Adaptation: resignation or freedom?

By Matthieu Ricard on August 29, 2009

During a recent dialogue with North American academics, I mentioned that training the mind through meditation helps people experience difficult situations in a different way and develop inner resources to deal with the ups and downs of life.
Some of them argued that promoting such an adaptation was a very dangerous thing to do; that it would tell slaves toiling in galleys and other oppressed people that all they needed to do was to meditate and learn to be content, rather than call for justice and freedom from oppression; it would encourage anyone who is abused by others to cultivate passive resignation.
Obviously there was a significant misunderstanding between us.
Gaining the inner capacity to face both favorable and unfavorable circumstances of life with strength, confidence, and some degree of equanimity is a great asset. By no means is this tantamount to helpless resignation or to condoning injustice. Rather, it avoids becoming a slave twice: a slave of others and a slave of our own mind.
Of course, we should work tirelessly toward overcoming iniquity, oppression and neglect, and strive to achieve outer freedom for one's self and others. At the same time, it is also vital to gain inner freedom from afflictive mental states. Inner strength, as opposed to vulnerability, is the best way to develop an unflinching determination to also change outer circumstances, whenever that is possible.
Someone who is constantly at the mercy of his or her own mind is likely to be easily overwhelmed by both outer and inner trials. Whatever the outer circumstances may be it is the mind that translates these circumstances into happiness or misery. To avoid being devastated by undesirable events is not synonymous with resignation. Well understood, this attitude does not encourage anyone to cultivate passivity: it simply spares us a double dose of suffering.