Inner Freedom - 1

By Matthieu Ricard on July 25, 2010

To be free is to be master of oneself. For many people, such mastery involves freedom of action, movement and opinion, the opportunity to achieve the goals they have set themselves. This conviction locates freedom primarily outside oneself and overlooks the tyranny of thoughts. Indeed, it is a commonplace in the West that freedom means being able to do whatever we want and to act on the least of our whims. It's a strange idea, since in so doing we become the plaything of thoughts that disturb our mind, the way a mountaintop wind bends the grass in every direction.

‟For me, happiness would be doing anything I want with no one having to say anything about it,” said one young Englishwoman interviewed by the BBC. Can anarchic freedom, the only goal of which is the immediate fulfilment of desires, bring happiness? There is every reason to doubt it. Spontaneity is a precious quality so long as it is not confused with mental chaos. If we let the hounds of craving, jealousy, arrogance and resentment run amok in our mind, they will soon take the place over.  Conversely, inner freedom is a vast, clear and serene space that dispels all pain and nourishes all peace.

Inner freedom is above all freedom from the dictatorship of ‟me” and ‟mine,” of the ego that clashes with whatever it dislikes and seeks desperately to appropriate whatever it covets. Learning to find the essential and to stop worrying about the extraneous brings profound contentment over which the fantasies of the self have no hold. ‟He who experiences such contentment,” goes the Tibetan proverb, ‟holds a treasure in the palm of his hand.”

So being free comes down to breaking the bonds of afflictions that dominate and cloud the mind. It means taking life into one's own hand, instead of abandoning it to tendencies forged by habit and mental confusion. If a sailor looses the tiller, let the sails flap in the wind and the boat drift wherever the currents take it, it is not called ‟freedom” — it is called ‟drifting”. Freedom, here, means taking the helm and sailing toward the chosen destination.