We live our lives under a number of restraints. But if we shift our perspective a little, we can see that what appear to be restrictions on our freedom actually provide us with support.
One of humanity's ultimate desires is probably the desire for complete freedom. Since time immemorial, human beings have always sought to be free - free from the menaces of nature, free from hunger, free from disease, and free from political oppression. However, it does not seem that society can break all of these restrictions. As soon as one is eliminated, a new one appears in its place. For example, the car and the airplane were invented out of a desire to travel freely and quickly over long distances, but they have brought us new hindrances in the forms of air pollution, noise, and accidents. Does this mean that complete freedom is unattainable? Not necessarily.
In addition to the freedoms guaranteed by our civil rights laws, we have one more, very special freedom. That is the freedom of the soul, something inherent in each of us. We can exercise this freedom when we take a walk. When we walk on the sidewalk we can relax and walk leisurely. However, if we step off the sidewalk and into the road, we do not have a moment free of anxiety. In other words, accepting the restrictions of the sidewalk means freedom, and we can walk there with ease. It may help to remember that, even in the most fundamental, physical sense, we cannot be completely freed of bonds. It is because of the earth's gravity that we can stand or sit. Were it not for gravitational pull, we would not be able to walk with our feet on the ground. We would be like toy balloons floating here and there, unable to go in the direction of our choice. That would be just the opposite of freedom.
Buddhism teaches muso (formlessness) and musa (inaction). Though all things have form, one should not become caught up in mere appearances. We have a stomach and intestines - things that have form - and when they function correctly, we forget that they exist. This is "formlessness." As we walk we put out one leg, then the other, and we do not consciously consider that we are following certain rules. When the left leg goes forward, the right arm swings forward. When the right leg moves forward, the left arm does, too. We are unconscious of it all. This is what is meant by "inaction." In this way our entire daily life is muso and musa, and we behave ourselves without thinking, so we do not stray from the path. If this can be attained, then life becomes absolutely free, with no hardship or suffering.
The Buddhist Sanskrit term sila (precept) originally meant "good living habits." Its meaning is closer to "practical theory" than to "rules." In baseball, rugby, and other sports there is a theoretically "proper" way to catch, throw, run, and kick. Those who ignore it and do things their own way often make mistakes. Some athletes seem to come to a dead end in their careers and make no further progress. It is through steady practice in accordance with theory that one surpasses the mean and becomes an expert, a "person of inaction" who can unconsciously cope with even unforeseen situations.
It is the same in life. We are taught rules, that is, practical theory of behavior. Following the path of right living, a path laid out over generations, is the basis for becoming a free person. Buddhism teaches the vinaya, or rules. Rules, too, are based on experience. In both the home and society at large, rules or laws are established when someone behaves in a way that is seen as disruptive to overall order, and the family or community determines to stop it from occurring again.
In sports, those who ignore the relevant theory will simply not be able to improve, but if they ignore the rules, there will be no game. Therefore, one is penalized for breaking a rule. So to do well in a sport, one obeys the rules, hones one's skills, and tries to figure out how to defeat the opponent. When players do this, the sport becomes an activity with infinite depth.
In society there are cases of businesses prospering outside the law; but without proper effort, ingenuity, and appropriate research, in due course such enterprises will, without exception, be assessed heavy penalties. On the contrary, by obeying the law and diligently endeavoring to overcome shortcomings one at a time, a business will naturally grow.
The Buddha said, "The one who can overcome the self is the greatest of all conquerors." Georges Clemenceau (1841 - 1929), the French premier during the last years of World War I, was a daring, determined statesman known as "the Tiger." It is said that Clemenceau's strength of will facilitated the Allied victory after a series of bitter battles. However, this is not the victory to which I call attention. Clemenceau was a great aficionado of cigars. He apparently smoked them all day, and his physician became worried and warned him to limit himself to six a day. Clemenceau is reported to have responded, "Well, if I am to limit myself to a mere six, I might as well swear off them entirely." Before long, however, a box of cigars reappeared on the premier's desk and was always open. Someone said to him, "I thought Your Excellency had given up smoking." Clemenceau replied, "The joy of victory is greatest after a hard battle. With these cigars I love so much right before my eyes, I am fighting a hard battle." In the last year of the war, Clemenceau was eventually able to gain mastery over himself.
When one seeks to live up to a certain decision, one's worst enemy is oneself. Since people nowadays are not taught the joy of "conquering the self," they see various rules only as restrictions on their freedom. Staying on the path may at first give one a feeling of restriction. However, by following the path, one realizes that that feeling of restraint is actually a springboard to betterment and self-renewal. And if one continues to persevere tenaciously, that feeling of restriction will vanish like clouds and mist. One will not be bound by anything but instead will have a carefree frame of mind. It is in precisely this attitude that true freedom exists. This is not a special path. Anyone - right this very moment - can set forth on it.
Following the right path gives you peace and true freedom.
Copyright © by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.