Protruding from the ground I noticed an exposed hand with a ring on one of the fingers, glistening in the sunlight. There was no way of telling whether it was a man or woman, but the ring symbolized for me a marriage, a bond of love, not just to another, but to God, to a life beyond racism, prejudices, and all forms of separation. To me the ring symbolized a marriage to the world, to dharma, and to the laws that govern this terrifying and beautiful existence which is so sick, so mysterious, so large, so utterly mad and gorgeous. At that moment, I realized that no matter what I knew or how free I assumed myself to be, my heart had a lot more room to open and for wisdom to grow. I asked myself, was it possible to rectify the split of god and devil in one’s own heart? Could I transcend love and hatred, good and evil, this world and nirvana? In that moment the notion of spiritual transcendence seemed preposterous and inhuman. The dharma was a means to embody our humanness, not to nullify it. I wanted god and the devil to kiss, not disappear as if they were a dream. Forgiveness suddenly seemed more important than the transcendence of duality.
JD: Are you suggesting that spiritual freedom is found through these human responses.
AC: I’m suggesting that our spiritual path should serve our humanness, not our projections of perfection.
In 1989 I led vipassana meditation at a conference in Los Angeles headlined by the Dalai Lama, who had just received the Nobel peace prize. He told the story of a monk in Tibet who he greatly admired. The Dalai Lama explained that this monk, known as “the Weeper” was given his name because he was so attuned to the suffering of others that he often wept. The Dalai Lama was deeply inspired by the Weeper’s highly developed compassion.
Now, weeping all the time isn’t your typical, well-adjusted Buddhist stereotype. In fact, in many spiritual circles one might be evaluated as traumatized, in denial of childhood dysfunction, and very likely be given prozac and put into psychotherapy. Yet this weeping monk was an inspiration to the Dalai Lama himself.
I was moved by this story. Now, after so many years of pursuing a path of transcendence, both of self and suffering, I’m more compelled to actually ‘be myself’ and feel the suffering, as well as enjoy the joy. It’s a much more natural way of connecting to the essence of mind, which is innately clear, wise and good. This is the role of meditation, or Bhavana in the Pali language, which means relaxing into the naturally unfolding beauty of consciousness.
JD: What is most urgently needed in the world today?
AC: A “revolution of the spirit” born from a conviction that lasting change occurs when we learn how to overcome our own fear and self-deception. It was Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma who introduced me to this style of revolution. In Burma the non-violent struggle for freedom against the dictatorship is called a “revolution of the spirit.” It’s a revolution rooted in inquiry and self-honesty. By facing the truth, one is in the best position to act from love and integrity rather than from fear.
The key to that revolution is courage, having the heart to question lies, propaganda and deception, while empowering one’s self as sovereign over the spiritual state of one’s own mind, and therefore achieving victory over the regime in power.
Courage is the root of all things great, having the heart to enter conflict with soul enough to forgive. The miracle of non-retribution happened in South Africa, where for three years the Truth Council, headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, encouraged testimony of bombings, maimings, murders and other atrocities committed during decades of apartheid. He told the people that “forgiveness was the only thing possible to end the bloodshed and make a new beginning.” That is having the courage to forgive.
JD: Your Buddhist training began in Burma, but now you’re blacklisted from Burma by the regime, because of your book of conversations with Aung San Suu Kyi, The Voice of Hope. Is that difficult?
AC: At times, yes, it is painful, but many people in Burma risk their lives daily for principles and values that provide a dignified existence. Their plight provides me with perspective on the little struggles I face.
The problems people face in the West are precisely opposite of those experienced by someone like Aung San Suu Kyi. We are also governed by a social structure which perpetuates inequities and political corruption, but in the absence of an identifiable enemy such as a brutal military dictatorship. Instead, we face a plague of apathy and anguish and a slow erosion of awareness. This is why meditation, evolving the skill to awaken awareness, is so necessary and precious. I have no doubt that it is the most effective means by which to transform all things for the better. It is because of the great need to counter indifference, hopelessness, and cynicism that I teach and why I feel meditation has individual, social and political relevance.
For information about Alan Clements' upcoming teaching schedule and to subscribe to his free monthly newsletter-broadcast, WorldDharma, visit his Internet Web site or telephone: 604-251-1781.
Jeannine Davies is a writer and free-lance journalist specializing in contemporary Eastern spirituality and Western psychology. You may contact her by eMail.