Freedom is one of those words that can be used in different contexts to have very different meanings. The type of freedom most often spoken of is freedom from constraints of various kinds, i.e., license. Yet each of us lives within an economic, cultural, and social context in which all freedoms are not equal. The boundaries of personal liberty vary widely depending on our circumstances.

Bhikkhu Bodhi proposed a radical re-definition of freedom, as spiritual autonomy. (from

Spiritual autonomy is an internal freedom, not dependent on external circumstances. Much as we might rail against the unfair acts of others, our own unwholesome roots are more confining. Our greed, hatred, and delusion are chains that, if we can loosen and escape them, offer the greatest potential for unshakeable freedom. Paradoxically, this greatest of freedoms requires discipline and vigilance over our own behaviors of body, speech, and mind. The demands are great and the rewards are commensurate.

“Just as in the great ocean there is but one taste — the taste of salt — so in this Doctrine and Discipline (dhammavinaya) there is but one taste — the taste of freedom”: with these words the Buddha vouches for the emancipating quality of His doctrine. (Bhikkhu Bodhi)

If we commit to keeping the five precepts (harmlessness, non-taking, sensual restraint, truthfulness, refraining from intoxicants) we’ll experience a significant level of freedom. The regrets and ramifications of unwise actions will be left behind. If we go further and undertake to study and practice the Buddha’s 8-fold path (skillful view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration), our understanding can open up and more freedoms become ours. Whether we are a struggling layperson or the most cloistered of monastics, we can walk the same path and experience the bliss of freedom to whatever degree we practice.

There’s a sutta that may be relevant here (S 2.26). In it, one of the gods, Rohitassa, says to the Buddha: “When I was a human being in my last life I was a yogi and I had the ability to walk through the sky, I was a skywalker. I could walk from one side of India to the other in no great time. I made a vow that I would walk until I reached the end of the world. But even though I walked through the sky non-stop for many years, still I couldn’t reach the world’s end.”

The Buddha replied: “Yes, Rohitassa, that is how it is — you cannot reach the end of the world by walking. But I tell you this: if you don’t reach the end of the world you won’t reach the end of suffering. The world, Rohitassa, is in this very fathom-long body with its thoughts and perceptions – in this body there is the world, there is the origin of the world, there is the cessation of the world, and the way leading to the cessation of the world.”  (Translation by Ajahn Amaro).

Ajahn Amaro explains: “So, in this very life, within the sphere of this living experience, the world can be known.” And I would add: the end of suffering can be known.

About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
This entry was posted in Causes and results, Dukkha, General, Mindfulness, The 8-fold path. Bookmark the permalink.

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