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Lions Roar : July 2017
DEAR FRIENDS, after more than forty years teaching mind- fulness and compassion to thousands on the spiritual path, the most important message I can offer is this: You don’t have to wait to be free. You don’t need to postpone being happy. All too often these beautiful spiritual practices of mind- fulness and compassion become entwined with a vision of self-discipline and duty. We see them as taking us through a long road of obstacles that leads eventually to distant benefits. Yes, there is hard work of the heart and there are demanding cycles in our lives. Yet wherever you are on your journey, there is another wonderful truth called “living the fruit” or “starting with the result.” The fruits of well-being and the experience of joy, freedom, and love are available now, whatever your circumstance! When Nelson Mandela walked out of Robben Island prison after twenty-seven years of incarceration, he did so with such dignity, magnanimity, and forgiveness that his spirit transformed South Africa and inspired the world. Like Mandela, you can be free and dignified wherever you find yourself. However difficult your circumstances, however uncertain the times, remember, freedom is not reserved for exceptional people. No one can imprison your spirit. When your boss calls and you feel fear or anxiety, when someone in your family is in conflict or duress, when you feel overwhelmed by the growing problems of the world, you have choices. You can be bound and constricted or you can use this difficulty to open and discover how to respond wisely in this unfolding journey. Sometimes life gives us ease, sometimes it is challenging, and sometimes it is profoundly painful. Sometimes the whole society around you is in upheaval. Whatever your circumstances, you can take a breath, soften your gaze, and remember that courage and freedom are within, waiting to awaken and to offer to others. Even under the direst conditions, freedom of spirit is avail- able. Freedom of spirit is mysterious, magnificent, and sim- ple. We are free and able to love in this life—no matter what. Deep down we know this is true. We know it whenever we feel a part of something greater—listening to music, making love, walking in the mountains or swimming in the sea, sit- ting at the mystery of a dying loved one as her spirit leaves her body silently as a falling star, or witnessing the miraculous birth of a child. At times like these, a joyful openness swells through our body and our heart is surrounded by peace. look at what you really believe about yourself. Am I worthy of well-being and joy? Am I worthy of happiness? The beau- tiful truth is that joy and freedom are your true nature. This discovery is one of the most wonderful gifts that you can bring into the world. Of course, with your joy you also bring your tears, because both the unbearable beauty and the ocean of tears that make up human incarnation will present themselves to an awak- ened heart. So at times you weep. Then you reach your hands out in spontaneous compassion to do what you can to allevi- ate the sorrows of others. But you will not allow that to be the end of the story. You won’t let the suffering paralyze your heart. Normally we are too loyal to our suffering, but you realize that who you are is so much bigger than what has happened to you in the past. Who you are is consciousness itself, the pure awareness that is able to hold and express love in any circumstance. Your own background is in the Vipassana teachings of Thera- vada Buddhism, but when you talk about fundamental good- ness, buddhanature, and a fruitional approach, you sound more like a Mahayana or even Vajrayana Buddhist. I’m glad you asked that, Melvin, because that is a common delusion. [Laughter] The different Buddhist traditions actu- ally don’t understand each other very well, because they’ve been separate for thousands of years. The principles I’m talking about are an integral part of the Theravada teachings. The great master Ajahn Chah taught about what he called original mind—the true, undying nature of consciousness. Various good and bad experiences happen to us. The point is, to whom do these experiences happen? It’s only when you turn your attention back to the one who knows, and the knowing itself, that liberation is possible. Then you discover the pure consciousness or pure awareness, the original mind, which is the witness of all these experiences. Because this is the nature of consciousness itself—this is who you are. As Sri Nisargadatta said, “Wisdom says that I am nothing. Love says that I am everything. Between these two, my life flows.” The deep teachings on emptiness in the Heart and Diamond sutras, are the same as the Theravada teachings in the Dhammapada, which liken the ephemeral nature of real- ity to a flash of lightning, an echo, a rainbow, or dream. At the same time, love says I am everything. As we become wise, and the heart becomes free, we become able to hold the paradox of life: that there’s a dimen- sion of absolute freedom to consciousness, which at the same time is born into this body that we will leave at the time of our physical death. ➢ page 81 Don’t Wait to Be Happy! A heartfelt message to us from JACK KORNFIELD LION’S ROAR | JULY 2017 44