The Lessons of Love-as printed in the Murfreesboro Pulse April 2011 by Felicia Searcy
Every religious tradition teaches love. Yet even with all of the words about loving one another, it is still one of the most difficult things for people to do. It is easy when we have warm and fuzzy feelings toward someone else. But, the awakened masters teach that real love includes our enemies. Their teaching is radical and just down right difficult at times.
From the Gospel of the Egyptians we read, “It is no benefit to you in loving only those who love you. Great benefit comes by loving those who hate you.” From the Dhammapada we read, “You will only become free by loving those who hate you.” And from The Tao Te Ching we read, “Do not dismiss those who are evil as unworthy. If you are wise, you will save all men.”
These words seem so counterintuitive to our natural way of thinking and acting. It sounds good in theory but if we tried live that way in the real world, then people would run all over us.
Yet imagine an alternative. What if you loved the way the masters taught. You would understand that true freedom came from your ability to love without restraint because love is who you are and what you do. Unhappiness, anger and fear occur when we act contrary to our true nature.
To love as the awakened ones taught means to see ourselves in others. Jesus said to love our neighbor as ourselves which means that when I look at you, I see me. Now this is easy when I am looking at someone who resembles me But to be truly free, we have to stretch beyond our limited world and see ourselves in the very people we want to destroy.
How can that make us free? Well, look around and notice how fear of the “enemy” keeps us trapped in a tiny, insecure corner of the world. There is a saying that the jailer is as trapped as the jailed because he/she must be there to make sure the captive stays under lock and key.
Let’s unpack this a bit more. When I get angry at another and do something to harm them, the act originates in me as a thought and a feeling. Science has shown the destructive effects of violent feelings on our bodies. Not only do I suffer from physiological effects of those toxic emotions, I suffer when I act out of fear and anger. I punch you, my hand hurts. I commit an act of violence against you, I live with the effects and consequences.
Then there are the far reaching effects. Our world is simply too small for us to be immune to the ways we hurt each other. There is no place to hide. The nuclear crisis in Japan shows that there are no more isolate incidences as the radiation makes its way across the Pacific. I simply cannot harm you without harming myself.
This is not to say that we allow ourselves to become doormats. We hold people accountable for their destructive behaviors. But trouble comes when we mistakenly expect people from certain traditions or cultures to act in unacceptable ways. As we expect so we treat. We treat people according to our mistaken prejudices which perpetuates the hate and anger the master teachers warned against. Instead, the enlightened masters invite us to see ourselves in others and to offer compassion even while we hold people accountable.
We change the way we love by taking time to understand others and getting to know those we have rejected. We let go of our opinions and judgments and deeply question our assumptions. We recognize that we all have the same desires and longings. We share the same frustrations, hopes, dreams and fears. We may wear different clothes, eat different foods, worship in different postures, but at the end of the day, we all worry when our kids come home too late or grieve over the loss of a loved one.
So, as our community continues to grapple with how to open our doors to those we see as our enemies, let’s listen more deeply to what our teachers say about love. Let’s look around and see ourselves in our neighbors, all of them, and learn what it means to be truly free.