What Is Freedom?
(A wonderful dialogue between a student & Zen Master)
One afternoon, a young student came to tea at the Cambridge Zen Center and asked Seung Sahn Soen-sa, "What is freedom?"
Soen-sa said, "Freedom means no hindrance. If your parents tell you to do something and you think that you are a free person so you will not listen to them, this is not true freedom. True freedom is freedom from thinking, freedom from all attachments, freedom even from life and death. If I want life, I have life; if I want death, I have death."
The student said, "So if you wanted to die right now, you could die?"
Soen-sa said, "What is death?"
"I don't know."
"If you make death, there is death. If you make life, there is life. Do you understand? This is freedom. Freedom thinking is freedom. Attachment thinking is hindrance. Suppose your parents say, 'Your shirt is dirty; you must change it!' If you say, 'No, I won't change; I am free!', then you are attached to your dirty shirt or to your freedom itself. So you are not free. If you are really free, then dirty is good and clean is good. It doesn't matter. Not changing my shirt is good; changing my shirt is good. If my parents want me to change, then I change. I don't do it for my own sake, only for theirs. This is freedom. No desire for myself, only for all people."
The student said, "If you have no desire, why do you eat?"
Soen-sa said, "When I am hungry, I eat."
"But why do you eat, if you say you have no desire?"
'I eat for you."
"What do you mean?"
"When I am hungry, I eat' means 'just like this.' This means that there is no attachment to food. There is no 'I want this' or 'I don't want this.' If I didn't eat, I couldn't teach you.
So I eat for you."
"I don't really understand."
Soen-sa hit him and said, "Do you understand now?"
'I don't know."
"You must understand this don't-know. Then you will not be attached to anything. So always keep don't-know mind. This is true freedom."
(from 'Dropping Ashes on the Buddha)