Commitment and Loyalty

clematis close upWhen I first started this blog, I wrote an entry titled Commitment. The only reason I know this is because I searched the postings with the word. To be honest, part of posting a blog is letting go. I process, I write, I share, and I let go. I am definitely not someone who is gifted with a photographic memory, so I tend to forget about a posting once it’s published. But I digress (I do enjoy a good diversion). What led me to search on the term commitment were reflections on some issues that I’ve been challenged to find clarity with. This time, my interest in exploring commitment relates more to relationships and loyalty to others than an attempt to motivate myself to action based on more personal desires.

According to Encarta, the definition of commitment includes: 1) responsibility – something that takes up time or energy, especially an obligation, and 2) loyalty – devotion or dedication to a cause. I was a bit surprised to see the word loyalty specifically mentioned. I don’t know why I was surprised. Loyalty is the first layer that came to mind when I began to process the current stirrings of karma.

As I’ve mentioned before (and it’s what drives this blog), I am deeply committed to personal growth and expanded awareness. I consider myself committed to a Theravada Buddhist path, and my life is extremely enriched by the Triple Gem: Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha. The abundance and continued gifts that I encounter and receive based on my and others devotion to the path to liberation from suffering exceeds my wildest dreams. So much so, that when I found myself in the position of having local access to not one but two Hermitages (small monasteries), I felt like I won the lottery. I’m fond of saying: Life is better with monks along for the ride. So, having greater access to direct contact and teachings is a huge gift.

As is usually the case, when the dust of excitement settles, anxieties, fears, and doubts (defilements or kilesas) are standing by. Karma shows us the work that needs to be done if we are to genuinely walk the path to freedom. So, what’s all the hoopla about? Initially, it was feelings of confusion. Even though both Hermitages are the same tradition, share the same teachings, and path, I found myself wondering if I was being disloyal to one Sangha by supporting a second one. Let me be clear, this was ENTIRELY my own neuroses. I am confident that the monastics that I deal with would never ask me to choose one over another and are fully supportive of my experiences. Still, the monkey mind loves to play and swing. Then, I realized that my loyalty was to the Dhamma and my practice, and that I will use whatever is available to support that. So, the loyalty issue was resolved.

Ok, so that’s nice. Hmmm, then why is anxiety still lurking about? This leads me to explore commitment which – for the sake of this juncture – is tied to concepts around community verses more personal relationships with individuals. For me, this is a multilayered and complicated issue.

For starters, I don’t have a lot of experience with “community.” One on one relationships tend to be more up my alley. I’m not saying I’m successful at them, but it is what’s far more familiar and in my range of knowledge. Community on the other hand, stirs up other images. Yet, as I unpack this bag, I realize there is a lot of delusion that is mixing the two up: individual relationship and community. The difference lies in relating (and far too often attaching) to a person verses a group. With an individual, all our eggs are in one basket with one person. The same can be said for a group. The difference is that we’re tied or vested in the group as an identity which means people can come and go, but the group remains essentially the same. Monks can come and go, but the Sangha remains intact. As lay practitioners, it may mean remaining with a group or community in spite of individual differences.

wild bee hive
Image by
Carly Lesser & Art Drauglis

In the long run, it still comes back to the same thing: Relationships are scary when we fully commit because they involve risk, vulnerability, and opening to potential loss. Avoiding commitment – to a group or an individual – is not going to spare us from the experience of loss and pain. Impermanence and uncertainty are a fact of human existence. Sometimes, the best we can do is stay loyal to ourselves through love, compassion, empathy, and acceptance. Then, perhaps we can ease our doubts and fears by placing our trust in our ability to discern, maintain appropriate boundaries, and act on faith.

© 2015 Sallie Odenthal

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