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A Buddhist's Look at the Concept of Freedom

Updated on August 12, 2010

Buddha, freedom and you.

Oh, to be the ruler of life, not a slave.” Walt Whitman.

What is freedom? Is it living as we choose, our spirits unchained and unhindered by expectations and obligations? Is it releasing the inner entombed soul? A fire that stirs and wakes those living in unhappy resignation? Bob Dylan asked “How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?” So what exactly is freedom?

  Being free means to avoid spiritual paralysis, to follow your beliefs and become a complete human being. Abraham Lincoln said it was the destiny of all people to be free. It’s similar to the Buddhist concept of Dharma.

  Dharma, for Buddhists, is ultimate purpose or higher truth. It is our duty to find our personal truth. We must free ourselves and create our own future. Buddha described Dharma as the practice of Freedom.

  To quote the Buddha, “Just as there is only one taste in the ocean—the taste of salt—so in Buddhism there is only one taste. The taste of Freedom.

  In Buddhism, Dharma is a discipline that leads to Freedom. Many may think that discipline and freedom are opposite things. But they’re not! It takes more discipline to live free and prosper than to follow. Freedom also requires courage. Gandhi said, “Freedom doesn’t mean the absence of restrictions. It means possessing unshakable conviction in your choices in the face of an obstacle.

  Buddhism is about awareness, the power to view the options of the world with your eyes open. Freedom to see; Freedom to choose; Freedom to be free. But while Buddhism is meant to free our minds, what about our society? Can we be free thinkers in a society of expectations, judgments and conformity?

  We live in what is euphemistically called a ‘Free Country’ but are we utilizing our Freedom? Are we willingly limiting ourselves? We’re told we should follow our dreams but if we’re brainwashed from childhood about what our life goals should be, are we really thinking freely when we say “I want to be a success” or “I want to be famous”. Aren’t our standard dreams just following the program? If we just do what everyone else is doing, what does that make us? There’s a difference between independence and Freedom. Independence means self-sufficiency but freedom means that we’re not imprisoned by anyone else’s words, deeds or thoughts. People have been trained to love permission instead of freedom.

 Will Rogers said, "If you’re hungry, there’s not much choice when you’re eating from the apple barrel. All you can eat is an apple. Wouldn’t you rather eat from a fruit cart where you can have what you want?" 

Can we break out of the cocoon of imposed thoughts or is that idea too frightening for us? Wordsworth said that we tire easily of Freedom. Choices can be scary. Kafka said “Sometimes it’s easier to be in chains.” The Buddha, however, once said “Life is constant change. Don’t be as still as a stone.” Freedom is the path to happiness and happiness usually lies in the place we don’t look for it.

  To paraphrase the Buddha, Freedom does not lie in trying to escape but in accepting the impermanence of the physical world and freeing yourself from attachment to material things. We need to free ourselves from what we think we want. We’re given all of Earth to love but we choose only one or two things to care about. Yet do we really choose what we care about or is our choice made for us?

  Do most people realize how constricted they are or is it too painful to think about? Shakespeare said “Others cannot abide the question ‘Are you free?’ simply because they know they aren’t.”   

  Are we free? Do we want to be? In whose service is perfect freedom? Ours or society’s or both?  If we are free to be greater than we are, what heights could we aspire to? We could do great things with our freedom because Freedom is a noble thing. Lincoln said “Freedom is honorable both in what it gives and what it preserves.”

Rosa Luxemburg wrote in SOCIAL REFORM AND SOCIETY, that “Freedom is always and exclusively for the one who thinks differently.” Just think what your life would have been like if you were, as Alexander Dubek said, “As free as nature first made man to be!”

  Lincoln also said “We should allow no modification to the belief in freedom.” 


Are you free?

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    • profile image

      Alicia 

      9 months ago

      What a great article, short but to the point.

      Are you free? Great questions, since all of us in America believe we are. But are we, or are we slaves of domestication? Are we slaves to our ancestor's past and inherited tribal behaviors?

      Freedom is such a complex word, defined in so many ways, and interpreted in many more.

      I believe freedom to be an ethereal state of being which may or not be accomplished on this lifetime.

      We keep looking...searching... feeling for it. Smelling the essence of its reality and feeling its presence in the now. Escaping under the mountain of codes, and icons our species has created for the control of the masses.

      Are we? Should we? Will we?

      Thanks again for such inspiring piece. Keep them coming.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Kenwu; I'm very glad to hear that it sparked your interest. That's what writers love to hear.

      Rob

    • KenWu profile image

      KenWu 

      6 years ago from Malaysia

      I like the topic being discussed here. I have never thought about it before. It really sparked my interest to read more. Thanks.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      I appreciate the kind words, Hippie-girl. Thanks,

      Rob

    • Hippie-Girl profile image

      Janelle 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma, USA

      Very interesting hub, I enjoyed it. Great perspective, keep it coming. Voted up.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi cblack; Great story. I quit my job too and I've found more meaning enjoying life minute by minute, instead of obsessing about work. Be glad you have your family to spend time with. Enjoy life.

      Rob

    • cblack profile image

      cblack 

      7 years ago from a beach somewhere

      Freedom from the mind and thoughts is said to be the greatest freedom. I agree with Buddha how attatchment leads to suffering. During the recession so many people lost their jobs that the people that were left were terrified. I got to be miserable everyday worried about losing this attatchment to my corporate job, my new car, and my exepnsive cell phone. Since the day I quit my job, turned in the car and cell phone, I became less attatched to those trivial things and more in tune the things that really make me happy in life like going to the beach and spending time with my family. My tracphone and used car work just fine.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Becky; I'll be sure to look up your hub. Thanks for reading;

      Rob

    • Becky Band Jain profile image

      Becky Band Jain 

      7 years ago from New York, New York

      Great to see this post! I've just written something on a similar topic :)

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Thanks for the kind words,Tony. Freedom is scary to those who've never been free but it's the way humans were meant to be.

      Peace,

      Rob

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      7 years ago from South Africa

      A really wonderfulo exposition of the Buddhist concept of freedom - which is the human concept. Freedom is scary to those who have been brought up in an authoritarian environment, and is unltimately the most human way to be. I was reminded of Erich Fromm's "To Have or to Be".

      Thanks

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      I appreciate the kind words, toknowinfo. My goal is to get people thinking about things. Thanks for reading.

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 

      7 years ago

      Very interesting hub. You gave me a lot to think about and a lot more to learn about. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, your wisdom, and your perspective. I admire a lot of what you said. Rated up and awesome.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi seasha; I'm glad you found my little hub. Thanks for reading.

      Hello Craig; It's true; freedom isn't about religion at all. It's our natural, universal destiny. I wish more people coveted freedom than wealth. Thanks for the kind words about my writng.

      Rob

    • Craig M profile image

      Craig M 

      7 years ago

      This is a beautiful piece of inspiring writing. I like how you brought in a variety of quotes to flesh out the presentation on freedom. It reminds us that freedom is not about religion, but is just our natural human birthright to be free.

    • saesha profile image

      saesha 

      7 years ago

      i'm glad you posted this, there are so many christians here its kind of suffocating

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Greg;

      I'm glad you finally found a path that allows your spirit to grow. It's not always easy but it's very fulfilling.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      Rob

    • gg.zaino profile image

      greg g zaino 

      7 years ago from L'America- Big Pine Key, Florida

      Hey Rob, wanted to take a second peak at this material you present with an ease of writing, and so very well laid out.

      This topic of "Freedom" escapes so many. I will quote you here, "It takes more discipline to live free and prosper than to follow."

      I was a follower during my childhood,and adolescence, but my parents would always remind me, and enforce the concept to be myself, and not someone i wasn't.

      Right, tell that to a kid who wants long hair, bell bottoms, and the latest 'Doors' album . My world was small then , but the seeds were planted for both directions.

      I followed many years the way of an imperfect society instead of taking a chance to be different and allow for the criticism with understanding instead of anger.

      I don't question why it took so long to wear out the old mat and finally replace it with a new one. The world view i perceive now is one of kindness, understanding and is generous. It doesn't do well to say that i am completely free of negative emotion. I feel the need for balance is essential for all paths to enlightenment.

      I'd like to thank you again for another enlightening concept Rob.

      Peace brother ~ greg

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      8 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Thanks for reading, and for your kind words, HH.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      A well written and inspiring hub. Thank you.

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