I Give, Therefore I Am
By Eknath Easwaran
By Eknath Easwaran
Our age has been called the age of anger, and it is true that we are living in one of the most violent periods in history. But there is no reason for anybody to be left to the mercy of these storms, whether they be physical or verbal, whether they happen on the streets, on the battle field, or in the home. Meditation and the allied disciplines enable you to take your convictions deeper and deeper into consciousness, so that they become a constant source of strength and security – even when you are severely challenged or threatened.
Whatever your field of activity, this is a most valuable asset. Life does not always throw roses; sometimes it throws tomatoes, or even heavy bricks. Today someone praises you, tomorrow they will blame you. Today your friends appreciate you, tomorrow the same friends will deprecate you – that is the nature of the world. But if your convictions and your desire to love are established deep in your consciousness, your conduct will not be influenced by anger or the desire to retaliate. At the depths, you will be unaffected when others are hostile to you, so you will be free to respond in a way that helps both them and yourself. It is not that you will not suffer or be hurt, but you will no longer get afraid and try to run away. You will feel the grief of others deeply, but you will also have the resources to help them.
The more you look upon your life as a trust for the benefit of others, the less complicated – and the more effective and satisfying – your work and relationships will become. For most of us, dealing with other people is a very laborious process. “If I do this, is he going to like me?” “If I don’t do this, how is she going to react?” Dwelling on ourselves like this exhausts us and undermines our security. Those who keep on thinking about their own needs, their wants, their plans, their ideas cannot help becoming lonely and insecure. The simple but effective technique I recommend is to learn to put other people first – beginning within the circle of your family and friends, where there is already a basis of love to build on. When husband and wife try to put each other first, for example, they are not only moving closer to each other; they are also removing the boundaries that separate them from the rest of life, which deepens their relationships with everyone else as well.
By putting the welfare of those around you first, you will gradually find it natural to focus your energy and creativity into a single sharp beam: how much can I give to those around me? Instead of asking “How much will I get?” or “What will they think of me?” your only question will be, “How much can I contribute to this situation?” The trustee’s motto is “I give, therefore I am.”
Sometimes I picture the mind as a freeway with many wide lanes leading to loneliness and despair – lanes like anger, greed, and fear. On the other side of the freeway, there is just one narrow lane that heads toward peace and a healthy earth: the lane of love. When you meditate on the prayer of St. Francis, going through the verses as slowly as possible, bringing your attention back every time it wanders – even if you have to bring it back twenty times in the space of a half hour – you are learning to drive your mind in one and the same lane: the lane of love, patience, and forgiveness. And during the day, by trying not to dwell on your personal interests but focusing instead on the needs of others, you can deepen the effectiveness of your meditation.
Once you have learned this marvelous skill of staying in the same lane, always putting the welfare of others first, you become free to respond with skill and judgment, even under fierce attack. In order to get angry or greedy or afraid, the mind has to change lanes. When you have learned to drive in only one lane, no attack or misfortune can make you unloving or unwise.
When you love like this, you begin to know what real freedom is. Nothing can keep you from loving. You live in a world that is whole, no longer divided between allies and enemies, exploiter and exploited. You swim free in a sea of love, at home with all people, all nature, and all creatures.
If I could rewrite Shakespeare’s play, I would cast King Lear as a person who learns from Cordelia never to ask “How much do you love me?” Instead he would resolve to love more: Goneril, Regan, Cordelia, even the Fool. Goneril would accomplish far less evil, for she would not be able to draw power by playing on his affections; Cordelia would not have to die to try to save him. In the evening of his life he would turn his face to the stars and say, “Look upon a man as full of joy as he is of love.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of many who have learned from Gandhi the tremendous power of such love. “I had almost despaired of the power of love in solving social problems,” wrote Dr. King in 1960. The ‘turn the other cheek’ philosophy and the ‘love your enemies’ philosophy are only valid, I felt, when individuals are in conflict with other individuals. . . . As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished. . . .” He explained, “Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale.”
In the following excerpt from a talk Dr. King gave in 1967, listen to the freedom that kind of unconditional love gave him – a freedom that transformed even virulent enemies into brothers and sisters, and that no outside force, however cruel or violent, could crush:
I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate . . . . Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country, and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, and we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.
Through the practice of meditation and the supporting practices, every one of us can learn to love like this. In all our relationships – with our parents, our partner, our children, our friends, even our enemies – we can humbly but irresistibly blaze a trail for the world to follow. With every detail of our lives we can make a statement: In the battle to save the earth, the people of the world are all on the same side; on the other side are war, violence, greed, self-interest, and fear.
We need that inspiration more than ever. “If, as it sometimes seems, nations require an adversary to maintain their cohesiveness,” writes James R. Udall, “let global warming be the foil – it’s the common enemy. Though ancient antagonisms won’t vanish overnight, armies are vestigial from an ecological perspective: The globe needs tree-planters more than soldiers.” Let us take up these ancient tools for training the mind, which are the equal property of all the great spiritual traditions, and free ourselves from the confinement of those “ancient antagonisms” – the centuries of enmity separating country from country, race from race, individual from individual.
This excerpt is from Eknath Easwaran's book The Compassionate Universe.