Today, the 4th of July, I wanted to see how the value of the Declaration of Independence would merge with the Path of Awakening. I have two copies of the Declaration of Independence that I purchased in Philadelphia from Benjamin Franklin’s printing company, the Franklin Court Printing Office. As a Frenchman, I thought of the philosophers of the Enlightenment and the discussion that Thomas Jefferson had with his friend Lafayette on the future of the nation. I love how Thomas Jefferson said, “We hold these truths sacred and undeniable.” And when they did the proofreading after that, Benjamin Franklin said, “it’s obvious.”
What are they? You all know them, but first, that all sentient beings are equal. In a sense, they are all endowed with buddhanature. There is no possible discrimination that can be made on this basis, whether you are a man or a woman, this color or this color, this persuasion, or anything. We are all endowed with Buddha nature. That’s the Buddhist way to name it, and there are 10,000 ways to name it, but the idea is that we are all equal, and for that we all need to be respected and respect others.
The second point is that from this obvious truth flow certain realities, which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are all endowed with the freedoms and assets that allow us to pursue the pursuit of happiness both materially and spiritually. The path to enlightenment is this pursuit of happiness. But as Benjamin Franklin said in the Declaration of Independence, yes, but whether you succeed or not is up to you, your own zeal and your own energy.
We all have a Buddha nature, but we still have a path to follow and efforts to make. Why? Why can’t we take advantage of the kind of natural gift we have? It is because there are many veils.
A great veil comes from the king: the king of ego or ignorance.
Everyone has to work for the king, and if you get a small reward for working for the king, you might think it’s no big deal. But if you think a little, you realize that the investment and the return on investment are not proportional. You work a lot and you get crumbs which are impermanent in nature for everything. There is a constant need to produce more in order to have less.
All your efforts go to England, then they come back for you to buy with heavy taxes. If you’re from Boston, you have to pack those boxes of tea—the kleshas– and dump them in the harbor. Then you have to start a process that requires courage, because the king is not going to submit. This requires the Paul Revere of mindfulness. They arrive! They arrive! And they are after you. So we need the courage that patriots show by putting their actions where their words were and fighting. But unlike the War of Independence, the fight is internal. We do not fight without our enemies, we fight with our own king of ignorance and our own servants of the king: the kleshas. All this only serves to maintain a machine that only produces more unhappiness, complications, suffering, inequalities, etc., all against this obvious truth.
So we have to practice a form of generosity in the sense that we have to let go of our greed. We need to become more patient, more resilient. We have to cultivate all of this so that once the king is gone, because it has been realized that he was just a sterile illusion, then we are in touch with that Buddha nature which is our birthright. – the right to have a happy life in the sense that it is conducive to follow the path of freedom towards the realization of happiness, or enlightenment.
I will conclude by wishing you a good fourth… paramitawhich is a joyous and enthusiastic effort in your practice.
This dharma talk originally appeared on SoundCloud.