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Want to Be Free? Truly Free? Here's How

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The Buddha used the word "anata" to refer to "no self." What did he mean? The same thing Jesus meant when he said, "Deny thyself" (Matt. 16:24).

Then, what did these two spiritual teachers mean?

Detachment. Or, to put it another way, "Letting go."

"But letting go of what?" you ask.

All illusions of permanence. And, what is impermanent?

If you have to ask, it likely is, including these words.

Anything you can see, touch, taste, smell, feel or create is impermanent. Nothing remains for every long. Which is why the widespread western practice of embalming dead bodies, entombing them in metal and concrete containers in the ground, is an indication of our widespread attachment to the illusion of permanence.

Until you and I detach from all things, until we can let go of the illusion of control, we remain incarcerated, as it were, incapable of knowing the "abundant life" as Jesus called it -- which explains much of the worry... fretting... anxiety... division that is our world. It explains explains why we create all kinds of drama for ourselves and others, an inferno of discord between individuals, even nations.

Freedom, or to use religious language, as in "salvation" for Christians or "enlightenment" in other traditions, simply refer to the same experience -- the cultivated capacity to live from a place of "no self," or, as Jesus put it, the "denied self." What Saint Paul called, "the crucified self," (Gal. 2:20). Yet, when he said that, he was still very much alive. He died with Christ to something.

But what?

All attachments.

Think you have detached from all attachments? Think you have arrived and are now living an enlightened or abundant life?

"Go spend a week with your parents," said Ram Dass and then you'll see just how enlightened or, as Christians would say, just how "saved" you are.

Think you've arrived at a higher level of consciousness? That you have detached from all illusions of permanence?

Then, consider this: How do you feel when you get to work and discover you left the cell phone on the kitchen counter? Did you read Arianna Huffington's "unplugging challenge?" As part of her holiday plans, she is going to unplug, recharge and renew herself in preparation for the new year by disconnecting from all her devices.

Could you do that? I'm not sure if I could.

Don't think you're attached?

How do you react whenever someone says something unkind to you or, worse, says something unkind about you to someone else and it gets back to you? Or, what do you do when someone cuts you off in traffic?

Since I'm always questioning others about the things they've been taught to believe, this makes many people very uncomfortable. Attached as they are to their beliefs, whenever someone questions those beliefs, they feel under attack.

When, for example, I say things like, "I love all religions, but I'm in love with my own," what does that do to you? Do you label me a "liberal Christian?" When I say, "I think it's a misreading of John 14:6 to say Jesus was pointing to himself as the only way to God," how do you react?

Do you just distance yourself and write me off as a hopeless infidel?

Do you wag your head in disgust as if I'm an irresponsible reprobate from the faith? A fool who doesn't "believe the Bible"? Conversely, do you feel better about yourself, reassuring yourself that you and "real" believers know the truth?

Think you're not attached to your Church -- to its beliefs and doctrines -- as if, believing in the Church's "beliefs" is what makes you Christian?

Think you're not attached to the declaration that "the Bible is the infallible, inerrant Word of God?" Of course you are. Just as I easily get attached to the things I may declare about the Bible. In all such declarations, we are at best attaching ourselves to words and concepts and little belief systems, all of which will dissolve and disappear.

Eventually. Just like you and I will dissolve and disappear. Knowing this and so practicing the art of detaching from outcomes is the key to personal freedom and happiness. One of the keys, anyway.

How do you practice detachment? How do you become free of the little me and it's inveterate nature to cling? To grasp? To control? To get sucked into the illusion of permanence?

Don't even try.

"But why?"

The spiritual traditions teach that we are free already. In Christianity, that is the mystery of the Gospel. In Buddhism, it was only after the Buddha "let go" under the Bodhi tree that the mystery of enlightenment took place. You do not achieve enlightenment by struggling, fighting or seeking, anymore than Christians can control the mystery of grace.

Enlightenment -- salvation -- is nothing more than the progressive realization you are already. Which is why in one of the most interesting miracles of Jesus, a blind man receives his sight in stages (Mark 8:22ff). After spitting on the ground and then touching the eyes of the blind man, he responded, "I see men as trees, walking." Then, Jesus put his hands on his eyes again and he could see more clearly.

This has been my spiritual experience. The progressive realization of freedom. What Rumi, the Sufi poet, was saying to his followers: "The prison door is wide open already. So, why do you remain inside?"