Notes on a definition of collective liberation

By Jean Marie Robbins

Collective Liberation in the most basic sense is relinquishing our limiting beliefs, biases, and prejudices about ourselves and others.

Meditation helps us build confidence in our basic goodness. As Gaylon Ferguson says, “Developing a harmonious friendship with yourself is a central part of the Buddhist path of awakening.” Our relationship with ourselves is the basis of all our relationships so, freeing ourselves from self-judgment, unworthiness, or fear of not being good enough, we begin to see ourselves and others more clearly. Everyone looks more appealing, including the person in the mirror. It’s frightening enough to examine our own naked selves, but even scarier to unclothe our emotional selves in front of each other. I’m afraid because I’ve judged myself as lacking. Maybe someone else will notice that my mask of superiority or confidence doesn’t actually fit.

In community, we get to face our own image reflected in each other’s mirrors. Sitting in retreat with a group of strangers, we’re likely to discover that some treasured belief or value we hold is not held by the crazy person sitting next to us. Then we have a choice: we can hide, get defensive, stop listening, OR get curious. Some beliefs appear to be the very bedrock of self, but our beliefs are stories. They aren’t necessarily real or true. We often cling to our stories, and they harden becoming as unyielding as cement. Comparisons are terribly seductive, but we distance ourselves from others when we think we’re better, smarter, more experienced, more tuned in, more “woke”. One time or another, we’ve all thought: I get it; they don’t.

But genuine, satisfying relationships require gentleness, flexibility, compassion. Relationships suffer when our beliefs and habitual ways of thinking harden. To soften or poke a hole in our cocoons, we can inquire instead of insisting on our rightness and notice when we dismiss someone else’s experience. Let’s be alert to when we feel threatened by some particular identity or set of beliefs. If we pay attention, our bodies can reveal the feelings we’d rather smother. Honesty with ourselves is essential to genuine rewarding relationship with others.

Collective Liberation is a practical expression of the dharma. It acknowledges our interdependence, the fact that I’m not free if you’re not free. Collective Liberation is the recognition that if I see you as less than I am, then my vision is distorted. The active pursuit of Collective Liberation is a path to enlightened society.