“Most of us tend to think about freedom as being able to say and do what we want. We think of freedom as depending on external circumstances. If we can’t do what we want, we think, this is largely due to society’s constraints on us.
So, naturally, we think of ‘others’ as the enemies of freedom. In this way, we create a dualistic perspective, and as a result freedom becomes mostly about challenging our enemies, our foes… and about overcoming them.
But then, after some time, we might have some doubts, and we might start to ask ourselves, “Is this what freedom is really about?” The very nature of this outward perspective is that such doubts would keep popping up. Why? Because it is endless; because the actual source has not been dealt with. So how do we actually find true freedom?
For me, the Buddhist viewpoint is so interesting because it actually deals with the core of the problem. It focuses not only outwardly, but also on an inner perspective, on trying to know ourselves.
Right now, we may think that we are free do what we want, but actually we are not. We are totally dependent, totally dependent on so many things.
First and foremost, we are dependent on food, of course, because if we go really hungry we may become ill, and we may end up doing regrettable things. So, already on this primal level, we are dependent.
But it doesn’t stop there. Even in our modern, well-developed societies, where so many of our basic needs are already taken care of and where most of us don’t have to worry about these basic human needs, we are still dependent.
Most of all, we are dependent on our emotions. For example, whenever we experience fear, then we naturally go back to anger for support, because anger seems like the only way to defend ourselves – so once again, we are dependent.
And so that’s why, if we really sit down and think about it, we come to realize that we have no control over so many things, and at that point we actually experience just how powerless we are.
So, again, how can we achieve true freedom? In Buddhism, the power of freedom lies in controlling what we do, not the action itself. Genuine freedom is about gaining control of ourselves; gaining control of our bodies and speech initially, but above all, our minds.
From this point of view, freedom comes from knowing our minds, knowing the real root of our problems, the real root of our obstacles. This ultimately involves dealing with the idea of self itself – because it is actually from there that all forms of challenges derive.
I believe that both spiritual and non-spiritual people who are willing to work hard and make sacrifices for the benefit of others, have a real potential for gaining freedom. Such people are able to put physical work, mental energy and time into whatever it is they want to achieve. Because of this inner strength, if they happen to come across the right circumstances, the proper methods, and a genuine path, they are much closer to actual freedom.
True freedom is total freedom within yourself, gaining control of your body, speech and mind. Then, almost regardless of external or outward circumstances, you are happy. You can do things with full conviction.
In terms of the body, this internal focus means, for example, watching your diet, taking care of your body, and doing other things to make you less prone to illness and help avoid many physical problems. But this is just an initial step.
Next, speech is very important. We have to communicate, we have no choice on this matter. So speech must have some ability – it’s important to learn the ways and skills how to communicate, and how to convey your message adequately.
And finally, and most importantly, true freedom lies in your thoughts, your mind. Every action – whether it’s a good or a bad one – will finally be decided by your intention, and by how you view things. So the mental factor is very, very important.
So, to gain freedom, you need to discipline your body, speech and mind. By doing so, you will actually gain much more freedom than you might think.
In this way, discipline is actually not about restricting yourself – quite the contrary, you discipline yourself in order to gain freedom.
When you control your ego or your self, you have all the freedom in the world. First of all, you realize the nature of ego, and by realizing that, you have no ego to be harmed or to be ashamed.
True freedom comes from conquering the self – the real root of our obstacles, our personal and global problems. I find it very interesting to deal with the self. It is liberating to work on inner experiences that we can do so much about, rather than focus on external circumstances alone, many of which we can have no control over. All challenges have their origin in their self. May you find the freedom you wish for in your selves.’
— His Holiness Karmapa Thaye Dorje