Saturday, August 04, 2007

Eknath Easwaran: Perfect Joy

Where there is injury, let me sow pardon.
– Saint Francis of Assisi

Once, in wintertime, it is said that Francis and his disciple Brother Leo were making a hard journey on foot through the snowy countryside of Italy. They had been walking along in silence for a long time when Brother Leo turned to Francis and asked him, “How can we find perfect joy?” Francis stopped and replied, “Even if all our friars were perfect in their holiness and could work all kinds of miracles for others, we still would not have perfect joy.”

He turned and walked on, and Brother Leo ran after him. “Then what is perfect joy?” Francis stopped again, “Even if we could speak with the birds of the air and the beasts of the field and know all the secrets of nature, we still would not have perfect joy. Even if we could cure all the ills on the face of the earth, we would still not have found perfect joy.”

Brother Leo was practically shouting: “Then please, Father Francis, what is the secret of perfect joy?”

“Brother, suppose we go to that monastery across the field and tell the gatekeeper how weary and cold we are, and he calls us tramps and beats us and throws us out into the winter night. Then, Brother, if we can say with love in our hearts, Bless you in the name of Jesus,’ then we shall have found perfect joy.”

--Eknath Easwaran


Tom said...

I am totally in favor of goodness, and seeing self in others and equanimity and wanting the best for others. But I read this and I wonder "What is the expectation of what/how the gatekeeper is supposed to feel after being told 'Bless you in the name of Jesus'?"

Or is what the gatekeeper is to feel beside the point?

Nagarjuna said...

Tom, I suspect that Easwaran's point has less to do with the gatekeeper's feelings, which hardly appear to reflect "perfect joy," than with those of the people he turns away. Easwaran is talking about the ideal joy of truly unconditional love, and he's doing it with an example that can be taken more figuratively than literally.

That is, perfect joy consists of loving everyone in a way that is completely independent of how they behave toward us, and this love consists of unconditional and limitless goodwill toward others that can express itself in myriad ways including silent blessings of some sort or overtly spoken ones that radiate so much sincerity that, I suspect, the "gatekeeper" is likely to feel more moved than upset.

Is it actually possible to feel this way or even desirable to do so? I'm not sure. The cynic in me says that St. Francis' "pure joy" reflects a pathological repression of the natural feelings that any human being would experience when being mistreated so severely, and that it may well strengthen the "shadow" to a frightening degree. But if this is true, does this mean that the more "saintly" one is, the more he has unhealthily suppressed his true nature, or does it mean that some of us are able to tap resources so deep and divine that they override, to wonderful effect, our merely HUMAN nature?