as the Path to True Love
By Joanne Friday
I was recently invited by the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation to share my experience of our practice here in the Mindfulness Bell. I feel that the Dharma is the greatest gift I have ever been given, so it is always a joy to share it.
During Winter Retreat, I have been practicing the paramitas with a group of Order of Interbeing members and aspirants. The paramitas are the qualities that we need to cultivate in order to go from the shore of suffering to the shore of freedom. In The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Thay tells us that the Buddha said, “Don’t just hope for the other shore to come to you. If you want to cross over to the other shore, the shore of safety, well-being, non-fear, and non-anger, you have to swim or row across. You have to make an effort.” So I decided to to follow directions and make the effort.
Once again, I find myself in awe and deeply moved by the transformative power of the way in which Thich Nhat Hanh has transmitted the Dharma to us. I have always known the paramitas as a path to freedom, and now I have also experienced them as a beautiful path to unconditional, true love.
In the paramita on diligence, we are invited to be mindful of our minds, to nurture all of the wholesome seeds that arise in our consciousness and replace the unwholesome ones. If there is a person with whom we have difficulties, our habits often lead us to become angry, judge, or criticize and blame that person. When we berate, belittle, and blame the other person, we nourish their most unwholesome seeds, the ones that upset us in the first place. Instead, we are invited to look deeply in order to understand that person’s suffering, and to see how we can water all of the wholesome seeds in them so they will suffer less and their highest and best selves will manifest. This practice of taking responsibility for co-creating my relationships, and taking good care of those with whom I am inter-being, has been revolutionary for me. When I practice this with people toward whom I once hardened my heart, it breaks my heart wide open and I am in love.
The paramita on patience or inclusiveness is a deep teaching on love. Thay tells us that when we practice inclusiveness, we accept a difficult person exactly as he is, without any expectation that he will ever change. This can create enough spaciousness for him to change if he chooses. We can use this practice with ourselves, as we are frequently our most difficult person. When we can accept ourselves, without stories about who we should be or regrets about what we have not done, we are suddenly free to simply experience life in the moment and respond to life as it is and as we are. This makes it easier for us to do the same for others. The energy of acceptance is deeply felt. If in the past I held on to a judgment or opinion about another person, it was felt and she was defensive.
When I can truly accept someone, wholeheartedly, just as she is, it is also felt. There is no need for defensiveness to arise, and real intimacy is possible. What a wonderful gift!
The first of the paramitas is generosity. Thay invites us to look deeply at all we have to offer. I have been moved to consider all that he has offered. He has suffered tremendously and practiced to transform that suffering and become the embodiment of true love. He is living proof that the practice works. He has devoted more than seventy years of his life to understanding the ways we can cut through the illusions and misperceptions that keep us trapped. He has looked deeply into the Buddha’s teachings and has distilled them into precious gems that are totally accessible and usable, and offered them to anyone who wants to be free. All of these ways to untie our knots, to take down the barriers we have built in our hearts, are gifts to us from Thay.
I always say that I feel there should be a seventh paramita of gratitude. Gratitude immediately takes me from the shore of suffering to the shore of freedom. I feel deep gratitude to have received such wonderful gifts that have allowed me to experience true love in this lifetime. It has also been a joy to see the transformation and healing that has taken place in so many others who have followed Thay’s teachings. The Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation came into being because some of Thay’s students felt that same gratitude. They wanted to use their gifts to create conditions to ensure that Thay’s teachings could continue and help countless future generations. I hope that our gratitude will motivate all of us to become a part of this effort in every way we can. There is no better way to thank someone who has given us the keys to happiness and freedom than to pass them on.
Joanne Friday, Chan Lac Thi (True Joy of Giving), is a Dharma teacher in the Order of Interbeing. In 2003, she received authority to teach from Thich Nhat Hanh, her teacher for twenty years. Joanne leads meditation retreats for Sanghas and groups throughout the US. She lives in Rhode Island, where she is the guiding teacher for the six Sanghas that comprise the Rhode Island Community of Mindfulness.