Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Free will wills freedom

We continue with the discussion of the patience of not retaliating.

We get angry at others because they fail to fulfill our wishes.  Our attachment then seeks to control others so that they act in the ways we want them to.  Hegel’s categorical imperative, interestingly, points to a Buddhist answer to this problem.  For him, the categorical moral imperative of living beings is “free will must will freedom,” in other words, we use whatever free will we have to will the freedom of others, which is quite similar to bodhichitta – we use our own liberation to liberate others.  Practically, though, this primarily means learning to let go of controlling others and to instead respect their freedom to make their own choices.

Sometimes, if we are in a position of responsibility, we may think that we have to control people to get things that need to get done done.  But there is a big difference between being responsible and being controlling.  If we are responsible and somebody is helping us out in some way, and we need them to do certain things, we can present to them choices that are reasonable.  For example, it is entirely appropriate for an employer to say certain responsibilities need to be carried out if the other person wants to remain an employee.  Since they know the consequences of their decisions, after we leave it up to them to decide.

In the context of relationships, we generally try to control the other person to do what we want them to do to fulfil our wishes.  But we need to make a distinction between helping people and having attachment that they change. We usually have a very good Dharma excuse why the other person needs to change their behavior so we feel justified in controlling them or manipulating them.  But in reality, we are trying to change them to conform with our needs and wishes, not theirs. A Dharma practitioner has no personal need that others change, including no need for them to practice Dharma.  It suits us just fine that other people are all screwed up.  We help people when they seek out our help, but we have no need to change them. We genuinely give people freedom without emotional penalty if they make choices that don’t correspond with our wishes.

Very often we will see people acting in strange of silly ways that we know are wrong.  Sometimes when somebody has a silly idea, Geshe-la will go along with it even though he knows it is a bad idea.  Why does he do this?  First of all, because he sees there is no real harm, and what is most important is that he maintain a very good relationship with the person.  Second, he gives the person a chance to learn from their mistakes.  Allowing the person to continue, later they will see that they have made a mistake and learn from it.  He has such a sense of responsibility for each and every individual that he gives us total freedom.  It seems like it should be the opposite, but because he wants us to grow, he gives us freedom.  We can only grow in freedom.  We still need to guide those who seek our advice, but we never control them.  They come to us for help, we guide them as to what THEY need to do for them.  Then we leave it up to them to decide what to do, and we accept them whatever their choice is. 

We also need to learn skillful means to help people realize their mistakes from their own side.  We need the skillful means to get people to think that the idea they now have was their own. When people come to a conclusion on their own, it is their conclusion, and then they never lose it.  When it is our conclusion that they follow, it doesn’t penetrate deeply enough into their mind.  When we disempower people by controlling them, we don’t give them a chance to learn to think for themselves and develop their own wisdom.  We think we are helping them by controlling them, but actually we are stifling them. 

One of the most important skills we need to learn is to just listen to others, fully and completely.  Even if we feel what they’re saying is wrong, our job is to listen. Listen to what they have to say. Listening is a training in and of itself.  We have to learn how to listen fully, and I think especially we must be able to listen to those who are turning to us for help.  Normally we think they need to listen to us, but it is actually the opposite.  We need to help people feel like we genuinely appreciate discussing things with them, and we benefit from the exchange of views.  The way we can do this is for it to be true, we genuinely do appreciate discussing things with them.  How can we develop such appreciation – just actually listen to them and their point of view? It depends upon humility and faith that they are emanations.

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