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Free Mind? Free Spirit? by Maurice George

My mind feels free. I think I can make up my own mind. I believe that I have freewill. And I would resent it if you told me that my freedom was non-existent; so be careful what you say to me ! So let me say right now that ‘freedom’ is a fraud.

What shall I have for lunch today ? I always have a couple of fruits plus (I must confess) a few shortcake biscuits and perhaps some chocolate. It’s part of my routine; it’s always the same. Every day.

Have you heard the story about the novice and the Zen master ? The novice said, “My life is so boring. Every day I get dressed and everyday I eat. I dress and eat. What advice can you give me ? How can I escape this routine and this monotonous life ?” The Zen master replied, “Put your clothes on and eat your food”.

Zen Buddhists will get the joke. It’s about freedom. It’s under your nose.

‘Free’ and ‘Freedom’ are ridiculous words. Free to … what ? Free to love, steal, go naked, kill, learn, speak, move, own, commit suicide ? Free from … what ? Free from want, disease, surveillance, control, hunger, prison, pain, the fear of god ?

When I sit on my cushion in the Zendo, I use my favourite formulas. ‘Just let go’; ‘Cast off attachments’;‘Just sit’; ‘Stand back, then stand back again; Look at the Totality’. This is how I attain concentration and freedom. But surely these are habits; surely this is a routine. So am I really free ? Routine is the enemy.

I remember with some guilt the words I said after the death of one of my aunts : ‘Her whole life was wasted’. Afterwards I felt ashamed of my judgmental comment but nevertheless it was true. She was stuck in an inescapable trap of routine. She was totally self-constricted. Totally unfree.

O.K., so how does that help in my daily life ? Not a lot. I have quite a bit of free time but I don’t use it mindfully. On a good day, I may be truly aware and truly free for five or ten minutes. I search for distractions, entertainment, gratification. Freedom misused is freedom lost. The concept of ‘freedom’ is fantastic but how can I find it ?

Let me ask you some cheeky questions. How much time do you spend every day on the Internet ? And watching TV ? And down the pub ? And shopping ? And so on. And you might ask me how much time I spend meditating every day ? I’m not telling you.

Now to ‘views’. These are the ideas which someone holds strongly. So our views are born from attachments. This is another sign of non-freedom. Once I told Sensei that I love my views. He answered, “I love your views too, Maurice, so long as they’re the same as mine”. Ouch.

The serious question is : If I try to eliminate my views (if that’s even possible), surely I will cease to be me. And my freedom is lost for ever. Of course I can’t solve these puzzles; but we need sometimes to look these obstacles in the face.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch the tennis on TV.

With metta, Maurice George