A talk given at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church (November 22, 2016)
Transcribed by Jeffrey Fuller and edited by David Loy ---
It’s been two weeks today since the election, and many of us are still in a state of shock —traumatized, disheartened if not depressed, anxious, angry, fearful and somewhat confused, wondering what’s going to come next — and wondering if there might be some silver lining to what’s happening. My response today has two parts. First I’d like to identify a very real silver lining, or at least the possibility of a silver lining, depending on how we respond to the situation. And then I’d like to say a bit about what I think is the most important contribution of Buddhist teachings to this situation, which can help us understand and respond to it.
This paper is a meditation on the myth of freedom. It embraces freedom as a myth, i.e. as it is present in our consciousness before and beyond any notion or conceptualisation of it, and defying any attempt to its definition. Our meditation is on the creative power of this symbolic word, extending its scope beyond the confines of an exclusively human trait, to encompass all reality.
Congratulations! Thank you for inviting me today. Looking at this sea of bright, intelligent eyes is not only thrilling, it is inspiring, it is reassuring, it is humbling. I wish each and every one of you the very best in life.
Today, as you get ready to leave Harvard, and enter the world of work, you are well-prepared. You have read a lot, you have learnt a lot, and I am sure you are brimming with ideas and theories that you are impatient to put into practice. If that is true, rest assured, your university has done its duty.
Myths and symbols are systems for programming pre-industrial and pre-cientific societies. They programme static societies that go on for a very long time in fundamentally the same way. Programming static societies means programming them for no change, to exclude change. This sort of programming is not possible unless it is believed that things, including the absolute itself, are as the myths and symbols say they are.
Centre Unesco de Catalunya. On Mystics: A congress. Barcelona, June 2001
(Each participant was asked to introduce himself in connection to the subject, his personal stand point on spirituality).
I embarked on a study of humanity’s great religious traditions, from the perspective of the cultural conditions of the new situation. I started by studying the remoter cultural traditions, in order to avoid the interference of my own beliefs: Hinduism, Buddhism. As my research progressed I approached western religions, first Islam, then Judaism and finally the great Christian mystics. In this study my interest was centred in the depth of the message rather than questions of the doctrine or beliefs that were being expressed.