What do we mean by freedom?

Freedom is not only an important theme in the Buddhist teachings but is also a very popular word these days. There are so many ways to think of it. In the modern world freedom is considered to be a fundamental right of every human being. The right of the individual to pursue happiness is mentioned prominently in the constitution of many modern countries. We all instinctively want freedom, and many of us not only want it for ourselves, but also wish others to be free! Do you know anyone who wants to be unfree?

Our lives seem to be governed by the idea of freedom. We do so much in its pursuit. We work overtime to get more free time and to be able to retire early. We put a lot of effort into obtaining money so we can buy things that promise freedom and happiness.

The first sight of America for many settlers when their ships approached the harbor of New York City, the Statue of Liberty became a symbol of freedom and hope for a new life. Photo by flickr user dmvcomics

Everyone has their personal interpretation about the idea of freedom and its noble spirit often gets mixed up with misunderstanding. Once Sogyal Rinpoche told a story about the people in Nepal in the days after their country became a democracy. People were happy and celebrating and some decided to express their newly gained freedom by walking in the middle of the streets. When the cars would honk to get through, they would tell the drivers, “We are free country now, I have the right to walk wherever I want.”

In recent years, I have heard my teachers talk about freedom in the context of the Buddhist teachings a few times. When I reflected on their teachings, I realized that freedom is one of those concepts that I naturally think of as good and desirable. However, when I asked myself what the word freedom really means, I had a hard time clearly explaining it to myself. After I started reflecting on the idea, thoughts on freedom were occasionally popping up in my mind. But I was surprised by how difficult it was for me to come to a clear idea about freedom. Because I am a very lazy contemplator, this has been going on for months and months.

I will conclude my post today simply with the suggestion to reflect on the question: “What is freedom?” It is up to you to decide if I am just in a lazy mood and want to keep my post short! Or if I am being mischievous or even cruel! Or if I simply want to give you an opportunity to reflect about this topic on your own for a day or two until I write my next post about it. Whatever conclusion you come to about my intention, you can use this as an opportunity. Sit down for a few minutes and ask yourself: “What is freedom? What does it mean to me personally? What is the best way to find freedom?” You are welcome to make comments and share your thoughts. (… to be continued)

Photo by By flickr user dmvcomics

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5 Responses to What do we mean by freedom?

  1. Thank you for putting my mind on this. It is a very interesting question and I will contemplate on it. The first thing that enters my mind is that there is ultimate freedom and relative freedom. Ultimate freedom I think can only be enlightenment and relative freedom?

  2. Bernie says:

    Hi Rita, that’s an interesting way to think about freedom! I would agree that enlightenment would be ultimate freedom. As Dudjom Renpoche says in ‘Calling the Lama from afar’: “Joyful in all action, the Dzogchen yogi, happy in any company … ” Thinking this way, relative freedom would have to include the rest. Maybe things like: freedom that we believe to be freedom but really isn’t, freedom to follow the path, the taste of true freedom that we can already experience on the path and other aspects. More ideas?

  3. Hello Bernie,
    Trying to contemplate on ‘freedom’ this is what enters my mind:
    Having the wisdom to see things as they are.
    Having the acceptance of things, thoughts and circumstances as they are.
    To be able to say with a smile to everything: ‘and so it is’
    Freedom = liberation, liberation of non-acceptance, liberation of the ego.
    Freedom is having the space around everything and so to be able to react in a right way, or not react at all.
    Freedom is letting go of grasping, just be, loving and with compassion.
    Freedom is wisdom. Wisdom is freedom.
    Thanks for putting my mind on this.
    With love, Rita

  4. How funny, the moment I uploaded my note your answer to my first arrived.
    I total agree with your: ‘freedom that we believe to be freedom, but really isn’t’. That is the first freedom that enters my mind also but thinking about it, you see very clear that that is no freedom at all, it only put you more in prison and you end up being less and less free.

  5. Bernie says:

    Freedom seems to be the result, so maybe we can also phrase it like:
    if we are able to be spacious and accept things as they are we are free (or at least more free than before),
    if we are not reacting automatically with negative emotions we are free,
    if we have the wisdom to see things as they are we are free,
    if we are able not to grasp we are free,
    if we can love unconditionally we are free

    So many ways to think of freedom! And so many possibilities! Sometimes I can see what will bring freedom and act accordingly, sometimes I can see something doesn’t bring freedom but can’t help doing anyway and sometimes I might think its bringing freedom but it really isn’t but am not able to see that ….

    It seems to me one could also substitute happiness for freedom in most places, interesting connection, isn’t it?

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