Posts Tagged ‘freedom’

What does it mean to be free?  There will be different connotations if you live in the middle of a war zone in the Middle East, or in a job that you feel chained to that is joyless and boring, or if you are incarcerated in a prison “behind the fence” as we say.  Then there is the prison of our minds and emotions that keep us from being free of our thoughts of lack, limitation, and ill health.

As a college professor I have seen that fear in my students eyes when they enter my developmental English class and know that they will not be free to take the “for credit courses” and earn a degree in their favorite area of study if they don’t pass my class. And yet at some time during that semester I can see the light go on in their minds when they finally “get it.”  They are finally free of their negative thoughts and fears and able to move on with their education.

H. Emily Cady in her book Lessons in Truth wrote:

You may think that something stands between you and your heart’s desire, and so live with that desire unfulfilled, but it is not true.  This “thing” is a bugaboo under the bed that has no reality.  Deny it, deny it, and you will find yourself free, and you will realize that this seeming was all false.  Then you will see the good flowing into you, and you will see clearly that nothing can stand between you and your own [good/freedom].[1]

You will be free!

Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years and yet he was still able to be a powerful symbol of black resistance to apartheid. On February 11, 1990 he was released by President de Klerk and in 1991 he was elected president of the African National Congress. In 1993 Mandela and President de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work toward dismantling apartheid.

A similar story can be told in our country about Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Susan Bright Eyes LaFlesche (Omaha Native American civil rights activist.) and R.C. Gorman painter, sculptor and Native American the first Native American to be internationally recognized as a major American artist.

R.C. Gorman Native American artist

Freedom: Nothing stood in the way of their “hearts desire.” Do not let anything stand in yours either. Freedom is not a place—it is a consciousness.

Be free to meet your good today!  Let me know how that goes!

In gassho,


[1] Cady, H.E. (1903).  Lessons in Truth. Unity Village, MO: Unity House


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Today we begin our adventure with the third of 10 Paramitas in Buddhism.  So far we’ve worked on Generosity and Morales and today it is Renunciation.   I looked up the word on Dictionary.com and it gave some great synonyms for the word: denial, forgoing, sacrificing, relinquishing, abandoning, surrendering, and yielding.  I liked all of these so much better than the word “Renunciation.”    The example they gave of the word was a king renouncing his thrown, which reminded me of King Edward III giving up his thrown for his lover Wallis Simpson, the famous American divorcee. To me it was more of sacrificing a life of fame and power for love.  For others it seemed like he was abandoning his country for sex and personal desires.

Each of us must follow our path in this life if we are to be true to ourselves.  Renouncing his thrown was not easy for him, accepting his proposal with all its intended and unintended consequences was not easy for her either.  Our lives may not be as dramatic and open to the eyes of the world as Edward and Wallis, but each and every day we make choices to renounce, to forgo, to sacrifice, to surrender things, ideas, habits, and more—we do so to be faithful to our “true self.”

Today let us take an inventory of our lives, let us see what is helping us design and live a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life—one that embodies the 10 Paramitas and beyond—one that lifts up humankind.  In the Christian Faith we are coming into Lent which is a time of renunciation a time when we sacrifice something for the memory of Jesus and his teachings of peace and love.  The Buddha is said to have sacrificed a life of riches and luxury to wander and seek the real meaning of life.

Sylvia Boorstein talks about Buddhism and life in her book Pay Attention, For Goodness’ Sake (2002), she writes: “And maybe it also means that people are realizing that what seemed important to them in their life—materialism and consumerism—doesn’t work at all to make a happy heart. It actually makes an unhappy heart. And an unhappy world. And maybe people are discovering that they really need something that speaks to the essence of their being, something that connects them directly with conscious intention, to the truth of their experience so that their lives become meaningful (page 4).”

And so when you take inventory of your life look closely at the things that made a difference, the things that brought you joy, peace, love, contentment, and a meaningful life. Then list the things that brought you pain, fear, anger, suffering, and loss.  Taking an inventory is not easy; it can open old wounds, faults, fears, frustrations, and losses.  But it can also help us remember past joys, happiness, loves, and successes. 

Once the inventory is completed take time to review the list and remind yourself of the things that you had to renounce or yield in order to survive.  It has been said that if life’s experiences do not kill us they make us stronger—sometimes in ways that we may not even recognize. 

I had to move in with my 92-year-old mother with Alzheimer’s disease and that meant giving up many of my so-called freedoms.  Freedom to come and go when I pleased, to sleep in or stay up late, to think only about myself, my schedule, my wants, desires, needs, ability to travel at will and more.  But what I have sacrificed is not nearly as much as I have gained in opportunities to actually practice what I teach: Living a life of the 10 Paramitas.

This experience gives me many opportunities daily to practice kindness, compassion, unconditional love, patience, yielding, relinquishment, and to sacrifice time and energy for something good and important—giving my mother a life of honor and respect where she can feel love and compassion each and every day.  Do not get me wrong it is not an easy path for me or anyone else that is taking care of an elderly parent or relative or a child or significant other who may be ill or disabled.  But millions of us do it and are, in the end, better people having had the experience.

For others reading this blog post you may be desiring the opportunity to relinquish an addiction to drugs, alcohol, food, or shopping—whatever is holding you captive to a life of fear, ill health, financial difficulties and the like.  Others may find themselves looking at a job or a relationship that is not functioning or fulfilling and it needs to be relinquished.  Let us each surrender to our good today.  Let us sacrifice expediency, fear, anger, and revenge for love, compassion, and joy.  Self-love and respect can be awakened in us if we yield to our good today. 

So take one thing from your list of past hurts and abandon it and surrender to the joy and peace that lives deep within you.  Creating a new you is not done overnight, and many of you will need help from friends, family members, self-help groups, spiritual/religious groups, doctors, and the like, but if you are willing to reach out, to relinquish your fears the consequences of change will be magnificent! Be free to relinquish the powerful hold the negative has on you, give it up, renounce it and instead yield to your good today! You may even find your true self! How wonderful is that. 

Let me know what happens!

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As I study the great Zen patriarchs and I come to Huineng I am reminded on this National day of Remembrance another great man who not only said but lived this question: Martin Luther King, Jr.  When Dr. King experienced discrimination in this life he set out to do the things he could do to eliminate it—not just in his life but in the lives of all Americans.  And then there was the Sixth Patriarch of Zen, Huineng, who was poor and illiterate and one day as he was delivering wood to a home he heard the words of the “Diamond Sutra” and it is said, “his mind cleared and he understood.”  That led him to seek a teacher.

Janet Jiryu Abels in her book Making Zen your Own (2012) writes this about Huineng’s journey to find his teacher.

“So it was that after what must have been an arduous journey, this poor, insignificant, illiterate, twenty-four-year-old man of lowly birth found himself before Master Hongren himself.  Here is their exchange in an abridged version:

‘Where are you from?  What are you looking for?’

‘I come from the south.   I wish to be a Buddha.’

‘If you come from the south, you must be a barbarian.  How can you be a Buddha?’

‘People may be southerners or northerners, but in Buddha nature there can be no south or north.  I may be a barbarian but what difference is there in our Buddha nature?’

Indeed, what difference?  It is a question to ask ourselves of all whom we meet.  What difference is there in our common essentialness (page 23-24)?”

This is the ancient question that Dr. King grappled with each and every day.  Although he was born into a family of educated parents and was taught to read by his mother, who was a teacher, before he entered school, he too wanted to know why things were not open to him and others of color like him.  He wanted everyone to know that there was “no difference” in their “common essentialness” so much so that he was willing to give up his life for his mission.

I am sure that he, like Huineng, had been called a “barbarian” and worse in his life time, but it did not stop either of them from seeing the truth about themselves and all others.  All men and women are created equal and deserve such equal treatment in the law and everywhere.

Jiryu writes, “Let us leave the sixth patriarch as he gives his last talk before his death:  . . . ‘This is the great way.  After I die, just go on practicing as before, as though I were still here.  If you go against this teaching it is as though my life here as abbot were meaningless.  And so Huineng died.’  The year was 713.  He was seventy-five years old. Today, because of him we can each say to ourselves: ‘I seek the great teaching.  Why should I stop halfway (page 32-33)?’

Dr. King did not stop half way either he gave his life for freedom and justice for all people regardless of their birth, low or high, literate or illiterate, rich or poor, black or white.  He once said, “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”[1]  Today we follow in his footsteps as we continue to work for freedom and justice for all, and as we follow in the footsteps of Huineng and live a life where there is “no difference” in our “common essentialness.”

We too can make a difference in the world in which we live. Today is a very special day to continue on our current path or begin anew.  Not only is it the day we celebrate the life of Dr. King it is the second inauguration day for the first black president ever elected in the United States of America—a feat that could not have been won without the life and mission of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Through the example of these great men’s teachings and lives we too can help transform the world around us.  So why should we stop halfway—Huineng, Dr. King, and President Obama did not and neither should we.

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