2020-12-07 The Path With Freedom
3:53AM Dec 8, 2020
The theme for the retreat that Matthew and I are using for our talks is that of freedom. And freedom is one of the, you know, primary characteristics of Buddhism is kind of what gave birth to Buddhism was the Buddha's own freedom. And, and so and it's the main reason he taught was to point to freedom to highlight freedom to pick freedom alive for us all, something we could taste and feel and sense and step into. So much so that Buddhism is sometimes called the, the Muti magga. And that's a Pali term that can be translated into English a number of ways depending on the preposition that's used in Pali, there are no prepositions. So, I kind of delight in the different meanings of possible meanings of this expression. The moody means liberation, freedom release, some people have translators deliverance and emancipation in English, but generally we call I like to call it release, but freedom, liberation. And maga is usually translated into English as path. And so it becomes the path related to freedom. So it can be the path to freedom, it can be the path of freedom, in that this is a path that is, is manifest or highlights or reveals or expresses freedom all along the way from being a beginner all the way to the end. And, and also, I think of it as the path that arises from freedom. So it doesn't quite work to say, the path from freedom as if we're trying to escape it. But that arises from it, how we live our lives, with the reference point of freedom. And maybe if we use the word freedom, some over and over again, maybe it loses some of its value and importance, or seems kind of abstract. A synonyms for this, in their early tradition, would be a profound peace. Probably the, in the earliest periods, the primary positive characteristics of freedom is happiness, and peace. And I like the word ease a lot. Maybe I see ease as a hybrid of, of happiness and peace. And so it's a path of ease, a path a to ease, with the ease, that grows out of ease. And so to discover that ease discover the freedom to discover that peace is one of the great milestones of Buddhist practice. So I want to tell you, two stories, that two part stories. The first is a quite classic story. And then there's a second part that the there were these two monks who were traveling on foot and and they were going to visit some great monastery with a great teacher there. And they came to a river, the water was fairly high. And there was a woman there who was it wasn't able to afford the river alone. And she was kind of stuck, she needed to get to the other side. And so the first bunk just went ahead and cross the river and leaving the to the other monk and the woman behind. And the second monk, then went and up to help the woman picked her up and carried her across to the other side. On the other side, he put her down, and the two monks continued walking this time in silence for many hours. And just before they came to the monastery for the night, the second one couldn't contain himself anymore. He burst out with a lot of pressure. How could you you who are a monk who made a vow not to touch any woman at all? How could you have picked up that woman to carry across the river? You broke your vow. And the second monk said in reply, I put the I put the I put the woman down, back at the river. Why are you still carrying her
So maybe the first the second month, when you lifted the woman over the river, maybe he broke his bow somehow. And that's a whole other question kind of discussion. But the idea that he did it with freedom and put her down and he left her behind the monk who was resentful or upset that he was carrying something with him for hours, built up pressure, he was not free, he was caught somehow, in having picked up and holding on to his resentment or his sense of outrage or righteousness, or I don't know what it was. But he continued, the further the the market picked up, the woman was free, in a sense, did what he needed to be done, maybe even free of his rules. The second one was stuck, maybe stuck because of the rules. So they spent the night in the monastery and, and as they were leaving, the teacher of the monastery, saw that they were very sincere, and wanting to give them a present and teach them. And the present was a very rare, very important Buddhist book that was said to be really contain some of the real essence of Buddhism, and then a very effective way to really help people discover what freedom was, and they really kept the keys through this path. And it was a rare book difficult to find. And he had that the teacher had two copies. The book was quite big. It was, you know, it was a very big heavy book. And, and so the teacher was going to offer this to the two monks. And the first monk took the book. The second one said, No, thank you. And, and I think I know everything that book has to teach. And so off, they went on their, on their on their way, and they had a long hike to go and up over a mountain was very hot day. And as they went, the one carrying the book found the book to be in tarlow, intolerably heavy. In fact, after a while, it became a real burden going up the steep mountain that seemed impossible to make it up anymore. And he couldn't really go back. He was in the wilderness, he couldn't go forward. He was heavy, heavy book. And, and the other monk who didn't have the book, he just went up the mountain just fine. He didn't have this heavy weight he was carrying. Finally, the first one, put the book down and left it on a rock, because it was impossible to continue into the wilderness where they had to go with this weight. And, and when they came to the top of the mountain, the other monk was waiting for him there. And so the first monk said, wow, you know, wow, how come you able to walk up the mountain so easily, and I wasn't. And so the second one said, Oh, it's because you picked up something heavy. I knew better. I knew that they were I wasn't going to work to carry this heavy book on this trip, we were going to go. And I knew that what the book was going to teach me was don't pick any don't pick up anything extra. Don't carry anything extra. If it's extra, put it down. So this idea that there learn how to not pick up anything that's not needed. The idea of being able to put down anything that's not needed. And if it's needed, then to learn how to hold it in an open hand. And this metaphor of holding something in an open hand, I think is quite profound. Because with a hand open, like, you know, if you're holding a bird, and that hand is open, the bird will fly away. If you hold it tight, you might hurt the bird or even kill it. But too, you know, so if you hold your I know the woman who lived next to IRC, when we bought it, and she would feed the birds and she would put out our hand and the birds would land on her hand and pecker their little seeds you had and then the birds would fly away. And so the to have your hand
open, to support what wants to be supported. And take your freedom to whatever it needs to fly away to go. And this is kind of counterintuitive for many of us, because the idea is we have to hold on tight to what's important for us and what we cling to when we want, or we have to close ourselves off from what we don't want. But Dharma way, the path of freedom is to find out how to walk through life, with an open hand, a hand that can support what needs support, and that allows things to go that are no longer needed, or things that are ready to move on are ready to be free. It's not dismissing anything, or it's certainly not dropping anything. You know, sometimes this idea of letting go as as expression of freedom is not quite right. Because we can let go of things and drop them and break them as we let go of them. And, and some things shouldn't be let go of. But to hold it with an open hand lightly, so that it's free to go when it's time for it to go. And it's free to stay as long as it's appropriate to stay in the in the warmth, softness of our open palm, we can hold all the things that need to be picked up and let them leave all the things that are ready to leave. This would be a way of living in freedom to live with a fist closed, either because we don't want anything to get into that first into the palm keeping things that way. Or because we're clutching something so tight, we're not going to let it go away. The hand is not free. The hand in that case, is stuck is is is is caught is it suffering we say in Buddhism. So discover this way this path, have a heart that is open to allow things to come and go. But has the openness to offer support and care and love to what is needed to has a room to hold what is needed. But it's not holding anything from the bird from flying away or our friends to go when they're ready to go and not holding on to them. This is freedom. So to discover this on the path of freedom, I'm fond of the idea that the primary meaning of the word Mugu in Pali language is not path. But the primary meaning is road. And I think of a road as being really wide. And I think of a path as being really narrow, I think of a path generally to be something that just wide enough for one person to walk. And with the idea that the the it's a road to freedom, it's a it's a highway to freedom, it's a vast and wide the space of freedom. Sometimes the, the this path to freedom is called the middle way, the middle path are the middle road. And, and said to be the middle road between essential indulgence and self. Not denial exactly, but self harming. And usually it's called asceticism, that the literal meaning some like self reflection or self harming, and the middle, the middle road between that, and I've always been perplexed about how is this what does it mean to be the middle between these two extremes of Central Intelligence and, and self harming? asceticism, and it's supposed to be the place where there's equal amounts of each of them right in the middle. Or he's supposed to have one foot like on a center, you know, one of these seesaws the kids play on, where are we to one side and each one foot in each side a little bit of each. Now what does it mean to be in the middle? It turns out the Pali word for middle also means in between.
It can also mean an interval or a space or a gap. So the middle way is that gap that space, that's between things that opens up the opens up the way, without any obstacles. The path of freedom, the road to freedom is an as is it, open space, without obstacles. That's how a road works. If a road through the jungle is a clearing, we're nothing blocks our path to go forward. And so, to learn to walk the walk the path to freedom is to discover what these obstacles are. Discover how we close the fist of our hearts, how we resist and push things away, how we create obstacles and hindrances for the hearts ability to be at ease for the hearts ability to be happy, and to be at peace. And, and so we want to discover where that is, because what we're doing in Buddhist practice, is we're making the road as we practice, there's not some kind of road to liberation outside of ourselves, you won't find the road to liberation at IMC at IRC, you won't find it then bodhgaya where the Buddha was enlightened, the only place you will find it is in your own heart and your own practice. And in a sense, we practice to clear the road to make the road free of obstacles. So the heart can have that openness and freedom to move freely forward. And the way to do that, is to become wise and understanding about the obstacles. Rather than focusing too much on freedom, and too much on getting past the obstacles to freedom. The Buddha made a strong emphasis that a wise person is someone who is wise about the obstacles. Someone who's really wise about how we cling, how we resist how we pick things up and hold on to them and never put them down. Someone who becomes wise about how about what we're doing, that gives birth to suffering. And, you know, somewhat some ways that's not what people want to do, they would rather have freedom quickly and easily and not have to do the work to experience that. And it's possible sometimes to have accidental freedom, it's possible to have conditions come together and feel like there's no obstacles here. And I can just be free and do what I want. And that wonderful feeling of being uninhibited. But the problem is kind of like if you're in the jungle, lost in the jungle, and tried to find your way out of the wilderness. And somehow by accident, you stumbled out of the wilderness to safety. But you didn't learn how you didn't learn the path out of the jungle. Then if you ever get lost again, you can be just as lost. And maybe then you won't be so lucky to accidentally stumble your way out. But if you're paying careful attention, as you're about how you're finding your way out of the wilderness, then if it happens again, then maybe you can find your way out you understand the landmarks in what's needed. So, by really taking time, slow time in this practice, to develop the meditation, develop the practice and begin looking and being willing to look at how you pick things up and hold on to them. What are you caught by what are you preoccupied with? What are you afraid of? What are you really greedy for and really want more than anything? What are you resisting? What are you not willing to look at and close down around the to look at the to really understand those things. And this is where ideally, this V mu t magga. This path related to liberation is a path with liberation.
That we make the path with a sense of Freedom. And this is what I mean by this. That, of course, we're going to have obstacles, of course, we're going to run into places where we cling and get attached. Of course, we're going to get stuck and preoccupied, get afraid and resist. But the path with freedom learns to look at these challenges and hold them in the open palm of the heart, the open palm of awareness, we learn we can learn in this prep path of mindfulness, how to bring attention, awareness to anything at all. But not make that thing a problem. Just make it one more thing that we hold in the soft, warm palms of our hand. The hand of awareness. We're not afraid of it, we're not pushing it away. We're not trying to fix it. We're not trying to we don't judge ourselves by it, we don't criticize ourselves, we don't get angry at it. The phenomenal practice of mindfulness is to you know, sometimes mindfulness is defined as nonreactive awareness. I think that's just another way of saying, awareness with freedom, to the to awareness freely, openly hold and be aware of the very challenges we have in our life. This is a phenomenal skill to develop. It's not easy. And on the first day of the retreat, I'm sure many of you have found it not easy to be with the first day challenges. The it's kind of inevitable that many people in the first day of a retreat will be more tired than they ever expected they could be, or their body will hurt more than they ever expected it could be, or their mind is more unruly than they ever thought would be on retreat. You know, the mind is spinning and caught up and is concerned, you can hardly stay present. Some people are surprised to find headaches on the first day or all kinds of things that might happen. And partly, it's this huge transition we're making, that the whole psychophysical system has to adjust this whole different way of being. And some of it is that when we finally stop from the daily rush and doing things it's a we encounter, what we've been running from or what we've been not really paying attention to when the whole system begins to equilibrate. And that process of, of coming to harmony sometimes goes through a period of needing to sleep, being tired, aching, a variety of things that goes on. So these can be considered obstacles and difficulties. Common with the kind of expression idea that some people have is, if only this wasn't happening, then I could practice. If only I wasn't, my body wasn't hurting so much, then I could practice mindfulness. If only I didn't have a headache, then I could practice, only my mind wasn't so busy, then I could practice. But the path with freedom is a path that steps towards all this and holds it as if it has permission to be there. holds it with awareness. supportively, maybe even lovingly, but with a hand open. So when it's ready, it can go and kind of continue this hand metaphor. If a hand is in a really, you know, somebody with someone there, the hand is really tight and clenched and they're really angry. And they're besides themselves, the anger and maybe you've seen some people who's clenching their fists when they're doing that. And they don't even know they're doing it. But if you come with your supportive hand, and come underneath, and, and just support that fist that they're having, inevitably, just feeling that support you're holding the way through their fist at hand, check the chances are that fist will begin to open and relax. So to come with the soft, warm hand of mindfulness,
to hold what is difficult to hold the challenges, then we are making the path to freedom in the sense that challenges are no longer obstacles. They're just difficult and uncomfortable and somehow challenges But we find our freedom we offer our freedom, a way of being free and not reactive to whatever's going on that path with freedom. And then, and as we go along, we start getting a strike, sooner or later, we get a sense of what this path of freedom is, we get a sense of the ease, the sense of being uninhibited that the sense of being unconstrained that, that there is freedom, now I can breathe easily. Now there's a breath of fresh air. Now there's an openness here. But the way they're, as I've said, you know, so often understanding the obstacles, and I want to set it and use this to make another point about obstacles. If you have free rein, to act on every impulse you have, say that mostly what you want is to acquire things to more things you can have more shopping you can do, the happier you will be and used. And then you can, someone gives you a credit card with unlimited funds in it. And you can't believe you're good luck. And you can just spend every waking hour just on the web shopping, just clicking away, clicking away, just getting more and more stuff. And, and you don't have to worry about it filling your house too much. Because this credit card allows us to buy a bigger house and just more space to have more stuff and more stuff. And, and, and you tell your friends, I have so much freedom, I can buy whatever I want. This is not freedom in Buddhism. In fact, in Buddhist understanding, it's bondage. Because then, if it's compulsively just buying and buying and buying, then the compulsion is a form of bondage, where we're not really free. And we discovered that we're not free. If the credit card is taken away, and the habit, the impulse, and the compulsion to shop is now reaches a dead end, like, Oh, I, I click, I click, click, you know, bye, bye, bye and nothing works. And then so frustrating, and we try harder, and we click the cart or what's wrong here, I'm with more. And it's by not getting what we want. That that compulsion to buy is seen. When we sit and meditate on retreat, or any meditation, or doing walking, meditation was a constant walking back and forth. The constancy of sitting still, the constancy of walking back and forth, is meant to partly to be not just a way of becoming calm, or concentrated, or mindful. It's also a kind of a reference point to discover where we are not free. And as far as someone new to meditation, who's never, you know, someone who lived a very busy agitated life, and they sit down to meditate. And there are people who sit down and told to sit down and not move and just be with their breathing. And it's impossible for them not to move. They're so jittery, so active, so moving, every impulse to move they feel compelled to act on. And maybe part of the reason there's so much agitation is that there's all these unresolved emotions that they're constantly trying to get away from. And so there's no real freedom. Or say that you sit and meditate. And, and the next thing you know, you're meditating just fine. And the next thing you know, you're busy cleaning the refrigerator. To act compulsively. impulse impulsively, is not where freedom is found. But if the commitment to sit still in meditation is strong, then the impulse to move the impulse to clean the refrigerator will arise. But we get to see it with great clarity.
If the impulse is to avoid something, to pull back from something, but the commitment is to sit still. We might notice the even physically how we pull away and pull back from the experience or maybe in the mind, you feel the mind closing down. And it doesn't want to stay on the breathing. So I think of the sitting still in meditation as kind of a middle way, or a middle of reference point, that helps us to see all the ways in which we leave the center, leave the freedom, leave the stillness of the middle, middle way, or the open way in between. As we start getting deeper and deeper into meditation, then we should not just be doing it, we see it in the body, we start seeing it in the mind. So if you're staying focused on your breathing, the constancy of your breathing, you might find that not so easy to stay with the breath. You what you're seeing, if the mind drifts off, is you're seeing how there's, you're actually not that free, you're not free enough to rest and be peacefully present on the breathing. Because something inside of you has a strong energy, to think about things to think about what it wants, what it doesn't want, what it's hoping for what it's hoping not to happen. There's a lot of compulsion and thinking. And we get to start seeing the movements of being for and against, of closing up, or of picking up or trying to throw away. But simply holding that constancy with the breathing can help highlight how much of that movement we're doing. And we start seeing where we're not free. The solution is not then to hold yourself frozen Lee still and hold the mic kind of frozen Lee attentive like gripping on to the breath. The the way forward is to really again, as I said earlier, is to take take your time, have in between time, have a sacred time, to hold and be present for all these movements, compulsive movements of the mind all the ways we pick things up all the things that we you know, don't put them down, we get stuck in them. Hold them in the soft, warm palms of your hand. And if awareness and look at them and get to know them. And perhaps, almost certainly a lot of this ways that we're caught and not free, are just the equivalent of a fist that if it feels supported, will relax and open up and come to peace. All the ways that were attached and we cling, inherent in the clinging in the attachment in the anger, in the blame resentment in the greed in the lust. In the neediness in the in many in the anxiety inherent in the mall, is that potential a possibility of release of loosening up of opening up just like the fist that opens up when it's supported. And how can you bring as supportive awareness to whatever is happening. So that you're supporting everything to find its way to its potential for freedom.
So I once had to read a very big, big book by a very wise, great Chinese Buddhist teacher from the sixth century. And luckily it was, you know, in small print and fine, thin paper, but it was a big book lot. And this was supposed to be a great teacher who had his style, studied all of Buddhism, up to that point 1000 years of Buddhism and had summarized it all in this big great treatise this book. So I was reading that book. And, and then I came across halfway through the book. I came across a line that this is what the book is all about. This is all I needed to know from this book. And the line was, his liberation beckons us from within everything. liberation welcomes us, calls on us from within everything. The idea that everything is found a request, or an invitation to find the freedom that's there. In the midst of all the ways that you feel, you discover you're not free. Don't lose heart, by how often you get caught, and how often you pick things up or but you learn that how to be free with those things, awareness can hold them and be supportive of them. Then they can move towards freedom, freedom evolves or unfolds or resolves itself unwinds. We can really trust the simplicity of mindfulness, the simplicity of an open hand. So we sit on retreat, not only to become calmer, more centered, more concentrated, those those things certainly happen and they're useful. But please don't make that the primary thing you're doing. We'll have that be the supportive to support cast for what's really important. We allow ourselves to become calm, we allow ourselves to relax and settle in, and have some continuity and concentration in the present moment. As as the support for learning the art, the skill, of holding all the ways we're not free to hold it with an open hand. So that freedom can find us. So that the way that everything has freedom within it can be released that freedom can be released, that freedom can be opened up and and the image we have in Buddhism is the jewel, the jewel in the Lotus, as the Lotus opens, there's a jewel there. And that jewel is our freedom, liberated mind. Maybe everything is a lotus, if we hold it, and allow it to unfold, and everything can become free. If we offer our freedom to it, the freedom of awareness, the freedom of attention. So the path to freedom, the path of freedom, the path with freedom. Freedom is part and parcel of this whole path of Dharma, the whole path of retreat that we're on.
And I'll end by saying that I'm confident that every single one of you has some has had some taste of freedom, the freedom that the Buddha is talking about. And I can say that with confidence because this freedom that Buddha's talking about is not so mystical or so not supernatural, it's not some radical, other worldly kind of experience. In its essence, it's quite ordinary. But because it's so uncommon, it might seem extraordinary. But there's probably if you look at the ordinary life you're living, maybe even now during the retreat, I can venture if you pay attention, you'll discover there are some places where your free will you find that open space, the open highway with There's no obstacles. And I'll give you maybe some examples, before I end this talk that maybe are evocative and suggestive of something.
When you, when you exhale, the inhale is no longer there. The absence of the inhale allows the exhale, the absence of the exhale allows the inhale, the absence of one gives freedom for the other one to be there. It's possible with a little bit of kind of care, to appear aware that as you exhale, you've now become free of the inhale, there's an absence there, there's an open highway there, for the exhale. As you walk, maybe the one foot steps forward, when the other foot is, you know, rooted firmly on the ground. The one that's on the ground gives the freedom to the other one to move a step forward. He,
when there's silence, there's an absence of noise, that gives freedom for the next sound to arise.
The way that sound travels through the air is used in Buddhism, as a metaphor, for a mind that is free.
So I don't know if those are the examples or have any meaning for you. But still, the the idea I'm trying to convey is that there's a lot of small freedoms throughout the day that we don't really notice. Because we're so busy with a mind going on to the next thing. And going on to the next thing. In a few minutes, you're going to be free of this Dharma talk. And it will allow you to do the next things that you do. And maybe it'll be you're happy to have it over. But there is a kind of freedom. When you come back to meditate next time, it's the absence of what you're doing before that allows you to sit down. Maybe you can start looking and trying to feel your way and where are the small, very ordinary ways in which I do things freely. It's possible to feel freedom when you're brushing your teeth. And it's possible to notice that there is no freedom brushing your teeth, because you're trying to brush your teeth quickly, to get it over with to go on to the important things in life. Or it's possible to notice how you're so concerned about some cosmetic aspect of your teeth, that you are really making it into a huge project. And there's not much freedom. Put simply brushing your teeth, no hurry, no lingering, not making anything special about just brushing your teeth. You might have a taste of freedom. And whenever it tastes that you have, let it register, take it in so that when you come to meet an obstacle, you you have some visceral rep, or kind of a kind of a reference point for what it feels like to maybe hold that obstacle in awareness that's free with a heart that can be open and supportive.
So thank you, and I'll free you from this talk. And thank you for this day of practice together and it's something I really value and appreciate and Every single one of you on retreat has done great. And at least at least I have my you have my tremendous appreciation for doing this. Thank you.
And then thank you all who are on zoom. I hope that that worked okay to basically a note giving the audience so I wasn't really talking to you this time. I'm looking at you here on this computer. But I hope that was fine to come along and, and support it for you and in your practice in your life, and this time of day, and it's relevant enough to come along and hear retreat, talk this way. And so we'll do this again on Wednesday, and Friday. And, Matthew, it's a little hard, it's hard to get him on zoom because on YouTube, so we won't do it for him. But his talks will be recorded. And, and there'll be available either directly an audio Dharma, if you look up his name, or if you look up the under retreats, and not Dharma, you can probably find this this under the date, you'll probably find this retreat and you'll get Matthews and then you can get the series and how we're building this and of course, so then the days so wonderful to that you could come along and I appreciate it. And thank you all