I’m still very new to the practice of Buddhism. And yet, in the short time that I have been practicing, I’ve felt very…free. Free to be myself, to be the person I was always meant to be. I know that I have my work cut out for me on my journey to becoming the greatest version of myself, but I’m not scared of the journey anymore, because I feel completely free to pursue it to the best of my ability.
It wasn’t long after taking refuge that I began to feel a responsibility to others as part of my practice. I knew that by undertaking this new approach to life my approach to other people would have to change. My understanding of Buddhism as a beginner is that my goal is to transform the suffering in my life into joy, so that I can later help others to do the same. That’s no small task, and quite frankly, when the idea was first proposed to me I felt very overwhelmed. I knew I had to break it down into something small. Something doable. Right about the time I was contemplating this, I found the above quote from Nelson Mandela. That’s when I knew where to start.
How was I supposed to “…live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”? For me, the answer was found in judgment and criticism, and learning to avoid those at all costs.
You see, I grew up in a home where criticism and judgment were the common currency. I learned from a very early age to criticize anything or anyone that I didn’t like or agree with. I learned to judge others unfairly, even harshly at times. Because we are often the products of our conditioning, and because judgment and criticism were so commonplace in my home, they became second nature to me. For most of my young life I have criticized others unfairly without hesitation. I have judged others very harshly without second thought. I have hurt people that I cared about by being critical and judgmental. And the worst part is that, in most cases, I’ve blamed the other person for their response and taken no blame on myself. It was always their fault that they reacted in the way that they did. After all, I was just “telling it like it is”. I can’t tell you how many times I used that phrase to justify harsh judgment and unfair criticism.
I knew that being a Buddhist means respecting everyone and everything around, whether or not you agree, simply because they are people too. So my wife and I made a commitment to both learn to let go of criticism and to practice non-judgment. With each other for accountability partners, we have both spent the last few months doing our best to practice non-judgment. It hasn’t been easy, especially with all the death and violence in the news recently. But I’m getting a little better. I find that, as I throw myself into my practice, as I meditate and chant and recite the Dharma day after day, I feel a little more free each time. And as I enter into my own freedom more and more often, the more I want to respect and enhance the freedom of others. It’s feeling much less like an obligation and more like something I want to do, because I know it’s the right thing to do. After all, what good is my freedom, if it doesn’t help others find their own?
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be well.
May all beings love and care for themselves.
May all beings be blissfully at ease.
May all beings find peace.