Jul 02, 2015 06:39PM
By Seijaku Roshi
The dictionary defines “freedom” as, “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint; The State of not being imprisoned or enslaved.” As Americans we interpret that to mean “the right to free speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to say and do whatever we want to, without hindrance or restraint”. The fact the “state” may bestow the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” doesn’t itself guarantee freedom. While millions enjoy these liberties, so many of us still experience a sense of “hindrance or restraint” from living authentically and at the level of full self-expression, “Living lives of quiet desperation”.
Aung San Suu Kyi reminds us that, “The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.” True freedom is a “state of mind” and is not a function of any particular liberty bestowed by the state; no amount of money can guarantee it, and no particular condition is required. There are numerous examples throughout history of people in prisons and in horrific conditions while imprisoned that experienced a sense of real freedom despite their circumstances or situation.
I have always defined “freedom” as “the ability to remain grounded and confident of the circumstance or situation.” Freedom is not conditional and must be discovered within ourselves, not in the content of one’s life. This is “misdirection of attention” is why so many of us cannot find contentment in simplicity. We may enjoy the liberty to pursue happiness, but that pursuit seems to be endless for so many of us. We may possess great wealth, enjoy numerous possessions, but when we are afraid of losing any part of it, are we truly free? Whatever we are afraid of defines our life for us. The feeling or emotion of fear is natural but, when it is the driving force in our lives—we are not free even if we live in “the land of the free.”
Liberty consists in learning to live one’s life authentically, in being at home in one’s own skin. Liberation from fear is a function of realizing who one truly is and learning how to offer oneself as a benefit to the world. It is nurtured and sustained only from the ground of authenticity and living life with integrity. Thomas Merton reminds us that, “Freedom of choice is not itself the perfection of liberty… The slave, in the spiritual order, is the man whose choices have destroyed all spontaneity in him and have delivered him over, bound hand and foot, to his own compulsions, idiosyncrasies and illusions, so that he never does what he really wants to do, but only what he has to do.”
Let True Freedom Reign! Happy Fourth of July!
Seijaku Roshi is the abbot of Jizo-an Monastery, a Pine Wind Zen Community, in Shamong, New Jersey. For more information, call 609-268-9151 or visit TheZenSociety.org.