True freedom

by Danai Chanchaochai, Bangkok Post, Nov 24, 2004

Developing a high Dhamma Quotient is the most noble and practical goal of every human

Bangkok, Thailand -- Over a small dinner party I recently attended, the conversation turned, perhaps inevitably, to our troubled world, to the problems in Iraq, Palestine and Israel, to the persecution of refugees in Darfur. One friend in particular in our little group of friends turned to me. "What's your answer? Do you still believe what you call a good dose of your Dhamma Quotient or DQ, would solve the problem?

Do you really think it can prevent fanatical people kidnapping innocent individuals, using them as pawns in their cynical games, and then killing them in one of the most barbaric ways possible?"

"Yes," I replied emphatically, "I do, first though I would like to clarify what I mean by Dhamma Quotient. It's not 'my' DQ, it can and does apply to people everywhere, including those who have absolutely no idea of what Dhamma means. The whole concept of DQ, the thinking behind it, is that it represents the level of a person's awareness and practice of Dhamma. Just as with EQ (Emotional Quotient) there's no attempt to give it any kind of arbitrary scale, but if for example, we say that a person has a low or high DQ, then its fairly clear what we mean." "OK, what you're saying is a person with a high DQ is much less likely to commit criminal or terrorist acts and that if we all had a high DQ, the troubles in the world would simply melt away."

"Human society is far too complex and diverse for such a Dhamma utopia to become a reality. One man's terrorism is another's fight for freedom, but look at the many different religious orders around the world. They may well differ greatly from one another in their basic beliefs, but most promote a benevolent, compassionate and loving attitude to our fellow man. I would say for example, that within the Vatican we would expect to find an exceptionally high DQ, just as we would at a Buddhist temple."

"OK so we agree that a high DQ is good, an average DQ, is say, acceptable, and a low DQ is well, not so good." "I would prefer to say that some understanding and practice of Dhamma is better than none at all. It is a beginning, and an indication that we want to know more. After all, by its very nature, Dhamma is infinite; it has no past, present, or future. It has no shape, form or colour. It simply is."

"That sounds like a description of the Truth, with a capital 'T' that is. That's not surprising, Dhamma is the Truth and the Truth is Dhamma. Actually once we accept that, we can begin to appreciate the beauty that Dhamma offers. That word freedom for example that you mentioned earlier, and as you rightly imply, can mean different things for different people, that one word, perhaps best conveys what an understanding and practice of Dhamma can offer."

"You mean intellectual freedom?" "No, no, you can have that by exercising your ability to think and express yourself freely, just as were doing now. I mean freedom from the self _ from desire, from anger, from greed, from hate, from jealousy, from OK, I understand what you mean by freedom, but why would I want to be free from myself? I am what I am. I know I'm not perfect, but I am the only one of me that I have. And by the way I wouldn't want to be somebody else. Most of the time I like me. Sometimes I'm my own best friend. I even have discussions with myself. Should I do this or that? Was I unkind to that person in the office. Could I have been more considerate to my wife yesterday. Can I in fact be a better person? Should I go straight home, or pop in for a quick one with my friends? That's the self that I know.Why would I want to be free from it?"

"Isn't there another self? The one for example that allows you to make unkind remarks to people in your office, the one that lets you be inconsiderate to your wife, the one in fact, that prevents you from being a better person? The one that prompts you to have mean thoughts?

"That's the self from which Dhamma can set you free. And it can be a very practical, down to earth kind of freedom. When you're free from negative thoughts, from negative and destructive emotions such as anger, greed and the rest, then you're looking at some very real benefits in your daily life.

"Take anger for example. When we become angry, very angry, it can really throw us off kilter. We've all heard the expression 'enraged with an uncontrollable anger', a cliche in itself, but a graphic expression nonetheless. We imagine a person 'beside himself with anger' _ speechless, trembling with emotion and clattering with cliches. He or she is angry. Best back away, let them cool down, remove all throwable objects..."

"So what's your point?" "Simply that anger can be very damaging to us, even more so than to the person or persons to whom it is directed. It can even be chronic _ think of another expression _ 'nursing a grudge', that's what you might call long term anger. You know, you see it in some people who seem to have a constant battle with everybody and everything _ they're permanently angry. Sometimes, when we believe we have the time and patience, we attempt to help them. We might ask exactly whats bugging them, what, Mr McEnroy, is your problem?"

"Yes, I know, and they will probably tell us that we are their problem."

"And we smile, knowing that they are their own problem while wondering how we can help them."

"So where is this conversation leading us?" "To an agreement that the practice of Dhamma can indeed be liberating and that developing a high DQ is the most noble, and practical goal of every human . It's noble, because it addresses that most basic of man's desires _ the quest for Truth. And it's practical because achieving a high DQ allows us to deal with life's challenges unimpeded by the baggage of negative emotions and false values."

"So you think I should begin to develop my DQ?" "Yes, of course, but after you've finished your dessert and your coffee's getting cold."