What is it to be free?
In the Buddhist sense, "free" means
to be free from all suffering, to reach inner freedom where suffering
ceases to be. This is, of course, an ideal state of mind - but how
do we reach it? To reach inner freedom we must search for freedom
with a "free mind." It is like the saying, "to catch
a thief one must think like a thief." The sort of freedom one
is trying to find is an absolute state - nothing less - infinite,
unbounded and limitless. We are starting out with a mind that is
finite, intellect-bound and already limited in itself. If we crowd
this with all sorts of ideals, concepts, doctrines and judgments,
the mind - which is already weighed down by its own burden - can
never be free enough to experience truth in its entirety. It can
only accept the truth or experience within the limits of doctrines,
beliefs and concepts, which are products of the intellect. The mind
can never break out of the intellectual conditioning we are trying
to transcend. By clinging to a specific system or format in the
search for inner freedom, we will be able to experience only that
which the system or format allows. But Truth is infinite, unpossessed,
unbounded. It does not belong to any religion, sect or system. All
religions, all methods, all systems improvised by humankind are
attempts to guide us on the path to Truth. Often, though, the "way"
is mistaken for the "Truth."
The mind in search of its own freedom must first of all
assume an impersonal attitude, which leaves it free to explore, investigate, examine and,
most important of all, to "experience." Most of us start with a personal need to
find an inner freedom. In this state it is rather difficult to assume an impersonal
approach, but such is the paradox of the inner path. As soon as we become personal, we
tend to be judgmental and opinionated. Judgments and discriminations arise out of an
intellectual and conditioned mind. As soon as one makes a judgment and discriminates, the
intellect is at work. So long as the intellect is at the forefront of one's mind, it will
always obstruct one's ability to experience fully one's own inner depth and essence. This
is the reason that all the ways and means to liberation - the inner paths - transcend the
intellect and move into the realm of the intuitive or the spiritual, for only the
intuitive aspect of our mind can experience and realise Truth or freedom in its entirety.
Different religious systems have developed methods and styles particular to their own
historical, cultural and emotional backgrounds. Each of us is left to find the right path
Whichever path one may adopt, the greatest danger is the
accumulation of emotional possessions. These are "my" guru, "my"
beliefs, "my" progress, "my" experience. Here again, one faces a
paradox. A teacher's guidance is invariably necessary for one to proceed properly on the
path, but it presents a hindrance if one is not careful. The most common problem is
personally clinging to gurus and teachers. In fact, this is one of the most difficult
hindrances to overcome in all quests for inner freedom. Letting go of beliefs, doctrines,
gurus, ideals and judgments is extremely difficult, because one holds them very dear to
oneself. They become one's possessions, like material wealth and power, and then one is
not free and does not proceed further.
So what should one do? The only appropriate way is to view
everything with equanimity, be it gurus, doctrines, ideals, and even one's own practice
and progress. Only then can one view everything with objectivity. Freedom is not just an
end result. It is not something that awaits us at the end of our endeavour. Freedom is
instantaneous, right now, from the very beginning. We can be "free" in the very
process of the search, in experiencing, in every step along the way.
To achieve freedom requires only
two things: a silent mind and an open heart.