The Knowledge of Liberation

What makes Buddhism such a great treasure to us all is that it teaches the way to freedom from suffering. When we first hear this, we may find it hard to believe, but if we investigate, test the teachings and begin to have some experience ourselves, our faith and dedication to practice naturally develop…



It’s only natural at one point that we idealize and romanticize the Buddha and accomplished sages. We imagine what it must be like to be free from aggression, greed and ignorance about ourselves and others and our world. We place teachers and the teachings on a pedestal, and far from ourselves.

Perhaps we imagine that liberation is sudden and irreversible, since there are stories of his happening this way for people in the past. We may wonder how it’s going to be, but this is only making it seem removed from where we are now.

There’s a way of understanding and engaging inner freedom that is set out in the Sutra on the Foundations of Mindfulness. In this teaching, we’re encouraged first to be aware of our experience, and then to notice what causes came together  to produce our inner state, up to and including liberation.

The pattern is the same, we’ll see, for the hindrances being present or absent, and for positive qualities and experiences:

{note: The Five Hindrances are traditionally given as sense desire, anger, restlessness, sloth and torpor, and doubt.}

The Sutra on the Establishments of Mindfulness outlines this process

Here, monks, for example, if sensual desire (or the other hindrances) are present in himself, a monk knows that they are present. If absent, a monk knows that they are absent.

He knows how the unarisen hindrance comes to arise,

He knows how the abandonment of arisen hindrance comes about,

and he knows how the non-arising of the abandoned hindrance in the future will come about…

The removal of faults, we know, does not happen by itself. There are the practices, of ethics, meditation and wisdom to be done, and so when the text here says, ‘and he knows how the abandonment comes about…’ it is referring to our knowledge and application of effective methods.

The same outline can be used for the development of qualities:

Here, monks, for example, if patience (or the other qualities) are present in himself, a monk knows they are present. If absent, a monk knows that they are absent.

He knows how unarisen patience comes to arise,

He knows how the maintenance of arisen patience comes about,

and he knows how the the increased development of arisen patience in the future will come about…

When it comes to the mind being either caught or free, the Sutra says

He knows a deluded mind as deluded,
an undeluded mind as undeluded;
a contracted mind as contracted,

a distracted mind as distracted;
a developed mind as developed,
an undeveloped mind as undeveloped;

a surpassed mind as surpassed,
an unsurpassed mind as unsurpassed;
a concentrated mind as concentrated,
an unconcentrated mind as unconcentrated;

and a liberated mind as liberated,
an unliberated mind as unliberated…

There are times when our mind is relatively or greatly free from ego grasping, and free from the afflictive emotions, and we should recognize when this is so. And not only should we enjoy this state of being, but we should understand what caused the experience of the inner freedom we have to arise for us. This is the knowledge of liberation.

Following the pattern laid out in the Foundations of Mindfulness Sutra

We know when our mind is freed from self grasping and difficult emotions,
and we know how this state came to be;
we know how an unfree mind comes to be freed,
and how once freed, such an experience is made to continue…

The Buddha’s teachings on causality are not to be taken as dogma, but as encouragement to see for ourselves. What has been taught and celebrated as the dharani of dependent origination says:

‘Om ye dharmā hetu prabhavā hetun teṣāṃ tathāgato hya vadat teṣāṃ ca yo nirodha evaṃ vādī mahāśramaṇaḥ svaha’

and this is translated as

All phenomena arise from causes;
Those causes have been taught by the Tathagata,
And their cessation too has been proclaimed by the Great Shramana.

We may use methods of sila, samadhi, and prajna, (ethics, meditation, and wisdom) looking deeply at the annata nature of our experience; we may investigate along the lines of of the Prajna Paramita or Middle Way to develop discernment and freedom; and with faith and devotion, love and compassion, we may directly experience our profound nature. Whatever methods we use, if we know when we have attained their result in meditation, even momentarily, and realize how this experience has come into being for us, then we hold a most precious treasure.

May all beings be forever liberated,
and now and always
may we share the joy and peace of inner freedom
with all our family