I’ve been thinking a lot about Robert’s last post on “Impartial Love.” In it, Robert spelled out the challenging implications of Jesus’ teaching about the inadequacy of only loving those who love you (Q 6:32, 34):
“It doesn’t take much thought to see where this leads us. It leads us to the idea that our loving and giving should not be tethered to how people treat us. Even when they treat us really badly, we should still love, we should still give. This, of course, brings us right back around to where we started—to loving our enemies.”
My question is one that I suspect many of you have been pondering as well: Is such impartial love really possible? We are so selective in our love, and we are so quick to condemn those who don’t love us. Can we whose love is so limited really lift ourselves up to such a lofty ideal?
As challenging as it is, I would like to believe that we can—with time, effort, and a lot of help from God. And one thing I find helpful in my own process is to look to inspiring examples, people who have gone a long way toward achieving impartial love. For me, one of those people is the Dalai Lama, the great Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader.
Most people know the broad outlines of his story. To quote from one brief synopsis online:
“At age 15 [in 1959], he assumed political power of Tibet as the Dalai Lama. The People’s Republic of China invaded that same year. Fearing assassination, he and thousands of followers fled to Dharamsala in northern India, where they established an alternative government. Since then, the Dalai Lama has taken numerous actions in hopes of establishing an autonomous Tibetan state within the People’s Republic of China. However, the Chinese government has shown no signs of moving toward peace and reconciliation with Tibet. The Dalai Lama has also conducted hundreds of conferences, lectures and workshops worldwide, as part of his humanitarian efforts. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.”
The Dalai Lama has, in short, become one of the world’s great exemplars of peace, forgiveness, and compassion in the face of the most extreme persecution. Even as an exile from his native land, witnessing from afar the brutal atrocities committed against his own people within Tibet, he has chosen to respond to his “enemies” not with anger and vindictiveness, but with love.
As I said, for me he has been an especially inspiring example. Years ago, I had the great pleasure of seeing him in person. My partner Patricia did too on another occasion—in fact, she had a powerful experience of deep love as her eyes met his for a brief moment, an experience that still brings her to happy tears whenever she recalls it. So we were delighted when, a few days after Robert’s blog post, we saw one of our favorite comedians, John Oliver, interview the Dalai Lama on his show.
As with most of Oliver’s presentations, this was a mix of serious information and snarky jokes. (Warning: The video includes a few naughty words and some off-color humor.) But in the course of the interview, we were particularly moved by the Dalai Lama’s response to Oliver’s mentioning that the Chinese government has called him a “wolf wrapped in monk’s robes” and a “demon”:
“Whatever they want to say, that’s their freedom. I have no negative feeling, I just feel a love. Like that. I practice, you see, taking others’ anger, suspicion, distrust, and give them patience, tolerance, and compassion. I practice that.”
Patricia and I both choked up a little at that. It wasn’t just the words themselves, as powerful as they are. It was the utter conviction behind them. It was so obvious that he really felt this love for his persecutors in the heart of his being. He was loving people who don’t love him, who have treated him and his people very badly, who by any normal definition would be called his “enemies.”
While I’m sure the Dalai Lama isn’t perfect, this is a man who has achieved impartial love to a remarkable degree. And that has an impact. We could see in the course of the interview that even Oliver was affected. He’s normally a bit of a skeptic when it comes to religion; tales of lamas choosing their next incarnation aren’t his usual cup of tea. (And he clearly wasn’t too fond of the Dalai Lama’s idea of curing alcoholism by drinking horse milk!) But it sure looked to us like he was moved by being in the Dalai Lama’s presence, especially in those moments when the Tibetan exile spoke of loving the Chinese who exiled him. And who can resist that infectious laugh?
So maybe, just maybe, the impartial love that Jesus calls us to offer to everyone really is possible. But achieving it will require of us the same thing it requires of the Dalai Lama: practice. So, why don’t we give a “Kingdom” version of his practice a try? If you find yourself faced with another person’s anger, suspicion, and distrust, ask God to help you give that person patience, tolerance, and compassion in return. Ask God to help you love this person who isn’t loving you (at least not currently), and ask Him for guidance in how to express whatever loving feelings you experience. Let us know how it goes.
The John Oliver video: