This is a chapter from Living Meditation, Living Insight by Burmese teacher Dr. Thynn Thynn.
Freedom to Begin
To achieve freedom requires only two things: a silent mind and an open heart.
What is it to be free?
In the Buddhist sense, ‘free’ means to be free from all suffering, to reach inner freedom where all 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 judgements, 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, belief 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 judgemental and opinionated. Judgements and discriminations arise out of an intellectual and conditioned mind. As soon as one makes a judgement 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 system have developed methods and styles particular to their own historical, cultural and emotional backgrounds. Each of us is left to find the right path for ourselves.
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 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 judgements 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.
Read the other chapters from Living Meditation, Living Insight on Buddhanet.