 3, I still had stomach problems, and Day 4, like the last 10-day, was a very hard day. For some reason, most other people I spoke to on Day 10 also struggled on Day 4. In the session that the Vipassana technique was given, I was writhing in pain and dancing in the seated position. Then something shifted. The pain disappeared, but the writhing did not. Imagine the comedy of the situation - I'm observing an actor dancing around in pain, except that there is no pain and the actor and audience are one! Who is dancing? Who is witnessing? As these thoughts arose, so did a big grin. I had caught myself overreacting. I felt as if all the times I've overreacted this year came to me in an instant. The dancing stopped immediately, never to trouble me for the rest of the course, although the pain came and went as it chose to. Freedom to laugh at myself. Freedom to catch the "I" steal the peace of the "I."
The second big insight was at two levels: micro and macro. Micro: The cause of a lot of problems in life are due to the craving of inner peace (or freedom from defilements). As long as this insidious craving exists, there can be no inner peace. This craving disguises itself as a noble and even spiritual pursuit, and is anything but. Connects to an iJourney passage earlier this year. Genuine inner peace can only start arising when the reaction to craving starts ceasing. Macro: The craving for world peace/freedom/social justice/social equality/social welfare are all insidious cravings. Taking world peace as the example, as long I crave for this, it is guaranteed that in the world I live in, at least one person is not in peace - myself. If most in my world are craving for world peace, then we will have a world there is mostly no world peace. The so-called "positive cravings" are much more dangerous than the "negative cravings," for it is much easier to get false feedback on supporting noble-sounding missions, spurring us on to deepen our misery. The only way I can contribute to world-peace or any of these noble goals is by ignoring these cravings, balancing my mind and deepening in equanimity.
What is a good test to see if I'm growing in freedom? Two questions were given at the retreat: Am I developing in gratitude? Am I giving without expectations? I can only say yes to both when the self-centered behavior recedes.
How do we develop this freedom? Two decisions we might make that help us grow in freedom are to practice awareness and equanimity.
I loved Nipun's sharing of Rev. Heng Sure's colleague who refuses to accept anything at all from anyone. When the other monks asked their teacher what this meant, as they had been told to accept gifts from others, the teacher told them that interaction with others also created a link or a bondage. For many monks who chose to serve, they'd have to give up some freedom out of great compassion for others.
In short, this might be considered the Bodhisattva's value system - these are the folks who refuse to accept what they consider full liberation (although ready for it) until every last blade of grass has been liberated! There are many who believe that we are all latent Bodhisattvas. What a thought!
But the questioning mind asks, "I can believe that I am compassionate like a Bodhisattva and stop working toward my freedom. How do I know I'm not copping out; not fooling myself?"
From some unknown depth comes this thought: Only when we experience some degree of freedom for ourselves can there be genuine compassion for others, for wanting them to experience freedom as well. Compassion that does not come from a space of genuine freedom is no compassion, it is serious confusion that can lead only to more misery, more bondage. How do we check what genuine freedom is? How many times do "I" come in the act of compassion? How much do "I" include in compassion? What do "I" find myself not free to include or not free to exclude?
The question is the answer. The answer is the question.