Am I Free?

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Dear Still Water Friends,

You are invited to join us this Thursdayevening for our meditation period and for a program on the notion andpractice of freedom.

For the past several weeks, far more than usually, I’ve been in aconsumerist mode — first buying a new computer for someone, and nowexploring how to replace one of our cars.

Often when making major purchases, such as these, my life gets takenover. I get caught up in figuring out what is really needed, and thendeciding on models, features, extras, and, also, how to get a gooddeal. The decisions become topics for conversation with whoever willlisten. The deciding creeps into my dreams and meditations as well.

In the midst of making these decisions, I was stopped short by acomment from Thich Nhat Hanh in an article about connecting with ourancestors:

One day Italked to my [deceased] father and said, “Father, the two of ushave succeeded.” I was successful because in that moment ofsitting meditation, I felt completely free. I didn’t have anymore dreams or wishes, any more projects I wanted to pursue. I feltcompletely free, completely relaxed; there was nothing that could pullme anymore. ( From the Mindfulness Bell, Summer, 2005)

In the west, when we talk about freedom, we tend to focus on politicaland consumerist rights: the right to act or speak or buy things withoutexternal interference. When the Buddha talked about freedom, his focuswas on the release from internal constraints. As Ajahn Buddhadassaexplains in the excerpt following these notes, in the Buddhist context,freedom is the core of Buddhist practice and is just another way ofsaying “salvation, deliverance, liberation or release.”

Some people may be concerned that this focus on internal freedom willtake us away from the world, leading us to be self-centered andunproductive. In the Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Thich NhatHanh. writes that quite the opposite it true — with inner freedom webecome more compassionate and more effective:

Someone asked me,“Aren’t you worried about the state of the world?” Iallowed myself to breathe and then I said, “What is mostimportant is not to allow your anxiety about what happens in the worldto fill your heart. If your heart is filled with anxiety, you will getsick, and you will not be able to help.” There are wars  bigand small  in many places, and that can cause us to lose ourpeace. Anxiety is the illness of our age. We worry about ourselves, ourfamily, our friends, our work, and the state of the world. If we allowworry to fill our hearts, sooner or later we will get sick.

Yes, there istremendous suffering all over the world, but knowing this need notparalyze us. If we practice mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindfulsitting, and working in mindfulness, we try our best to help, and wecan have peace in our heart. Worrying does not accomplish anything.Even if you worry twenty times more, it will not change the situationof the world. In fact, your anxiety will only make things worse. Eventhough things are not as we would like, we can still be content,knowing we are trying our best and will continue to do so. If wedon’t know how to breathe, smile, and live every moment of ourlife deeply, we will never be able to help anyone. I am happy in thepresent moment. I do not ask for anything else. I do not expect anyadditional happiness or conditions that will bring about morehappiness. The most important practice is aimlessness, not runningafter things, not grasping.

Whoever we are, wherever we are, may we all walk in freedom.

If you can join us this Thursday, the best times to enter are justbefore our meditation period begins at 7 pm, just before our walkingmeditation at 7:25, or just after our walking meditation at 7:35.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher

Freedom is Coolness
by Ajahn Buddhadasa (From “Freedom in Buddhism: The life that doesn’t bite,” Inquiring Mind 23:1, Fall 2006)

Relinquishing ownership, possession and clinging to “me” and “mine”amounts to the classic Buddhist goal of relinquishing attachment to thefive aggregates of life (body, feeling, perception, thought andconsciousness). These aggregates are the naturally functioningsubsystems necessary for human life. When they function withoutclinging, there is freedom. The clung-to aggregates are the prison oflife. Letting go of them is like a convict being released from prison.

Call it salvation, deliverance, liberation or release, these all amountto the same thing — freedom, the cool life that doesn’t bite itself.Such a life does whatever needs doing, according to its mindfulness andwisdom. In this freedom, egoism, selfishness and the reactive emotionsno longer obstruct. In Pali, this is also described as viveka, thesingleness or oneness of heart-mind where nothing can disturb, afflict,entrap or harm it in any way. Does the power of this kind of freedominterest you?

Nibbana, the supreme reality of Buddhism, is simply this coolness.Thus, it’s important that we understand this coolness properly. Imaginea burning coal from a fire. When removed from the fire it glows redbecause it is still hot. After it cools down, it no longer glows red.When it’s no longer hot, we say that the coal is nibbana, it is cool.Even this physical example helps us understand nibbana, the coolness ofsomething that was once hot. However, we’re really talking about thefires of mind, by which we mean the reactive emotions (kilesa,defilements). Should you honestly look at greed, hatred, fear and thelike, you will realize they are truly fires burning the heart-mind. Thegoing out of such fires is nibbana. In our lives, so easily distractedby consumerism and terrorism, we aren’t aware of these internal firesand so have trouble understanding what is meant by spiritual coolnessand freedom.