Cultivating Freedom

  The following excerpt is reprinted from  Be Free Where You Are  (2002) by Thich Nhat Hanh with permission of  Parallax Press , Berkeley, California.

The following excerpt is reprinted from Be Free Where You Are (2002) by Thich Nhat Hanh with permission of Parallax Press, Berkeley, California.

Cultivating Freedom

By Thich Nhat Hanh

For me, there is no happiness without freedom, and freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves. I will share with you how we get greater freedom for ourselves. During the time that we sit, walk, eat, or work outside, we cultivate our freedom. Freedom is what we practice every day.

No matter how or where you find yourself, if you have freedom, you are happy. I have many friends who spent time in forced labor camps and because they knew how to practice, they did not suffer as greatly. In fact, they grew in their spiritual lives, for which I am very proud of them.

By freedom I mean freedom from afflictions, from anger, and from despair. If you have anger in you, you have to transform anger in order to get your freedom back. If there is despair in you, you need to recognize that energy and not allow it to overwhelm you. You have to practice in such a way that you transform the energy of despair and attain the freedom you deserve - the freedom from despair.

You can practice freedom every moment of your daily life. Every step you take can help you reclaim your freedom. Every breath you take can help you develop and cultivate your freedom. When you eat, eat as a free person. When you walk, walk as a free person. When you breathe, breathe as a free person. This is possible anywhere.

By cultivating freedom for yourself, you will be able to help the people you live with. Even though you live in the same place, with the same physical and material conditions, if you practice, you will be a much freer person, a more solid person. Watching the way you walk, the way you sit, and the way you eat, people will be impressed. They will see that joy and happiness are possible for you, and will want to be like you because you are your own master, no longer a victim of anger, frustration, and despair. The practice that I have taken up as a Buddhist monk is the practice of freedom. When I became a novice, my teacher gave me a little book entitled Stepping into Freedom: A Manual for a Novice Monk.

To be able to breathe in and out is a miracle. A person on his or her deathbed cannot breathe freely, and he or she will soon stop breathing altogether. But I am alive. I can breathe in and become aware of my in breath; I can breathe out and become aware of my out-breath. I smile at my out-breath and am aware that I am alive. So when you breathe in, be aware of your in-breath. “Breathing in, I know this is my in-breath.” No one can prevent you from enjoying your in-breath. When you breathe out, be aware that this is your out-breath. Breathe as a free person.

For me, to be alive is a miracle. It is the greatest of all miracles. To feel that you are alive and are breathing in is to perform a miracle - one that you can perform at any time. Feeling that you are alive and that you are taking a step is a miracle. Master Linchi, a well-known meditation teacher who live in the ninth century, said that the miracle is not walking on water but walking on the Earth.

Everyone walks on the Earth, but there are those who walk like slaves, with no freedom at all. They are sucked in by the future or by the past, and they are not capable of dwelling in the here and now, where life is available. If we get caught up in our worries, our despair, our regrets about the past, and our fears of the future in our everyday lives, we are not free people. We are not capable of establishing ourselves in the here and now.