Freedom & Oppression
Throughout history, ancient and modern, there has been oppression in the world. The domination of one group of people by another. It’s a problem that is as old as humanity. And it is still with us today.
Oppression often gives birth to revolutions. Sometimes peaceful revolutions. Sometimes violent ones. One of the important lessons of history is that freedom from oppression is not simply a matter of the oppressed achieving an external victory over their oppressors. History is full of examples of revolutions that were successful on the surface, but then, when the formerly oppressed people take power, they themselves become oppressors of some other group! For example, in the country that has been my home over the last several years, America, I am sad to say that we have fallen into just that sort of trap. We fought hard for freedom from British rule, and yet we still became the oppressors of the native American population, the owners of African slaves, and the sponsors of our own system of colonial domination. But this is not just an American problem. It is an Australian problem. And a Sri Lankan problem. And a European problem, and so on. Because…. It is a human problem.
We can be quite clever at ridding ourselves of external threats to our freedom. And that is good! But how skillful are we at removing the roots of oppression from within our own minds? The heart of the problem is that the uncultivated mind sees itself as superior and others as expendable. The uncultivated mind needs an enemy in order to maintain its illusion of superiority. It needs a bad guy. Someone to wear the black hat. Someone to take the blame when bad things happen. Someone to punish. Someone to dominate and exploit. And when that is our state of mind, God help anyone who has the audacity to try to dominate or exploit us! That state of mind has been the fuel behind many a revolution. When that is the case, after we eradicate those who oppressed us, we, in turn, typically become oppressors ourselves. And there’s no mystery why. It’s because we’ve misunderstood the fundamental nature of the problem.
In the final analysis, oppression is a problem in the mind. And it’s only within that territory that it can be ultimately solved. Otherwise, there is no real freedom, no real end to tyranny. We need to learn how to live a simple life, how to be content with what we have within our own borders. This skin of ours is the first border that we have to recognize and respect. This is the primary border in life. It’s all that separates inside from outside. We need to learn how to be content with what we have within this border. How to find within ourselves a deep sense of adequacy and goodness. Then, we will naturally and easily have respect for the borders of others.
We use the word “ego” to describe that false sense of self which is not content with what lies within, which is driven by a desire to conquer others, to take what they have, to build an empire as a monument to its sense of superiority. The irony is that the ego is really not that big and scary at all. It’s really nothing at all. And yet it can be the cause of wars, oppression, and great suffering. So it must be taken quite seriously.
It is this ego that is the real enemy of freedom, an enemy far more dangerous than any external oppressor, and an enemy that cannot be stopped through any outer revolution. It calls for a different strategy. All genuine spiritual paths guide us through a process of inner evolution. A process where the ego becomes less and less central, and a more simple, peaceful, and caring life emerges. Revolutions may still be necessary from time to time in this world. But this inner evolution remains the only really adequate answer to the problem of oppression.
When Venerable Bhante Sujatha was 10 years old, he told his parents he would throw himself off the bridge into the river below his childhood home in Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, if they did not let him become a monk. Since that time, he’s remained just as certain and determined to live a life dedicated to adding more love to the world and helping people heal their wounded minds.
Bhante has always known he was born to serve humanity and he wakes up everyday committed to this noble cause, teaching meditation and helping people access the deeper parts of themselves so they can feel radiant joy and peaceful happiness. With a single robe and some leftover food, Bhante left his home country and eventually found his way to America, where he learned a new language and culture and discovered the aching desire people have for a more meaningful life.
In a old leaky church basement, Bhante was given a small room to teach meditation. The first night, two people showed up. A decade later, The Blue Lotus Temple is a world-renowned Buddhist temple and meditation center that serves thousands of people locally and even more all over the world, under Bhante’s leadership as abbot and spiritual director.
Bhante leads more than 380 meditations a year, for which he travels hundreds of thousands of miles, often walking off a plane and onto a podium within minutes. He speaks to colleges and universities across the world, leads small group retreats, and consults with corporate giants, teaching them all that love is the way and peace is a constant practice.
Bhante’s humanitarian work spans the globe and most recently oversaw the re-fitting of five hospitals with significant need. In 2013, Bhante Sujatha was awarded the highest honor within his lineage, as a recognition for the incredible impact he’s made to spreading Buddhism across America, being named the Chief Sanhga Nayaka of North America.
To learn more about Venerable Bhante Sujatha or his humanitarian work, visit bhantesujatha.org