Editorial: Three Jewels, One Truth
By Melvin McLeod, Editor in Chief
are honored to feature in this issue three of the most important
spiritual voices of our time, Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chödrön, and Karen
Armstrong. What amazes me is that their basic message is the same: Love
not something we hear often. Indulge yourself, improve yourself,
entertain yourself, make something of yourself, feel good about
yourself—these are the messages we’ve been hearing since childhood from
parents, churches, advertising, and indeed ourselves, because we’ve all
internalized the message that there’s something wrong inside that we
need to fix, feed, or cover over. Be a friend to yourself, as you are
and without conditions—that we’re not told. Yet these three great
spiritual thinkers say that’s where we have to start if we want to be
happy, have good relationships with others, and create the human society
we all aspire to. It begins that simply: Love thyself.
course, love has many different flavors. For Thich Nhat Hanh, it is the
tender love of a mother. For Pema Chödrön, it is the honest love of a
true friend. For Karen Armstrong, it is the wise and universal love of a
Nhat Hanh invokes a mother’s love in a way that will surely touch your
heart—its tenderness, its unconditionality, its instinctive and
immediate caring. We must be like that mother, he says, toward the
hurts, fears, and vulnerabilities of childhood still within us. The
program of healing he recommends, one of love and mindfulness, applies
the best of traditional Buddhist psychology to the wounds of the modern
a mother’s love is comforting and reassuring, a friend’s love may have a
sharper quality. Friends look honestly at our faults and love us
nonetheless. They give us what we really need, without indulging our
games or self-deception.
have always felt that Pema Chödrön is such a friend to us. Her
teachings come from love and acceptance, yet they’re tough-minded and
challenging, and the path she shows us is exactly what we need. It
starts with what’s called maitri in the Buddhist tradition—unconditional friendship toward yourself.
sounds so simple: love and friendship. But there’s a catch. You have to
make friends with yourself as you are. Not as you imagine you are. Not
as you’d like to be. Like a true friend, you need the courage to see the
good and the bad, the love and the pain, the whole messy package.
Loving yourself is an all or nothing proposition.
course, it wouldn’t be worth going through this if all we discovered in
the end was some sort of original sin—that we are basically flawed as
human beings. But what we actually discover is our basic goodness, or
buddhanature. When we are willing to look at ourselves with both honesty
and acceptance, when we smile at the fear that cuts us off from
ourselves, we discover a more basic, and yet all the more human, way of
being. A loving heart that is both sad and tender. A mind that is awake
and clear. A new energy that is positive and strong. We were afraid of
what we’d discover when we made friends with ourselves, but to our
surprise, this is the friend we meet.
how can we love and help others if we can’t love and help ourselves?
The sage’s love connects the personal and the universal. In this issue,
the religious historian Karen Armstrong challenges us to think more
deeply about the Golden Rule. She argues cogently that the Golden Rule
is the basic spiritual teaching and the most important organizing
principle of a good human society. Yet often it becomes another stick to
beat ourselves with, another way to feel bad about ourselves.
do unto others as you would have them do unto you, you must first
understand and honor your own needs—the joy, love, fairness, and caring
that you, and therefore others, deserve. Yes, the Golden Rule says we
shouldn’t put our happiness first. But it doesn’t say we should put it
last, either. You are not less deserving of happiness than others, just
not more deserving, contrary to what ego is always telling us. And as
Armstrong points out, when we see that the happiness of each and every
being is equally important, another surprising thing happens: that
troublesome ego dissolves. It turns out that the remedy to
self-centeredness is not self-abnegation. Nothing good ever came out of