Finding Our Freedom Within

By  E. Raymond Rock

When someone threatens our freedom, our inclination is to fight back – and fight back hard. No religion suggests that we stand idly by and allow others, either human or the forces of nature, to dominate us. The Buddha said, “I do not teach a surrender of anything to those powers that are evil, be they men or gods or the elements of nature.”

If our inherent freedom to live our lives freely, or practice our religion as we choose is threatened in any way, we dig our heels in and either openly or surreptitiously find ways to free ourselves from any yoke of oppression. This natural inclination is our human nature.

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Freedom, however, reaches beyond the capacity to go where we wish or be free from painful or unpleasant experiences, or from unhappy memories, or outward oppression. Fundamental liberty goes much deeper than that. The fact is, we can’t have pleasure without pain; that’s just the way life is, so when we say that we want freedom, are we sure that total freedom is really what we want? Or, do we just wish to be free from unpleasantness, which is not possible — as has just been mentioned. No pleasure without pain.

The problem is that we are forever being tricked into thinking that we are, in fact, free, when we really aren’t. More than likely, we are enslaved by an internal tyranny worse than any external tyranny we could imagine, and a tyranny that we live with every day.

What is amazing is that we cannot see this tyranny that imprisons us within, yet we are so adamant about threats to our outward freedoms. We just cannot see that we imprison ourselves! Can’t you see it? Can’t you feel it every day and in every way? It’s right in front of your nose! It’s what causes your constant angst!

If we could see, even for only a moment, how we are held captive by our own dictatorial mind, we would react as strongly as if our country had been attacked by an aggressive army intent on subjugating us and locking us away in horrible prisons. The prison of our mind is many times worse.
Seeing this internal oppression is not easy, but until we do, we will continue to be confused about life.

We can’t see this tyranny because we identify with it just as surely as we identify with the image of ourselves, and images complicate things. It’s as if an evil occupying force has taken on the guise of friends and relatives, and have infiltrated our very minds.

Being free from “something” is not the same as being completely free. Being free from something involves both the “something,” as well as that which is free from it. This is not total freedom. The reason it is not total freedom is because the one who has become free from that “something” is still culpable of becoming oppressed by something else. Can you see this? If it’s not Tomas de Torquemada torturing Jews, it’s Hitler a few centuries later. If we kill all of our enemies, more will only pop up as if there is an evil void in the universe that cannot remain empty! Even if we did somehow eliminate all outward oppression, an oppression would develop within our own organization. You see this happening all the time.

No . . . being totally free means being free from everything, including ourselves.

Once we see that we can never solve our basic problems by eliminating outside oppression, wouldn’t we, as thinking human beings, look for another venue? (Not that we don’t continue to fight against outside oppression)! But it’s very difficult to conclude that we can solve our problems in this manner (looking at ourselves) — there is a tendency to think, time and again ad infinitum, that if we can only solve our outward problem this one last time, everything  will be okay. But it never is for long. WW I turns into WW II, then into Korea, into Vietnam, into Iraq, and now we think that victory in the Middle East will bring us eternal peace. This is not intelligent.

So we are left with two alternatives; kill everyone that doesn’t agree with us or that is evil, which means the killing will go on forever. And with more powerful weapons every year, it won’t be long before we are all killed! Then did we win or lose?

Or; we might decide to find the real tyranny that dwells inside of each one of us, the actual root of violence. It’s never just the other guy.

Here’s the logic: Until we confront and understand this internal tyranny and see its potential to tear us apart, things will worsen. Look at the anger building in the world — even on our own highways that are replete with road-rage! Understanding this internal tyranny means realizing how our attitudes, as covert as we believe them to be, fuel others to act violently. Hating someone secretly because of their religion, or because of their philosophy or skin color, or what a few of them did to us years ago, will fuel violence. How can it not in this shrinking world?

And the problem lies within ourselves. Where else can it be — in the other guy? That kind of thinking has never worked. That kind of polarizing is the ignorance that perpetuates war and suffering. It feels good to say, “We’ll kill them all, we’re tough,” but these days, everybody is tough, and soon everybody will have nuclear weapons. How tough is anybody when a nuke hits them? And in the next war, the nukes won’t be going only one way!

When we finally decide to look at ourselves, rather than justify our actions based on our judgments and condemnation of the other guy, we back off a little. Not that we become a doormat for evil people to wipe their feet on, but we take the negative emotion and false conceit out of it (which doesn’t help), and by doing that, we become very efficient at what we do, including defending ourselves with a passion.

Defending ourselves with a passion, however, begins with intelligence instead of violence — the intelligence to not bother other people. If our religion or ideals or our form of government fulfills us, why in the world would we want to stick our noses in other people’s business and force our opinions upon them? They will resent us for it, and won’t forget our arrogance.

If we finally see within ourselves the mechanisms by which we perpetuate this warfare between others and ourselves, there is hope that we can end the violence. We are all violent. Don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise. We are violent animals, but we are thinking animals as well, and if our intelligence can override our fear and suspicion of each other and our animal emotions, a possibility exists of a world dedicated to loftier ideals other than those presently valued.

If how much we can get for ourselves and our clan or our country, (money and power), are our values, we will never get along with each other. There will never be enough money and power to go around! Hidden inside each of us is the tyranny that perpetuates this myth that money and power will secure us; and a myth it certainly is. Only love will secure us.

The tyranny hidden inside of us is no less than the “I” thought; the idea that we are separate from our fellow human beings, and if you think this is all new age nonsense, then please . . . continue with the killing.

“Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.” (The Buddha)

E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida is cofounder and principal teacher at the       Southwest Florida Insight Center, His twenty-eight years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at major bookstores and online retailers.  Visit

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