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The Free World

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»The Free World«

by Ajahn Brahm


For several weeks, one of my fellow monks had been teaching meditation in a new maximum- security prison close to Perth. The small group of prisoners had come to know and respect the monk well. At the end of one session, they began to ask him about his routine in a Buddhist monastrey.

»We have to get up at 4:00 a.m. every morning,« he began. »Sometimes it is very cold because our small rooms don't ahve heaters. We eat only one meal a day, all mixed together in the one bowl. In the afternoon and at night we can eat nothing at all. There is no sex or alcohol, of course. Nor do we have television, ardio or music. We never watch movies, nor can we play sports. We talk little, work hard, and spend our free time sitting cross-legged watching our breath. We sleep on the floor.«

The inmates were stunned at the spartan austerity of our monastic life. It made their high-security prison seem like a five-star hotel in comparison. In fact, one of the prisoners was so moved with sympathy for the plight of their monk friend that he forgot where he was and said: » That's terrible living in your monastery. Why don't you come and stay here with us?«

The monk told me that everyone in the room cracked up with laughter. So did I when he related the incident. Then i began to contemplate it deeply.

It is true that my monastary is far more ascetic that the severest of prisons for the society's felons, yet many come to stay of their free will, and are happy there. Whereas many want to escape from well-appointed prison and are unhappy there. Why?

It is because, in my monastery, the inmates want to be tehre; in a prison, the inamtes don't want to be there. That is the difference.

Any place you don't want to be, no matter how comfortable, is a prison for you. This is the real meaning of the word »prison«. If you are in a job where you don't want to be, you are in a prison. If you are in a relationship where you don't want to be, you are in a prison. If you are in a sick and painful body where you don't want to be, then that too is a prison for you. A prison is any situation where you don't want to be.

So how do you escape from many prisons of life?

Easy. Just change your perception of your situation into »wanting to be there«. Even in San Quentin, or the next best thing – my monastery – when you want to be there, then it is no longer a prison for you. By changing your perception of your job, relationship, or sick body, and by accepting the situation rather than not wanting it, then it no longer feels like a prison. When you are content to be here, then you are free.

Freedom is being content to be where you are. Prison is wanting to be somewhere else. The Free World is the world experienced by one who is content. The real freedom is freedom from desire, never freedom of desire.

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