Freedom is not escape, it is not escaping from everything in the world that can create disturbances for the mind and spirit. Rather, it is letting a kind of wisdom that is inherent in life wake up, it is letting the light of this wisdom shine on your mind and spirit, and illuminate your life. Observing with this inherent wisdom, you will spontaneously cut all the ties that bind your mind and spirit, and conquer all kinds of habit energies and false thoughts that block your mind and spirit, and see through to the real characteristic of the causes of suffering.
Worldly affairs are like fireworks. Every time fireworks are shot up into the sky, there are always people who give a loud shout. This is a false realm. When a false realm appears, we do not have to start using the mind that judges in terms of good and evil. If you are happy or sad when something happens, this is starting up with the mind of good and evil. This happens because you are unable to abide in peace in the empty inherent nature, and you are unable to abide in peace in the true mind. When you do not abide in peace in the true mind, minor things can make your mind and feelings change a lot. For example, you were just very happy, but suddenly someone rebukes you, and at this your mind immediately fills with anger. You do not understand that when someone else rebukes you, this is a temporary emotion, and your being rebuked is just a memory. If you abide in peace in the true mind, and you are not concerned with anything, then nobody can rebuke you, and nobody can take away your happiness and tranquility.
I often send friends a short note I have written myself: Always be clearly aware in the here and now; whatever you encounter, go along with circumstances; be happy and free from sorrow. Doing things is like painting space with colors: while you are painting, focus your attention, and after you have painted, let it go. In the mind and in emptiness, there are no cares or worries. This is the classic letting things take their course, and being relaxed and calm. Letting things take their course is going along with nature, being free and independent. Being relaxed and calm means that the mind is totally calm, without any anxieties, and without any vexations. If a person can thoroughly carry out the point I express in this short note, the person will achieve true freedom.
This kind of freedom is easy to talk about, but not many people can accomplish it. Why is this? It is because people who grow up in an ignorant social environment are like children who have grown up in a pack of wolves – they cannot change the wolf cub energy they have had their whole lives. Through long conditioning, mistaken viewpoints have already become like maggots on meat. They have merged into our lives, transformed our sense of values, our views on human life and the world, even our moral standards. Therefore, even if we understand some theoretical truth, we will always see everything in the world as very real. We especially see our bodies as things that really exist. What the eyes see, what the ears hear, what the nose smells, what the tongue tastes, what the body touches, what the brain thinks of – all of these things are deceiving us, and we are afflicted by all kinds of clinging and attachment, and we get farther and farther away from peaceful tranquility and clear illumination. This is why Lao Zi said in the Dao De Jing, The Book of the Path and Its Power: “For the sake of the Path, reduce this, and keep on reducing it and reducing it, in order to get to the point that there is no contrived action, and with no contrived action, nothing is left undone.” The meaning of this saying is that we must energetically clear away the filth from our minds and spirits, until we have removed all our ideas of material gain, and dissolved away all desires, and reached a state where there is no seeking: only then will our true mind send forth its crystalline pure clear light. When we abide in peace in the true mind, whatever we do, whatever we think, it is all the wondrous functioning of the true mind. Only then can we do things without clingingand being attached to them, only then can we taste without greedy longing. No matter what we do, it will always be without calculating the results, and no more will it produce afflictions.
Unfortunately, many people do not understand this point. They accept the false as true, and cannot see through to the true characteristic of affliction, and they are greedy for the various pleasures of the world. They are unwilling to be like the people who cultivate practice, to lead a regulated and pure life: they feel that such a life would inevitably be boring and insipid. But they do not know that this kind of life holds within it the bliss of a plain and simple tranquility. The bliss of this tranquility is also a poetic feeling, a kind of ecstasy that goes beyond material gain. The happiness of this cannot be compared with ordinary happiness, and it is something that nothing in the world can shake. Thus we say, although there are many kinds of affliction, when we get to the bottom of it all, there is just one basic cause that produces affliction: that is “not clearly understanding.”
Once people do not clearly understand, then they will make mistakes by going against the correct principles, and invert the root and the branch. It was because of this that the Heart Sutra says: “Far removed from inverted dreamlike thinking is ultimate nirvana.” What does it mean by inverted dreamlike thinking? First, not to understand the true principle of impermanence, and to accept the false as the true. Second, to be greedy for worldly pleasure, and not understand that desire is the source of suffering. Third, not to understand that everything in the world is empty, illusory, and impermanent, and that there are no differences in basic substance, and because of this, to give rise to many dualistic false thoughts. Fourth, not to understand that the “self” is also something created by the coming together of causal conditions, and has no intrinsic nature, and will not last forever. In other words, what the sutra calls “inverted dreamlike thinking” is accepting the false as the true, and clinging to illusion as reality.
I often say to students: “If you do not have the great death, then you will not have the great birth. If you do not have great pain, then you will not have great peace.” This is just because a person’s life is filled with various kinds of inverted confused views and interpretations. Among these what is the most to be feared is conventional happiness, whose basic substance is suffering, and to accept it as genuine happiness. This is because when a person feels happiness, the person will not want to change anything. Conversely, when a person encounters suffering and difficulty, and experiences setbacks that the person is unwilling to accept, then the person seeks to make changes, and begins to think and reflect: only then will there be different degrees of growth. When devastation attacks, then this is what I call “the great death,” and it will allow people to completely let go of all their clingings and attachments to everything in the world. It will let them recognize the true mind, and see empty inherent nature, and gain genuine freedom and liberation. From this point they will live happily and without worries, and so, contrary to how it might seem, this is a “great birth.”
The sad part it, for some people, even when they meet with devastating blows, like the loss of their spouses, or a terminal illness, they still cannot completely awaken, and instead choose to live for the moment, and indulge their desires even more than they did before. Without a doubt they aretotally wasting their chance for liberation.
The true enemy of tranquility, of joy, of independence is desire; it is not the external world. If you cannot give up the various greedy cravings in your mind, then even if you escape far into the mountain forests and cultivate practice in seclusion, you still will not be able to avoid calculating and scheming. This is why there can be so many monastics who, although they wear monastic robes, have minds that are still full of greedy desires, clingings, and attachments. Moreover, to want to escape from everything in the mundane world and rely on the purity of the wilderness to recover your tranquility is a kind of passivity, and a kind of selfishness. Lama Thangtong Gyalpo [a Shangpa Kagyu master teacher, 1361 – 1485] criticized the many practitioners who escaped to the mountain valleys to cultivate practice and did not care about the hardships suffered by the common folk.
Thus we say that freedom is not escape. It is not escaping from everything in the world that can create disturbances for the mind and spirit. Rather, it is letting this wisdom that is inherent in life wake up – it is letting the light of this wisdom shine on your mind and spirit, and illuminate your life. Observing with this inherent wisdom, you will spontaneously cut all the ties that bind your mind and spirit, and conquer all kinds of habit energies and false thoughts that block your mind and spirit, and see through to the real characteristic of the causes of suffering. Then, even if you taste the fruit of suffering, in your mind there will no longer be any distinction between suffering and happiness. If you are this way, then there is no way for affliction to be produced.
When you train your mind and spirit according to the Dharma day after day, and you enter into a state of tranquility, and you are constantly observing all the changes in your inner mind, then you will gradually discover that true happiness and independence really do not require any external conditions, they are just a state of the mind and spirit. When you constantly preserve this state of tranquility, happiness, and lucidity, then you will discover that everything in the world is flowing by like a burbling stream of water, because what comes together also scatters again, and what scatters also comes together again. This includes your false thoughts and emotions, which become fewer and fewer – they are also empty, illusory, and impermanent.
Many times, in the instant that you concentrate, your calculations and the thoughts you care about spontaneously dissolve away, so you do not feel like going on calculating anything, and you do not feel like going on caring about anything, and you do not feel like going on seeking anything that is already changing, you do not feel like going on expecting anything that has not happened yet. You would rather value something while you have it, and give it a reason to last longer, and when you cannot get it or you lose it, then you let it go. You are not reluctant to part with things, and you do not expectantly await things. You just concentrate on the present moment, savor the present moment, do a good job in the present moment, until one day you discover that even liberation and reaching the other shore are no longer in your mind, but there is no longer anything in this world that can change your mind. At this time you finally experience thorough enlightenment. Thorough enlightenment is true freedom.