Prison is Not FreePrison is Not Free

By Hotai


Prison is a place where people are not free. Prison is a place where you are under the control of other people. Many inmates live for the day when they walk out of that gate a free person. Prison can be a place but it can also be a state of mind. In the Eagles song “Desperado,” they have a line the sums this up. They tell us “your prison is walking through this world all alone.” There is another line that says “iron bars do not a prison make.” Some people bring their prison with them while others find a way to be free in the most restrictive circumstance. Zen is all about freedom. But freedom is not a static state. We are either from something or not. We have to first be attached before we can be free. We are attached to different things. Some attachments are easy to break and other attachments are rooted deep in our characters. Addictions are attachments that are so strong that some people would rather die that give them up. The following is an essay by one of our Sangha who practices behind the fence. It speaks to us about real freedom and what holds us back:



Three essentials spoke upon by Zen master Hakuun Ryko Yasutani (1885-1973) in his "Introductory Lectures on Zen Training" are known as the "pillars" of the practice of zazen. They are as follows:

  1. Dai-funshi- "the great inflexible resolve." Firm resolve, the inflexible determination to dispel "great-doubt" with all one's energy and will.

  2. 2. Dai-gidan- "great doubt." The inner condition of doubt-ridden questioning. Not to mean "skepticism" but rather a state of perplexity, of probing inquiry, of intense self-questioning.

  3. Dai-shinkon- "great root of faith."


Waiting in lines is a common occurrence everywhere. I was tested the other day by my patience. It wanted to run chaotic and put a scowl on my face, say bad things and stomp in anger like a child not given its way. Yet for the practice of zazen, the turbulence faded as my resolve took a different direction to compassion and a higher teaching. Throughout the moment, questions arose: “Why this conglomerate of energy? How could he be so inconsiderate? Why is this happening? What about me? Why the suffering?” I recognized this as Dai-gidan, the "great-doubt." Questions and inquiries throughout the situation that demanded attention. Why is there so much strife?

In the end Dai-shinkon won out. The "great root of faith." The essential knowing that a smile in the heart is the most perfect form of the universe. Hakuun Ryko Yasutani said it best, "Buddhism starts with Buddha's supreme enlightenment, which he attained after strenuous effort. Our deep faith, therefore, is in his enlightenment, the substance of which he proclaimed to be that human nature, all existence, is intrinsically whole, flawless, omnipotent - in a word, perfect.”

In closing, I hope you find a joy that rests in the three "pillars." They are foundational and powerful allies in this world of appearance, change, and impermanence. May the feeling of happiness and love extend to yourself and others. Have a wonderful day! In gassho, with love!


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