Freedom: The Path To Happiness | Ajahn Brahm | 11-05-2007

I had a request for a talk yesterday, which I promised I would give today, for someone who is asking the question, “Is happiness really possible in our modern life, or are we always going to have to have suffering and problems and difficulties in our life?” So, it’s a talk about happiness and obviously, many of you know that Buddhist monks are supposed to be the happiest people in the world — that was the findings from Professor Davidson of Wisconsin University. And, that’s objective in other words, that’s what they find on a functional Magnetic Resonance (fMRI) scan
of a person’s brain. So, surely that Buddhists should know something about happiness and its causes. And for those of you who know basic Buddhism, that’s the whole purpose of the Four Noble Truths. The basic teachings of the Buddha, the heart of this thing we call, “Buddhism.” You may say, and it’s accurate to say, it’s all about the Four Noble Truths, and you also know that the way I’ve been teaching the Four Noble Truths for many years now, is rearranging the Four Noble Truths and talking about: happiness, it’s cause, sometimes we are happy, and why we’re not happy. Those four Noble Truths: happiness, the cause of happiness, that sometimes we’re unhappy, why we’re unhappy. And, that to me made so much sense when I was a young man, because really I thought the essence of all religions was basically the answer to two questions: “what is happiness” and, “how do I get it.” If I knew those two answers, then you’d have all the religion you
really wanted in the world. Because all the other theories, and philosophies and theologies and all that sort of stuff was all very well to talk about, but what I was really concerned with in my life, was, you know, the problem of happiness and suffering and how to overcome the suffering and find real true happiness. So, the question of, “is there happiness in this world,” from personal experience I can say yes, there certainly is. Real happiness, true happiness. But it’s also fascinating
in my life’s journey to find that that happiness lies in places where people just don’t even look. And it’s because we don’t
look in those places that many people will live their whole life and never actually
experience the deep, peaceful, wonderful happinesses which are possible in life. But first of all, I’m sort of saying about what happiness is and how to get it. Now all this — is start talking — in this little presentation today, about why is it that people have problems in life? What is the cause of unhappiness in life? Why do people keep getting into these unhappy states? Certainly there is part of life which is beyond one’s control, there are the difficulties and pains of life: the death of a loved one, the disappointments in one’s career, the problems with one’s children, the arguments with one’s partner, the pain of sickness in the body, or just the basic getting caught in traffic jams when you’re on the way to the Buddhist Society. The basic sufferings in life are there but they’re
not the real sufferings. The point is, that one of the things
which the Buddha says, is it’s the attachment — carrying those burdens around more than they should be. And that’s where I’m going to start this talk today. Why is it that people get attached to suffering? And that’s basically what it is. Many years ago, I was privileged to give a talk at a grief and loss conference in Observation City. It was a national conference on grief and loss all run by some psychologists and psychiatrists. And, I remember giving a presentation there, just after there’d been a presentation by the parents of, I think, Ciara Glennon, one of the young ladies who was killed by the ‘Claremont Killer, ‘ (still not found who exactly did that) and they’re expressing just their pain at the loss of their daughter. I think a young girl, I think she was a lawyer, successful, beautiful, who just disappeared one night and her body was found sometime later, by the ‘Claremont Killer, ‘ whoever that was. And apparently that session (which I did not attend myself) created a great feeling of suffering and angst amongst the people in the conference. And I came along with my usual positive attitude on
how to deal with death. It’s not just my positive attitude, because I had lived in Thailand for nine years and it’s one of those sayings which comes from my experience. In nine years, if you like research, and my research was actually attending funeral after funeral after funeral, cremation after cremation because our monastery in Thailand was a local cremation ground. We hang out with the ghosts. Which was actually a very
peaceful place to stay. When I was wandering,
you wanted to get away from people ’cause you know, I was a monk
I like a bit of peace and quiet, Ajahn Chah always used to tell us that when you want to stay somewhere at night time, ask the local village where the cremation ground is, it’d be like an open area in a forest and you go and stay there. It’s the most peaceful place because the villagers are too scared to come and visit you. [laughter] So I really loved those ghosts for protecting me, they were my bodyguards, my minders to keep all the people away, so I could meditate quietly and peacefully. So, good on you ghosts! But that particular forest monastery Wat Pah Nanachat
that was like a ghost monastery because they had a cremation ground there but also, I used to see so many funeral services, again and again and again. And because you were dependent upon those villagers for your alms food, you’d see them every morning. You’d go into their village. And these are the people you grew up with. I remember, just I was nine years in Thailand mostly that monastery, when I came over here, to help start this monastery over in Serpentine and help support this Buddhist Society of Western Australia, I think it was about four or five years before I had the chance to go back to that village and as soon as I went back there, getting back into that monastery
in the late afternoon, the first time the villagers knew I was there, was when I went on Alms Round, see all these ladies and men and they looked up, “It’s Ajahn Brahm!” and they’d start crying because
you did become part of the village. I was one of them,
had gone away for about four / five years and come back again. And that’s actually how close we were knitted into that community. And I mention that point simply because it establishes a fact that I didn’t just see these people at the funeral services, I saw them before, I saw them afterwards. These are the people I knew. I never saw grief. I never saw people crying. It was actually once, I must admit, in all those nine years, that once I saw a tear, maybe just one or two drops of tears fall down the cheek, of one lady who lost her husband. But apart from that, there was no solid grief like you see here
in Western Australia. And it wasn’t that it was suppressed, it was just people solaced in a different attitude, they weren’t so attached to their loved ones. And to me it was a revelation and what I said at the conference, that there is a difference, a separation between grief and loss. Loss will always be there. But grief, is an added extra. And seeing a culture — and that northeast part of Thailand had not been affected by any other western influence so it was like a pure old Buddhist culture and when you actually saw just how that pure Buddhist culture related to a death, it was a revelation to see that there was a society where grief
basically did not exist. And, it showed me that our grief is a cultural addition. There is another way of looking at it. And why is it that we attach to
that sort of suffering? And basically, it’s the same reason (you may not agree with me on this, but) I’m challenging you here. It’s the same reason, why it is
that we go to see these weepy movies, because we like to cry. We actually encourage
these emotions inside of us. We like to feel emotional. There is a lady who comes here, she’s not here this evening, thank goodness [audience laughter], but she once told me that her mother would always love going to see these weepy movies, these Chinese movies and
she described them to me. Apparently the Chinese movies,
there’s enough people here from Malaysia, Singapore here, Hong Kong that you know what I’m talking about — boy meets girl, but boy never gets girl! Either the family or the Imperial Army or some other tragedy gets in the way [audience laughing] and in the end, boy and girl, are killed or separated. And they know that’s going to happen! Every movie is the same. It’s always a sad ending. So her mother would come back from the weekly trip to the movies, with red eyes, she’d been crying all the way through, all the way home, and she asked, “What the heck you do that for?” “Ah, ’cause it’s nice to cry. It’s so sad and so enjoyable to feel sad.” [audience laughing] Now, that’s not so funny, because at this conference, there’s always key experiences which happen in my life, and it was after I gave that little presentation on how to look at life and death in a different way,
so you don’t have to be sad. A lady came up to me and said, “What’s wrong with being sad,” because she’d lost a close relation in tragic circumstances, and she’d been grieving about 5 or 6 years, and there’s no way she would
give up her grief. What I saw, in that lady, she was attached to grieving. That was her persona. She would go to conference after conference, therapist after therapist, it was her identity to be the griever. That’s one of our big problems there. Sometimes we form our identities, we attach to that suffering, and that’s ‘me.’ We become the victims. And we enjoy, in a perverse way, being that victim. We enjoy the grief. There’s one of the sayings of the Buddha which you see again and again in the original teachings, he’s saying all these negative emotions, like grief, like anger, like jealousy, even like fear, he said there is a delight there. If there wasn’t a delight, then people wouldn’t get into the fear, or into the jealousy, or into the anger. ‘Cause you know that when you feel angry, sometimes people do feel the power. And it’s like a heroin or like a methamphetamine. You know, you’re empowered at that time. There is a delight in those states, which is why people get into being angry or into being violent, into being jealous or actually even into being grief. There is a delight there. And this is one of the wonderful sayings
of the Buddha. Because there is a delight there,
that’s why people attach to those things. But the reason why they don’t let go is because they see the delight but they don’t see the danger. With anger, yeah, you get a high, but you have to pay for that afterwards. It’s like a drug. And many of the other negative emotions which we have, like jealousy, yeah you get a sense of being the one left out, but you have to pay for it afterwards. Grief, you feel that, yeah, that you are the victim. But my goodness, how much you have to pay. And it’s those attachments
to those negative emotions, especially the attachment to the pain of the past, that stops us being free to be happy. This morning I went to a little conference run by the Catholic Education
Society or Center. It was for the teachers and the counseling education system. It was about reconciliation
and forgiveness. And there’s some very good speakers there from an Assistant Commissioner to Michelle Stubbs, who’s the coordinator, I think, of the victims of child abuse. It’s like a huge problem in
our modern society. How many people have been sexually or physically abused when they were children. And how the heck do we deal with that. And, what was being suggested was and this is an interesting
thing, that many of those victims of child sexual abuse feel that they need to have their day in court to be heard, to have their pain acknowledged, and to have some sort of retribution. Our society asks for more than retribution, asks for punishment: jail sentences, non-jail sentences. Some people would want corporal punishment
or even executions. But, on part of that debate, I was sitting next to a Catholic Priest who told me an anecdote from the United States, where some of the relations of a person who was, I think killed, murdered, attended the execution of the relation’s, loved-one’s murderer. And after witnessing the execution, came back and said, the execution was too fast. It should’ve been slower. That really hurt me so much. They wanted pain. They wanted suffering in the person who killed their — I don’t know, child or relation or whatever it was — he never gave the details. What is it in a human being wants to harm others because they have harmed us? I say that’s this attachment to being a victim, attachment, you know, to, or this cultural way of looking at things, an ‘eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ is still very, very strong in many people in our society. And when I was asked, “What does Buddhism think about things like that,” I quoted a book which I read as a student, which changed much of the way I looked at being a victim or crime and punishments and I’ve mentioned that here before, that there’s a wonderful book written written over a hundred years ago it’s called “Erewhon,” by Samuel Butler. And apparently, that really influenced the great British playwright
George Bernard Shaw. It changed the way he looked at some of these social problems and the reason why it was a very effective argument against the way we treat “criminals,” or people who’ve done harm, with punishment, was that it used the satire. It envisaged a society in which, what we call crime today, is looked upon as being a sickness and therapy, therapy, therapy is the only response to crime. If somebody steals, they go and see a doctor. If somebody rapes, that’s looked upon as being a sickness. Punishment is not really looked at at all. But somehow, a rehabilitation of trying to work out and remedy that glitch in human nature. But, when it came to health matters, if you were sick and ill, that was because you were careless and you were punished. Part of that book, a chapter which I will always remember, was of a court scene in which there was a poor man who had a cold. And when he had a cold (there’s many colds going around right now [directed at audience], there’s a cough already, you’d be in trouble in this society), because he had a cold he was in the dock, charged with being sick. And because he was sniffling, he had no defense and so the judge pronounced him guilty of having a cold and he, before he gave judgment, uh, sentence sorry, the punishment, he said, “This is not the first time you appeared before me, you were here last week or three weeks ago with a cold. I warned you then,
if you don’t eat better, take better care of your health, let go of your stress, it’s your responsibility to be healthy and you have been negligent, and your cold is causing a danger to other people! You’re being heedless, you’re not caring for others, you’re spreading your germs to other people, that’s not appropriate, you should be punished: three years in jail for having a cold, being a repeat offender!” There’s some logic to that. In a sense, you know, if you are sick, isn’t your responsibility to exercise and eat well and keep yourself healthy? And if you are sick,
you are a scourge on society. You’re robbing it of its resources. “You heedless scallywag, reprobate delinquent for always having colds.” And they were punished. Now, obviously, what that really made very, very clear to me is that the double standards which we have. Why is it that when we’re sick, no one gets punished for being sick. And what’s the difference between some of the behavior of human beings which we call criminal. So when I was asked about what we think in Buddhism about punishment, it was very much the case that, yeah, sometimes it’s like a sickness, you do need quarantine, to be put away, so you don’t harm other human beings, from the time that sickness is still strong in you,
you’re still a danger to others. But when you’re in quarantine, it’s never looked upon as
being a punishment. It’s always looked upon as being rehabilitating. To try and take that problem, to work with it so that it’s no longer there. And you stay in quarantine as long as you are contagious, a danger to society. In the same way, why don’t we look at that as penal before… to stay as long as you’re a danger to society. But not looked upon as being a punishment, looked upon as being a problem which needs to be healed. No punishment, but rehabilitation. That’s how I understand Buddhism, over many, many years of being a Buddhist, and also how I understand a positive way forward. But why is it that people don’t want that, they want people to be punished for their way they’ve hurt us. And I think it’s very much that we can’t just understand deeply why it is that people do
these terrible things. Why they make these mistakes, to have a deeper understanding and also have a deeper understanding not just where these crimes, these hurts, these harms come from, but how in the future we can lessen the chance of harm and hurt. Being attached to being a victim does not help. Sometimes, I just wonder why people want punishment of others, when if you’re a Christian, you know that God will punish afterwards, what do you need to punish for? If you’re a Muslim,
Allah will look after it, if you’re a Buddhist, karma will look after it, and if you don’t believe in any religion, you know that person will have to go into psychotherapy for many, many years afterwards. Whatever it is, no one ever escapes from the problems of their bad behavior. It’s also one of those insights which I had from the experience of visiting prisons many times in the early part of my life here in Western Australia. Visiting prisons so many times and getting to know some of these people spending years in jail, never once did I find a prisoner who had no conscience. They would act as if they had no conscience, and think, “Yeah, when I get outta here, I’m just going to rob
as many houses as I can. I don’t care about the system, I’m just going to bear with this until I can get out.” But when I got to know some of
these prisoners, they would always, in every case, express just how bad and terrible they felt about what they’d done to others. It wasn’t the case, they never felt deep inside the hurt which they’d given to others, they always felt it, it was always remorse there, just usually it was a tough guy syndrome, they did not want to express it. So there is always a punishment comes there. If someone has done something bad to you, they are going to hurt. This, what we call, the law of karma, it has to come back to them. And that is not whether you’re a Buddhist or a Christian or whatever, that’s a law like the law of gravity, you don’t have to believe in that, or not believe in it it happens irrespective of your beliefs. So we don’t need to punish others. Instead, we can let the whole thing go. And unless we let them go, then we are a victim for the rest of our lives. It doesn’t matter who has harmed, hurt, abused you. Until you can let that go, you’re always the victim and you can never be free. It’s just how we can reach
that point of letting go that sometimes, just to think we need to confront that person who’s harmed us we need to fix the situation ourselves. We need to be acknowledged, we need to be heard. Sometimes that cannot be achieved. If it’s not achieved, then what. Sometimes you don’t need to be heard, sometimes you don’t need to confront the person who’s harmed you or hurt you. You are always free and every moment independent of others, independent of the judicial system, independent of where that person who harmed or hurt or abused you is, you’re always free to let go at any time. These attachments which we carry around, we choose to carry them. We don’t have to. The experience of seeing how grief was not a part of the Buddhist culture, hundreds of years old in northeast Thailand, taught me that many of the things I thought were normal, natural, and had to happen, were not normal, natural, had to happen. It’s just the way we’ve learned to deal with the problems of life. We can relearn them and do things in a different way. Someone has harmed and hurt you, why not let it go pretty quickly. I’ve often said, and this is just a start of understanding how to reconcile. Let go, forgive, let go, move on. I’ve often said that when someone calls you an idiot
and you keep thinking, “Why did they call me an idiot, I’m not an idiot!
You should not call me an idiot!” you’ve allowed them to call you an idiot three more times.
[laughter] Every time you remember that, you’re allowing them to call you an idiot another time. So why not, when they call you an idiot, you forget it straight away. Then they only call you an idiot once. They’re wrong, you know they’re wrong, end of problem. And I think many of you will accept the wisdom of that, and maybe you’ve heard it enough times you’ve done that already, these people call you an idiot,
they call you foolish, they call you ugly,
they call you stupid, you just forget it straight away. Or for those of you who don’t know this wonderful saying of Ajahn Chah, “If they call you a dog,
what should you do? Look at your…” [audience – inaudible]
bow [laughter] (AB: very good you got there first, excellent) but no,
that’s not what Ajahn Chah said, If someone calls you a dog you look at your bottom to see if you got a tail. If you ain’t got a tail, you’re not a dog, end of problem. Most of the things which people say about you aren’t true ’cause they don’t know who you are or what you’re doing, so that’s a great way of
stopping the problem. But what a lot of people do, they keep thinking about it, every time you think about it you allow them to call
you a dog another time. Now that’s easy to understand but what about someone
who’s really hurt you? Really abused you? Even like sexual abuse as a kid. Is it the case every time you remember that, you allow them to abuse you again? Every time you bring that up? Why is it we can’t let it go straight away? It’s hard. But with an inner strength, you know, a strength which is not coming from will power but from wisdom power, from compassion, why do we allow ourselves to be victims? To be made victims? Now I’m not just saying that out of theory. Many, many years ago there was a disciple, this was in the time of the Armadale group, part of the Armadale group, who came out to me (actually one of her friends said you better talk to her because she’s in big trouble). And what the trouble was, was she found out her husband was sexually abusing her two children. She had missed it, and I told her why she’d missed it, “because, look, you love that man.” When you love a man, the signs are there but you are in denial because the whole idea that the man you love is abusing the children you love, it’s just it’s so hard to reconcile that. It’s so hard for the mind to fit those two together. So she just denied the signs of sexual abuse of her children by her husband. It was found out by the school. Investigated, it was true. The guy went to jail. The marriage was over. And I was counseling her, counseling her on these
Buddhist principles. She’d been meditating enough,
she understood the basic idea of karma and letting go and not being a victim and she took it on board. She said she could never live with that man or love him again, but she’s not going to allow him to make her suffer anymore. She completely let go. Wished him well, and eventually moved to the UK. And I kept in contact with her and her kids, but before she left it was compulsory at that time, probably still is, for her to go for counseling and the kids too. I was quite amused that after going to counseling for about four/five weeks she came to complain again. “This counselor will not understand I’ve moved on.” And the counselor was still saying,
“You hate your husband don’t you?” “No, I don’t hate my husband,
I’ve let him go.” [laughter] Counselor: “You hate him don’t you?” Woman: “No, no I don’t!” And she came because she
could not be free of her counselor [audience laughter] until she admitted how much she hated and wanted to kill her husband. And so I had to write this letter to the counselor about Buddhist Psychology and how Buddhists relate to these things,
to actually to free her. And I didn’t write this letter easily because if I’d got it wrong, than she’d be suffering later on down the track. But because I knew her, because I’d talked with her, because I’d counseled her myself, yeah, I knew that she had moved on. She did not have the anger, she didn’t go through this process of victimhood which is expected in our modern culture. She moved through fast and so gained her freedom fast. And I really salute her, because what she did by moving from that incredible hurt, a whole life being devastated, she moved so quickly through that — not into forgetfulness,
not into ignorance, ‘that didn’t happen,’ not into denial — but, yeah that happened, that was
an awful thing to happen but I’m not going to allow that to hurt and harm me any more. Because she moved into that freedom, she took her two kids
with her very quickly. They too followed their mother’s lead, were not going to be victims and moved on. There are other ways of dealing with these terrible abuses. And the other personal example I have, again, is the story of my own father who told me that he was, before the Second World War, born and brought up in Liverpool in a very, very poor family as most people were in those days. And his father was a plumber who would go to work, before he’d come home spend most of his time in the pub,
spending the money giving only a pittance to my paternal grandmother to look after the kids. As soon as he’d come home drunk, get out his belt and whip any kid who came in his path for no reason or another and then set on his wife. Which is why my father, in my presence, he said, “Look, I’m sorry son. Your grandfather was a bastard.” And he hated him. But the other thing he told me, was that whenever he was under that belt himself, being beaten for no reason at all, except his father was drunk. He made a resolution, he told me he determined if ever he gets through this and has kids, he will never hit them. And that’s what happened. There’s no way that my father could hit us. My mother had to be the disciplinarian. And even she didn’t do it very well. And he became this incredibly loving father. He was a person who,
in that story I tell you about taking me down a side street of Acton in London, telling me, “Look, whatever you do in your life son, the door of my house will always be open to you.” What I later interpreted as being, “whatever you do in your life, wherever you go, the door of my heart will be open to you.” It was unconditional love. And that was a man who suffered tremendous physical abuse as a child. There is other ways of
dealing with these things. And I look at that as a way forward. Whereas if we carry that abuse around with us, we become victims. We are stopping ourselves being happy. But we don’t have to. Which is, if it happens great, but there has to come a time, some situation where we let go. Sometimes that letting go does happen when we face the person who has been hurting us, creating our problem. We face them and we
hear them acknowledging, sometimes there is a letting go there. Maybe that might be the best way. But sometimes that way isn’t there for us. If it’s not there for us then we can do it ourselves. We can move on by letting go of this burden. When we say that,
“Is there happiness in this world?” Unless we drop those attachments to the pain of our lives, to the disappointments,
to what went wrong, to the hurt and the harm, if we can’t drop those attachments how on earth can we ever be free? At this conference this morning, there was a very impressive young Aboriginal leader. I forget her name, Norelle
was her first name, she was actually a basketball star or something, but she was saying (it’s a very interesting thing), so… if our Prime Minister John Howard says sorry… so then what. She was telling her students,
she teaches at ?Contell, have you got to wait until the government says sorry before we can reconcile and move forward? Why leave them that power? Why don’t we do it now? I thought that was a very inspiring and wonderful way of taking responsibility for ourselves for our moving out of our victimhood. Rather than waiting for someone else to do it for us, whether it’s the government, whether it’s the courts, whether it’s karma or whatever. Why can’t we take responsibility for being free? Say, “I forgive. I let go. I will move on. I’m never going to allow anyone else ever again to control my happiness.” You’ve heard me say that before. It’s a very simple thing to say: don’t allow others to control your happiness. It’s a very powerful thing to say. It’s very profound and you can see just how much of our lives is controlled by others. Part of Buddhism, I’d say, is always empowering, empowering you to take control of your happiness. And it can be done. Too often we look for solutions in controlling others. Or the problem lies with my
abusers, the problem lies with the government, the problem lies
somewhere else, the problem lies with my husband, the problem lies with my cancer, the problem lies with my loved one who’s just died. If you want to, sort of, try fix up the world by fixing up all those people around you who’ve hurt you or harmed you, perhaps you’ll die before that problem is solved. Perhaps if you get reborn many, many times you’ll never find that freedom, that happiness, that peace. Fortunately, you don’t have to go that path. There’s one beautiful message of the Buddha, you cannot really change this world but you sure can change your attitude towards it. The abuse which you’ve had in the past, you can’t change that. The pain, the difficulty, the loss, the person who’s just died, you can’t bring them back again. That’s obvious, sometimes obvious, but we still think that way. We can’t undo the abuse. We can’t get back that youth which we may have lost. We can’t undo things. We can’t change the world or the past. But what we can do
is change our attitude in this present moment. It’s that attitude change which is the key, I’ve always found, to finding freedom and happiness. To find happiness and freedom in our world, rather than changing the world first so that some time in the future we can be free, that we can be happy, we can be at peace. And that’s not a cop-out, because sometimes people say, “Well, if you don’t do anything there’ll be more abuse, more cheating, more stupid governments more wars, more child abuse, more crime.” And the psychology which I know, that the more time you have blame, the more time you have punishment, the more time you exert revenge, that it makes the whole problem worse and worse and worse and worse. The more people you lock in jail the more criminals we have for our future. The more you punish, the more people have resentment. The quicker you can forgive, the quicker there can be rehabilitation. Not just for the victims, but the people who did those terrible things. Some few years ago, I should’ve kept this article because there was a brilliant article, it was concerning the killers of Jamie Bulger, (whatever his name was) this young — was it two or three year old — who was abducted in the shopping center in Liverpool tortured and killed on the railway track by some, was it, eight or nine year old children. And the whole culture of England at the time especially driven by the tabloid press, was wanting the blood of those two killers even though they were very, very young and they’d done a terrible terrible thing. To take the life of a two year old, and it’s not just one person’s death it’s all the tears and the anxiety and the stress and the devastation of all of the people who knew that child, let alone the parents. But what I never knew at the time was pointed out in this article was that at about the same time a similar event happened in Norway in the town of Trondheim, north of Oslo where I think, two boys lured (I think) a girl into the snowfields, and had similarly killed her. And the similarities between the crimes were very close. But what was very dissimilar was the way those two societies dealt with the problem. As many of you know, the Jamie Bulger case, those two kids were put into some detention center, and the tabloid press just wanted them to be really punished hard and the parents were just waiting for them to be released so they could kill them. And even the public did not
want them to be released. I read in the newspapers
there was some idea of sending them to Australia where they wouldn’t be known, new identities so they could live their life and the British public was saying, “No they don’t deserve any freedom.” That’s what I read. With those other two kids the following day after they were caught they both went to school accompanied by psychiatrists and a social worker. They were not put into any punitive institution. Very, very soon, the mother and father of the child who died came to a closure, came to forgiveness and moved on in their life. Whereas the parents of Jamie Bulger never moved
on as far as I know. The whole town of Trondheim came to a closure. They realized a terrible act, but the only way to move forward is not to wish harm on the killers. So many years later, one of the killers of that (I think it was a) little girl in Trondheim is perfectly well adjusted having a successful life completed the education, had really moved on, and so did the family and the rest of town. There’s one of the killers still has social problems and some psychological problems, but nowhere near like the pain which was spread around England because of the Jamie Bulger case. To see those two separate accounts of a similar tragedy, one where there were many victims and their victimhood was, I dare to say, cherished and attached to and made much of. And the other one, where rehabilitation was the main aim and goal, to see the effects of those two cases I sure wish I’d lived in Norway than in England. That was the way forward, the way that everyone got healed, the way where there was less pain, less suffering. So, when we are not happy when we are suffering, when we are not free. Why is it? It’s because we don’t know how to move on from the pains and difficulties and stresses of life. Now these are big pains, big problems, big sufferings. You probably haven’t had to experience that degree of suffering, but if those people can move on and find freedom, why can’t we? One of the great causes for happiness is the ability to forgive, to let go, to move on. It causes happiness for the offenders, (I don’t mean because they got away with it, no one gets away with anything in this world) but it means that they got away forward, and certainly a way forward for those people we call the victims. We have more freedom and happiness. Which is why I keep
telling — why is it that we carry around the shit of the past, and we don’t carry the eggs, in that story of the two chicken farmers (which I won’t repeat, because I think I tell that every couple of weeks here). It’s an interesting thing, why is it that our nature always to look at the past and collect the pain, to go to the movies and once a week to look, to be worried by watching too many soap operas. If people haven’t got enough worries in their life, they create more worries by watching what’s happening in Neighbors, by worrying who’s going to win the cricket or who’s going to win the soccer
or who’s going to win the footie and people love the nail-biting finishes. Or if they don’t like those they go to these extreme sports and sometimes, I remember being in the airport in Bangkok, and I saw on the big TV screen there, some of these extreme sports people were doing. I remember seeing… they were doing these motorbike races on ice! That’s crazy! What idiot would actually race each other on these ice tracks and sure enough, one person came off the bike (they had to have spikes on the wheels) and got spiked. Whoa, what do they do things like that for? Why do people do that? Because people like to suffer. Why they like to suffer, they like the thrill, the excitement there is delight in suffering. Be careful. If you delight in suffering there’s no way you can ever be happy. If you attach to being the victim, if you just want the thrill of being hurt, or being on the edge of being hurt, however can you be free? So, one of the ways of happiness in this world is able to notice why one can’t detach from that which is genuinely painful and difficult to bear with. Why do we become the victim? Why do we become the sad one? Why do sometimes we become the sick person? This is interesting, in some monasteries I’ve been in, you see people become sick and sick and sick and sick, and a lot of monks say it’s because they want to leave, they want to disrobe, that’s the only way they know how of doing it. They actually become attached to being the sick one that’s their persona. It’s called ego attachment. It creates a sense of self. This is one of the things the Buddha kept on pointing to. Who do you think you are? What do you take as your self? What is your ego? If you had wrote a list of who you were, what your attributes were, not in theory, but in practice and you wrote them down how many of those things would be the angry person, the victim, the person who was abused, the person who was divorced, the person who was sick, the person who’s had the mastectomy? How many of you take that to be your self? There’s a problem there, because the Buddha noticed if you identify with being that, if you become that, you repeat it. This is the sense of identity, it’s one of the reasons why when I did go into prisons to visit prisoners. Again, I’ve never called them criminals, as you’ve heard me say before, there’s people who’ve done crimes and I kept on telling the people in jail, “You are not a criminal. You are a person who’s done a crime.
You’re not a criminal. You’re something bigger than that. Never think of yourself as a criminal. You’re a person who’s done a crime. Don’t identify with that
terrible act which you did. If you make that sense of self with your crime, if that’s who you think you are, you are the burglar, you are the killer, you are the rapist, you become that. Which means when you
get released you’ll do it again. Because that’s who you are. You’re the rapist, you’re the killer, you’re the adulterer, you’re the child abuser. This is psychology, which I know because I’ve gone deep into my mind and seen the way that minds work. If you’re — you make an identity of who you think you are, that’s how you relate to the the world. That’s who you become. That’s what you repeat. That’s what’s expected of you, so of course, that’s what you do. And there we get the repeat of the harm and the hurt again and again and again and again. Why my father never thought of himself as the abused child, so that’s why he never repeated the abuse on me. Why a person who just forgives, lets go, does not become the victim, becomes free and can live. Last story, was a story which — again many of these stories
you’ve heard here before but, I usually try to bring them together in one talk which is on this one subject, simply because it fits and this talk goes outside and gets put on CDs and it’s nice to be complete — and this was the story of those two Australian soldiers meeting together in a reunion, they’d both been in the Second World War, they’d both been in Singapore, the fall of Singapore, and both been put in P.O.W. camps. Well, one met the other, and said, “Have you forgiven the Japanese yet for what they did to us and our friends?” “No! Never! How can you forgive that??” said one of the soldiers. “What about you?” His friend said, “I forgave years ago. But you, my friend, are
still in the P.O.W. camp.” I love that story, simply because until you forgive — until he forgave what those guards, those soldiers, did to him and his friends, in the camps in Changi on the Death Railway in Thailand on the Burmese border. Until they forgave, they were still being tortured. They’re still in the camps. They can never be happy. His friend had let go and therefore he was free. So when it comes to happiness, you don’t have to be controlled by what others did to you. You don’t have to be limited, in prison, in jail, by
the crimes which have been perpetrated on you in the past. You don’t even have to worry about the crimes which you’ve done, I’m not talking about against the law, but the harm and hurt which you have done to others. I don’t know how many
people feel guilty about some of the things they’ve done, I’ve mentioned a few of those things I’ve always felt guilty about: playing my Jimmie Hendrix records too loud to my father while he was playing his Sinatra records, never really, sort of being a really good son to him; never selling those encyclopedias when I was a kid, getting someone actually to buy an encyclopedia, just a rubbish book. I don’t know why they even bought that, but I made them buy it. And all the terrible things you did as a kid, gee, what did I do those for? It’s so easy to feel guilty about the
smallest of things. Why not, why can’t we just let them go, learn from them and move on? Until you do, you can never be free and never be happy. And this is not a small thing. You can never really be virtuous and good until you’re free. And as far as meditation is concerned, no matter how many people I’ve taught meditation to, when they get to a certain point in happiness and peace, they can’t go any further, and they kept coming back with the same complaint, “I don’t think I deserve to be so happy. I don’t think I deserve to be at peace. I don’t think I deserve to be enlightened,” basically. And really that’s another
dagger to my heart. Why not?
If all I do in my life as a monk, teaching here Friday night, going overseas, if that’s all I ever give to you, the conviction that you deserve to be happy, that you deserve to be free, that you deserve to be enlightened. You don’t feel
so guilty, you don’t attach to those painful things in the past. You are free. You can let go, both other people’s harm, and your own harm as well; be able to forgive yourself
and forgive others. What that means is giving yourself the gift of freedom. No one else can do that for you. Look, a Jesus can’t forgive, a monk can’t forgive, a Buddha can’t forgive, a God can’t forgive, only you can forgive you. No one else. All these other people they can encourage, they can teach, they can lead, they can inspire, but in the end it’s up to you. One day, one day you’ll do that. This life, the next life, or some life, you’ll look at all your past, all the hurt, all the harm, and let it go. Say to yourself, in those words of my father, “Whatever I have done in my life, what other people have done to me, the door of my heart is open to me, fully, absolutely. Happiness, freedom, come in.” To be able to invite freedom in, invite happiness in. There’s a liberation there, which is why very often the Buddha called those enlightenment experiences liberations. Freedom from suffering, freedom from pain, freedom from the past! Why do we carry the past around, so heavy on our back? Because that’s what being a victim is. I was telling people in Melbourne, I just came back from Melbourne on Wednesday night, just reminiscing, ’cause someone asked, “What was it like being a monk in Thailand many years ago?” I was reminiscing about one of the most wonderful times I had in Thailand. When after five years I left my monastery with all my possessions on my back (and that wasn’t many possessions). You had to walk and you had no place to go, you could go to any monastery and have a bed for the night, any village in the morning with your bowl, and get some food in it. You’re completely free. Any tree you could just sit underneath it, put your mosquito net there, meditate, sleep. It was literally like being a bird, but better than being a bird, a bird always has to hunt for their food. For me, I knew any place, any village I went to, there was food there for me. And it was such a freedom because I was attached to no place and to no thing. Every crossroads I got to I could go forward, go left, go right, or just turn ’round and go back. I had no duties, nothing compelling me to go in any directions. No duties, no burdens, no things to do, no unfinished business. This complete freedom is physically the most freedom I’ve ever felt, and everything you owned, you had with you: my bowl, my mosquito net, an umbrella, water pot, spare set of robes and that was all. You could wander wherever you wanted. It was so much freedom. I always remember that that’s the same freedom which you can have in your mind at any time. Any crossroads you come to in life, go whichever way, ’cause you’re not burdened by the past, you’re not carrying baggage. How much baggage do people carry in this life? Mostly it’s the baggage of our past, our history. What happened to you, who did what to you, who said what, if you want happiness, let go. Free your past, at very least, free the pain of the past and keep the happy memories — at least that way you’re carrying enjoyable baggage — but even better to leave it all behind. There is such a thing as happiness in this world and the happiness is no one else’s responsibility, it’s yours and that happiness is there for you at any moment at any time. There’s a door, which is open from the cell which is sometimes what your life feels like, being in a prison of your past, of what happened to you, of your body, your pain, your sickness, this pain which has happened to you — That’s like being in a prison, but it’s a prison whose door is always open, always open, it’s just sometimes we don’t know how to walk through it. Sometimes we think we’re not supposed to walk through it. And here I tell you, walk, be free, let go. There is such a thing as happiness in life, there is such a thing as freedom, there is such a thing as forgiveness and reconciliation, there is such a thing, there’s such love that you can free yourself and free others and let go. And that freedom and that love is not a copping out of life, that is the heart of a positive response. Free yourself and you show the way to freedom for others. And much of the pain and the cause of pain in life — as the Assistant Commissioner said today, something like 80 or 90%, he was saying of people in prisons in Western Australia have themselves been victims of child abuse. Because they could not forgive, because they could not let go, because they could not find freedom, now they’re in jail having also caused pain to others. So what is the way forward? I think I’ve shown it to you: to have the guts to see things in a different way, to free oneself. You don’t need to feel grief, you don’t need to feel that pain. You can walk out whenever you want. It’s called freedom, the path to happiness. That’s the talk this evening on is it possible to be happy? Yes, that’s one of the ways how. Audience: Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu! Ajahn: Ok, so any questions or comments? I hope it’s been challenging, I hope a few people disagree with me. Otherwise, I didn’t challenge hard enough. Any comments or questions about the talk this evening? Maybe that’s just something for you to contemplate… see later on if it makes sense or not. No, no comments, questions? Ok

31 thoughts on “Freedom: The Path To Happiness | Ajahn Brahm | 11-05-2007

  • I was in a fighting mood before i watched this, again and again the thought of smashing skulls into the ground came back to me and I relished it. Now I have let go of that rage entirely, and feel lighter, freer, happier.

  • Compassion and understanding seem to be lacking seem to be lacking in this guy. Lacking for the Western lack of knowledge that we have. I think a real master like the Dalai Lama would have a softer and kinder approach.

  • Buddist monks crave the most in utter diffiance to their preaching


    Srilankan Buddhist monk's Sex

  • This is one the sixth video of Ajahn Brahm I am watching in last 2 days. They are so profound. Thanks for uploading them.

  • You only make comments on what you think or what you think you have seen. It's nothing more than a reflection of your own image.

  • I always believed that there should be courses in school of meditation and peace, for the child to how to act and how to control the mind and find the self. We would be creating valueble members of a community. Everything is connected, if the individual isn't happy the family isn't happy if the family isn't happy the society isn't happy and thus the world becomes in balanced out of indiviual unhappyness. We must learn this practice of peace and happyness.

  • The buddhists have the answer? Not necessarily, they have a left-leaning philosophy of life, thats all. To many people stuck in a right grind, the left seems like nirvana, and aware of this, leftist groups like the Catholics milk it for all its worth. The scientists tell us were all left or right-brained people — well what about whole-brained? Our need is to be neither left nor right but whole, one. Unity is warmth and fullness, but broken unity is like a bed too short and a blanket too narrow.

  • I think there is a lot of wisdom in this talk. I am skeptical about some of the metaphysical doctrines of Buddhism that Ajahn Brahm teaches, but otherwise think he is insightful and compassionate and the world would be a better place if more people adopted his attitudes

  • i love this mans talks, ive been listening to them on and off since i was 16, and it truely calming to watch and listen to this gentle mans teachings ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I'm guessing there was a technical glitch with the video?
    If it's available, I'd love to hear the end of the talk!
    Thank you!

  • the life of Ajahan Thero reflects his buddhist teachings. calm peacefull and filled with eternal happiness. may Dhamma (Teachings of Bhuddha) bless him

  • They are talking about Matthieu Ricard. I want to see Ajahn Brahm and Mattieu Ricard giving a talk together that would be nice ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I'd love to hear how Ajahn Brahm finished this talk and tied the whole thing together with what he was saying at the end about prisoners having been abused themselves as children. What an amazing talk this was! Thank you so much for posting!

  • I also; AMEN SHANTI PEACE SHALOM ALOHA NAMASTE..peace inside to manifest it outside..beautiful accessible talk about our real lives! THANK YOU!

  • Thanks for this inspiring talk, watched it a couple of times now. I think the governments around the world that apply the death penalty should watch this and think again.

  • Thank you so much for this talk it realy helps me .I have BPD.DISORDER. your talks help me understand why i feel what i feel and how to get out of my pain . Thank you. A.J..๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘

  • The two killings AB is referring to was the killing of Silje Raedergard on 15th October 1994 … and the February 12, 1993 abduction of James Bulgar from outside a butcher's shop.

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