by Ven. Thubten Gyatso
My first taste of freedom was rudely interrupted when my mother busted myself and my brother with pocket-fulls of three-penny pieces. We had wagged school for three days on end and profited greatly from wayward golfers on the local course, whose drives from the tee ended up in a tidal stream that cut across the fairway in a most unfair manner, and they had to pay us three pence for each ball we retrieved.
For the remainder of my school and university days, my concept of freedom was the cessation of classes and examinations. When that was finally achieved, my second taste of freedom was rudely interrupted when I was busted with some Indian weed in my pockets. My concept of freedom then became a commune in the countryside where I and like-minded friends would return to the earth and live our own lifestyle, free from the moral restraints of conservative society.
This third taste of freedom was rudely interrupted when I realised that I and my friends had similar emotional hang-ups to the ordinary people we had rejected. Abandoning the drop-out commune concept, I struck out on my own, believing that freedom was total self-sufficiency in all aspects of one's life. This did not work out either. A broken heart made me realise that happiness in life is dependent upon others, and to be happy I could not continue just taking, I had to give as well. The mental battle, independence versus commitment, raged. Freedom took a back seat.
Then some Tibetan Lamas in Nepal told me that self-centredness is the root of all our problems. I knew they were right. But when they told me about having faith in a person called Buddha, and stories about rebirth and karma which punished us for past misdeeds and rewarded us for past good deeds, my mind screamed, "Religion! Don't feed me your superstition designed to make people your lackeys and take away their freedom."
I ran away from the Lamas and my girlfriend, and travelled overland to England, seeking freedom. I moved into a squat in Bethnal Green with a new girlfriend whose friends were into extreme left-wing politics. It was election time and, at a meeting in a local school, I found myself debating with Vanessa Redgrave - a member of the Workers' Revolutionary Party. In response to my question about the death penalty, she said, "the capitalists have been using it as a weapon against the workers for centuries."
Then I asked her who was going to kill the capitalists now walking the streets of London - because they would never accept her politics and would fight until the death. "Are you going to kill them or are you going to ask the people here to do it for you?" I asked, indicating the blue-collar workers who made up the audience.
"What are you, some sort of Jesus freak?" asked a venerable old communist on the stage, trying to dismiss me. The audience came to my aid and demanded I be allowed to speak.
"No," I replied, "I have no religion. I have come here to find an answer to the injustice and imbalance that I see in our society, but all I hear from you is hatred. That is no solution."
Aware of Stalinist and Maoist evil, I had been hoping that British socialism would have a better face, but I was not impressed. The Buddhist explanation of the troubles of society, and the solution, was becoming more and more sensible. Although I was living a degree of freedom - a good woman, plenty of work as a doctor in London, and nobody exerting authority over me - I knew that, like the communists, I was not free from anger myself. The Tibetan Lamas were undoubtedly the happiest and most patient people I had ever met and, with mixed feelings, I decided to return to India to discover their secret. I also knew that this might lead me to becoming a Buddhist monk. "What a waste," said my lady, and I had no answer. Not wanting to cause future hurt through my anger, I had to go and find out.
In India, I discovered that there is no freedom while we remain enslaved to our disturbing emotions of anger, attachment, pride, and jealousy. As these are all derived from self-centred ignorance, the door to freedom is the wisdom that sees reality and opposes this ignorance. Following the Buddha's path of wisdom and compassion, even as a monk, is not a loss of freedom. It leads to complete freedom from the control of disturbing emotions, and from the control of society which blindly forces one into conformity.
No matter our status, we all
believe we are on the right path. If we have doubt, we follow the
majority, too afraid to make a stand against greed, the lust for power,
prejudice, and plain stupidity, despite the glaringly obvious failure of
any human society, now and in all of history, to bring lasting peace and
This teaching is by the Venerable Thubten Gyatso (previously Dr Adrian Feldmann), an Australian monk and old friend now working in Mongolia. One of the senior students of Lama Yeshe, Lama Zopa Rinpoche (and also Geshe Roach) he is currently teaching at the FPMT centre in Ulaan Baatar. These teachings originally appeared in his local English language newspaper in Ulaan Baatar and arereproduced with his permission.
Diane Olander (firstname.lastname@example.org),
these teachings first appeared on
the Internet on the website (http://www.gepeling.org/) of
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