I 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.
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Registration is still OPEN for our Spring Zen & Yoga Retreat March 18-20, 2016 at Mt. Baldy Zen Center, Mt. Baldy, California
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Check out my podcast with Pirooz Kalayeh, ONCE AGAIN ZEN!
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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!
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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!