FreedomI just did an interview for a radio show called Freedom For All. I believe it will be broadcast on Friday. I’ll try to get the info for you about how to listen in.

I’ve been on the show before and the hosts always ask their guests the same question at the end of each interview. They ask what you have to say about this idea of freedom.

It’s an election year here in the USA and we’re hearing this word “freedom” a whole lot. But it’s unclear to me what it means.

I think real freedom is freedom from yourself.

Most people who talk about freedom seem to take the existence of a self as a given. They believe so deeply in this concept of self that they’re willing to do just about anything at all to build it up and defend it.

So for a person who believes unquestioningly in the reality of the self, freedom seems to mean freedom to pursue what that self appears to want. If it wants more money, it should be free to try to get more money. If it wants more sex, it should be free to set up a Tindr or Grindr profile and seek more sex. If it wants drugs then marijuana should be legalized. And so on, and on, and on.

But is it real freedom when we are compelled to chase after all the things this supposed self of ours wants? Do we even know what we actually want? Or do we just imagine we know?

Nishijima Roshi used to say that one of the greatest benefits of Zen practice was that it allowed him to do exactly what he wanted.

I used to think that was a very weird thing to say. It didn’t seem to fit in with my experience of practice. It certainly didn’t fit in with the Buddhist Precepts as I understood them. The Precepts seemed to restrict me from doing what I wanted to do rather than give me the freedom to do what I wanted.

But as I got more into zazen practice I began to see that there was a difference between what I thought I wanted and what I actually wanted.

That probably seems like a weird thing to say. If I think I want something, isn’t that the very definition of what I really want? I mean if someone tells me that I really want chocolate ice cream and I know for a fact I want cherry ice cream because that’s what I’m thinking about, well, isn’t that what I really want?

But then I realized Nishijima Roshi never tried to tell me what I really wanted. He only talked about using the practice to discover what he really wanted and then to do that thing. So I thought, OK, let’s see what I really want.

At that point I began to notice how unreliable my own thoughts were as a guide to pursuing what I actually wanted. I got confused easily. I’d try to justify my wants to myself. I’d try to convince myself I wanted certain things even though some part of me knew better. So I decided to try and see what happened when I paid more attention to that much quieter voice.

What I saw when I did that was that I didn’t really want a whole lot. Most of what I wanted I already had.

I’d expended a lot of my energy rebelling against the world I lived in. My circumstances were not what I wanted! What I wanted was lots better! But then saw that I was already getting most of what I most deeply desired even if I thought I was not. It was kind of a shock.

The freedom I really sought was not the freedom to pursue my ego-centered wants, but freedom from those ego-centered wants. And it wasn’t because those ego-centered wants were necessarily bad or evil or wrong or anything like that. It was because those ego-centered wants were not what I actually wanted in the first place.

So Nishijima’s crazy idea was once again correct. Zazen did let me do what I wanted by allowing me to see what I actually wanted.

To me, that’s where real freedom begins.

*  *   *

Registration is still OPEN for our Spring Zen & Yoga Retreat March 18-20, 2016 at Mt. Baldy Zen Center, Mt. Baldy, California

*  *   *

Check out my podcast with Pirooz Kalayeh, ONCE AGAIN ZEN!

* * *

I’ve got a new book coming out soon! Stay up to date on its release schedule, my live appearances and more by signing up for our mailing list on the contact page

My publishers are running a contest on Goodreads to give away 2 copies of my new book!


March 18-20, 2016 Mt. Baldy, California SPRING ZEN & YOGA RETREAT

March 25, 2016 Venice, California Mystic Journey Bookstore 7:00pm

April 7, 2016 San Francisco, California Against The Stream

April 8, 2016 San Francisco, California San Francisco Zen Center

April 22, 2016 New York, New York Interdependence Project

April 23, 2016 Long Island, New York Molloy College “Spring Awakening 2016”

June 2, 2016 Los Angeles, CA The Last Bookstore 7:00pm

September 9-11, 2016 Belfast, Northern Ireland 3-Day Retreat

September 16-17, 2016 Dublin, Ireland 3-Day Retreat

September 22-25, 2016 Hebden Bridge, England, 4-Day Retreat

September 27, 2016 – Wimbledon, London, England – Talk and Q&A

September 29-October 2, 2016 Helsinki, Finland, 4-Day Retreat

October 7, 2016 Berlin, Germany Zenlab

October 14, 2016 Munich, Germany, Lecture

October 15-16, 2016 Munich, Germany, 2-Day Retreat

October 23-28, 2016 Benediktushof Meditation Centrum (near Würzburg, Germany) 5-Day Retreat


Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Beginners only!

Every Saturday at 10:00 am (NEW TIME!) there’s zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. Beginners only!

Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website,

* * *

One of the main ways I maintain my freedom to do what I really want is through your donations to this blog. I won’t get any of the recent Angel City Zen Center fundraiser money. I appreciate your on-going support!

24 Responses

Page 1 of 1
  1. Khru 2.0
    Khru 2.0 March 16, 2016 at 7:25 pm |

    Perhaps. Perhaps not. I don’t know.

    1. Shinchan Ohara
      Shinchan Ohara March 16, 2016 at 8:27 pm |

      Officially, worst comments thread ever

  2. Mumbles
    Mumbles March 16, 2016 at 7:31 pm |

    Good post. It’s weird, we can’t wait to get away from our parents telling us what we want (ie; what THEY want), then we go looking for a guru to tell us?

    Things just naturally unfold, if we are perceptive enough to notice that, it’s easier to relax and enjoy the ride.

  3. Used-rugs
    Used-rugs March 16, 2016 at 9:06 pm |

    So like freedom is slavery. Whoa.

  4. Dogen
    Dogen March 16, 2016 at 9:07 pm |

    The official soundtrack for this blogpost is Come Along, by Titiyo.

  5. Cjskrabacz
    Cjskrabacz March 16, 2016 at 10:46 pm |

    Freedom is about not being compelled by others. It is not about the will.

    1. DontQuoteScriptureAtMe
      DontQuoteScriptureAtMe March 17, 2016 at 11:28 pm |

      So, freedom can be about being compelled by the self? I would have thought that compulsion and freedom were like ants and boiling water.

  6. french-roast
    french-roast March 17, 2016 at 2:11 am |

    The problem is how do you break the spell of the weltanschauung? As far as we are aware of the world, we inhabit a world made up of words. How do you break the spell of words? How do you break the spell of this conceptual ‘I’? It is this ‘I’ as a concept that is the spell. I as this, I as that. Once you ‘break’ away from the spell of the conceptual ‘I’, you must dig into the sense of self. There are many layers to this self, from the usual quite superficial ‘I’ as this and that, I in a context or situation (the usual daily functional bullshit), to a very pervasive and highly toxic claim of uniqueness, to yet other deeper aspects.

    We tend to see/feel this ‘I’ as the most precious, a thing in itself whose sole value and purpose is itself.

    How do you clean the house? By eroding the sense that we are special, unique, distinct, important, useful, separate. Some may get sudden glimpses into no-self, into no-separation which is not the same as no-self, but another facet of who we are, but that is not enough, the whole poison remains. Even ‘awakening’ won’t do it! It may take a blow once and a while, but always seems to come back. Sense of self is a feeling, it is an ongoing claim of uniqueness, separation, importance and that claim is being permanently denied by the world (others, circumstances, etc.). We fight inches by inches in order to accomplish this claim, it is so ongoing that we never experience anything other than this permanent claim, we are not aware of it, because we are aware as it. The only ‘real’ freedom I have ever experience in my entire life is the letting go of that claim.

    1. Nicole
      Nicole March 17, 2016 at 6:13 am |

      Bonjour french-roast,

      “How do you clean the house? By eroding the sense that we are special, unique, distinct, important, useful, separate.”

      I don’t agree. For me the basic issue here is that it is still the ‘I’ that cleans. It’s a fight of the I against itself that can’t work. Maybe I’m just not far ahead yet in my practice, but I don’t think that I even want to fight that feeling of specialness, uniqueness, importance, etc., because I don’t see anything inherently bad in it.

      What is bad is when I become so engulfed by these feelings, that I become completely blind to how special, unique, important, etc., the people around me and every other bit of the world are as well. Experiencing this is way more interesting and rewarding than my own uniqueness. I’ve already had glimpses of that before I started doing zazen, but it’s getting more … systematic, say … now that I am practicing it, and it’s the desire for experiencing more of all this beauty, specialness, uniqueness, etc. outside of myself that makes me want to push ahead, even at the expense of having to give up the ‘I’. Actually, it’s not really giving it up, it’s really forgetting about it, because it’s just not interesting enough. The Genjokoan is hitting it right on the spot for me, but I don’t read the ‘verified by all things’ part as a reward you get after you’ve ‘forgotten the self’, but more as a shift in focus, and the reward is in the shift itself.

      1. french-roast
        french-roast March 18, 2016 at 1:35 am |

        Bonjour Nicole,

        ”The whole problem of human distress is resumed in the problem of humiliation. To cure distress is to be freed from all possibility of humiliation. Whence comes my humiliation? From seeing myself powerless? No, that is not enough. It comes from the fact that I try in vain not to see my real powerlessness. It is not powerlessness itself that causes humiliation, but the shock experienced by my pretension to omnipotence when it comes up against the reality of things. I am not humiliated because the outer world denies me, but because I fail to annul this negation. The veritable cause of my distress is never in the outside world, it is only in the claim that I throw out and which is broken against the wall of reality. I deceive myself when I complain that the wall has hurled itself against me and has wounded me; it is I that have injured myself against it, my own action which has caused my suffering. When I no longer pretend, nothing will injure me ever again.”

        ” I can say also that my distress-humiliation reveals the laceration of an inner conflict between my tendency to see myself all-powerful and my tendency to recognize concrete reality in which my omnipotence is denied.”

        Hubert Benoit, ‘The supreme doctrine, ch.24’ (La doctrine suprême)

        I am torn apart between viewpoint and view. Between so call ‘subjective’ pretension and so call ‘objective’ observation. You are the light of the world, and this ONE light OF THE WORLD, has turned against its own self, ‘becoming’ viewpoints and views (me/the world). We fail at ‘seeing’ that both viewpoints and views (seer/seen) are simply two different ways of ‘being/knowing’ of this same light. It is not the exclusive light of a/the ‘single’ viewpoint, although we claim it is in one way or the other (thus our illusion of grandeur), and as we do this, we maintain a split, kind of ‘ I am the light of the world’ as this viewpoint (me) which is deny by the view (world) which is also that very same light. In some way, we cannot stop having this claim because we are this light, there is some truth in ‘it’ but it is not the whole truth.

        French-roast, chap.0

        1. Nicole
          Nicole March 21, 2016 at 2:28 am |

          Ok, now I understand you better. Thank you, french roast!

  7. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon March 17, 2016 at 2:16 am |
    1. mb
      mb March 17, 2016 at 3:00 am |

      Hey I thought waterboarding was illegal! This video should only be available through a Freedom of Information request. Definitely something Donald Trump should not ever watch – it might give him ideas.

  8. Kyla
    Kyla March 17, 2016 at 3:28 am |

    Love this blog entry!! Very good.

  9. Mob
    Mob March 17, 2016 at 3:35 am |

    Ah, my friends from the prison, they ask unto me
    “How good, how good does it feel to be free?”
    And I answer them most mysteriously
    “Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?”

    –Bob Dylan

  10. sri_barence
    sri_barence March 17, 2016 at 4:40 am |

    When my family members ask me what I want, it is hard to come up with an answer, because I’m usually happy with what I already have. I always thought this made me a weirdo, but now I feel better about it. So thanks, Brad.

  11. minkfoot
    minkfoot March 17, 2016 at 5:16 am |

    “Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?”

    That stuck in my craw when I first heard it. Hippies were all about freedom, or the pursuit of it, or the wondering about what the hell it really was. I think a few found a good enough way out of the thickets of contradiction and paradox, but marvelous were the many expositions of the problem —


    [Verse 1]
    Sitting on the hillside
    Watching all the people die
    I’ll feel much better on the other side
    I’ll thumb a ride

    [Verse 2]
    I believe in magic
    Why? Because it is so quick
    I don’t need power when I’m hypnotized
    Look in my eyes
    What are you seeing (I see…)
    How do you feel?
    I feel real phony when my name is Phil
    Or was that Bill?

    [Verse 3]
    Life goes on here
    Day after day
    I don’t know if I am living or if
    I’m supposed to be
    Sometimes my life is so eerie
    And if you think I’m happy
    Paint me (white)(yellow)(green)
    I’ve been here once
    I’ve been here twice
    I don’t know if the third’s the fourth or if the –
    The fifth’s to fix
    Sometimes I deal with numbers
    And if you wanna count me
    Count me out

    [Verse 4]
    I don’t need the times of day
    Anytime with me’s OK
    I just don’t want you using up my time
    Cause that’s not right

    They’re locking them up today
    They’re throwing away the key
    I wonder who it’ll be tomorrow, you or me?
    They’re locking them up today
    They’re throwing away the key
    I wonder who it’ll be tomorrow, you or me?
    They’re locking them up today
    They’re throwing away the key
    I wonder who it’ll be tomorrow, you or me?
    We’re all normal when we want our
    I want my freedom
    All of God’s children gotta have their freedom

  12. Cygni
    Cygni March 17, 2016 at 6:17 am |

    I haven’t wanted for much in this life since I got a True TDD-2 draft cooler in my appartment. Happy St. Patrick’s Day *beer*

  13. Nicole
    Nicole March 17, 2016 at 9:28 am |

    Freedom’s a very interesting topic. Actually, I’m not even sure that many people who think they want ‘freedom’ really know what they want. As Brad wrote, freedom in the conventional sense is actually quite uncomfortable, so many choices, so little understanding of what to pick. Sartre said that we’re ‘condemned’ to be free, because we’ve got freedom, but no control. And many people quite instinctively shy away from it, e.g., when they take their ‘freedom’ to vote for authoritarian freaks like Trump.

    Nishijima’s/Brad’s take on freedom makes lots of sense to me, but I think it only works because we’re living in societies that are also pretty free in a conventional way, else you’ll probably run sooner or later into people who cannot stand freedom at all, in particular not that of others. And then you’ll only have the choice between complacency or opposition. Let’s hope we’ll never get to that point.

  14. shade
    shade March 17, 2016 at 10:40 am |

    Everyone likes poetry right?

    “Wandering lost upon the mountains of our choice,
    Again and again we sigh for an ancient South
    For the warm nude ages of instinctive poise
    For the taste of joy in the innocent mouth

    Asleep in our huts how we dream of a part
    In the glorious balls of the future; each intricate maze
    Has a plan and the disciplined movements of the heart
    Can follow forever and ever its harmless ways.

    We envy streams and houses which are sure:
    But we are articled to error; we
    Were never nude and calm like a great door

    And never will be perfect like the fountains;
    We live in freedom by necessity,
    A mountain people living among mountains.”

    One of the few pieces by Auden I really appreciate. And feel like I kind of sort of understand. Maybe. Or maybe I just like the part about the mountains (though those “glorious balls of the future” sound pretty wicked too).
    But it’s about freedom, so it’s apropos. Also a Zen-ish sort of quality, no? Those old Buddhist monks seemed to have a thing for mountains and streams and doors and such as well, seems like.

  15. zenmite
    zenmite March 17, 2016 at 11:40 am |

    Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

  16. jason farrow
    jason farrow March 17, 2016 at 3:35 pm |

    “Gimme me all’ve yer brains, or I’ll blow ur money out!”

  17. Jan Hagel
    Jan Hagel March 23, 2016 at 7:37 am |

    “Freedom is free of theneed to be free.” as George Clinton said.

Comments are closed.