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Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera
Man is his own jailor
When we consider human freedom, it is very difficult to find out whether man is really free to do anything according to his own wishes. Man is bound by many conditions both external and internal; he is asked to obey the laws that are imposed on him by the government; he is bound to follow certain religious principles; he is required to co-operate with the moral and social conditions of the society in which he lives; he is compelled to follow certain national and family customs and traditions. In modern society, he in inclined to disagree with life; he is expected to conform by adapting himself to the modern way of life. he is bound to co-operate with natural laws and cosmic energy, because he is also part of the same energy. He is subjected to the weather and climatic conditions of the region. Not only does he have to pay attention to his life or to physical elements, but he has also to make up his mind to control his own emotions. In other words, he has no freedom to think freely because he is overwhelmed by new thoughts which may contradict or do away with his previous thoughts and convictions. At the same time, he may believe that he has to obey and work according to the will of god, and not follow his own free-will.
Taking into consideration all the above changing conditions to which man is bound, we can ask 'Is there any truth in man's claim that he should be given freedom to do things as he likes?'
Why does man have his hands tied so firmly? The reason is that there are various bad elements within man. These elements are dangerous and harmful to all living creatures. For the past few thousand years, all religions have been trying to tame this unreliable attitude of man and to teach him how to live a noble life. But it is most unfortunate that man is still not ready to be trustworthy, however good he may appear to be.
Man still continues to harbor all these evil elements within himself. These evil elements are not introduced or influenced by external sources but are created by man himself. If these evil forces are man-made, then man himself must work hard to get rid of them after realizing their danger. Unfortunately the majority of men are cruel, cunning, wicked, ungrateful, unreliable, unscrupulous. If man is allowed to live according to his own free-will without moderation and restraint, he would most definitely violate the peace and happiness of innocent people. His behavior would probably be much worse than that of dangerous living beings. Religion is required to train him to lead a respectable life and to gain peace and happiness here and hereafter.
Another obstacle confronting religious life and spiritual progress is racial arrogance. The Buddha advised His followers not to bring forward any racial issue when they come to practise religion. Buddhists are taught to sink their own racial origin and caste or class distinction. People of all religions should not discriminate against any groups of people by bringing forward their personal traditional way of life. They should treat everyone equally, especially in the religious field. Unfortunately, followers of different religions create more discriminations and hostility towards other religious groups when performing their religious activities.
While working others, they should not disturb their feelings because of their so-called traditions and customs. They can follow traditions and customs that are in keeping with the religious principles and moral codes of their religions.
Racial arrogance is a great hindrance to religion and spiritual progress. The Buddha once used the simile of ocean water to illustrate the harmony which can be experienced by people who have learnt to cast aside their racial arrogance: Different rivers have different names. The water of the individual rivers all flow into the ocean and become ocean water. In a similar manner, all those who have come from different communities and different castes, must forget their differences and think of themselves only as human beings.
Source: Buddhist Study and Practice Group, http://www.sinc.sunysb.edu/Clubs/buddhism/
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