Finding Freedom

[© Mark Henley/Panos Pictures]

Freedom--to be unfettered--is a value for which, throughout history, people have been prepared to give their lives. Some philosophers have argued that freedom is an absolute value, and that when people are denied the freedom to pursue their goals and to act to fulfill their potential, they are denied their humanity. It was this powerful idea that inspired the struggle for political freedoms over the past several centuries, and opposition to tyranny and despotism continues to drive the political agenda in much of the world.

However, the idea of freedom has much wider implications. Philosophers both East and West have argued that attaining inner freedom or spiritual liberation from the suffering inherent in life, regardless of the prevailing institutions, is equally important as attaining "the rights of man as a social being." Individual freedoms must also be reconciled with the need for social systems that are reflective of people's interdependence and mutual responsibilities. Clearly the interaction between different types of freedom is necessary to human happiness.

But while great progress has been made in promoting social and political liberties, freedom remains scarce. Far too many people in the world find their lives severely constrained by the grim reality of poverty, often enforced by exploitative structures within global economics. In the affluent world, there is a crisis of the opposite order, a rampant materialism and pursuit of the gratification of desire that can become a kind of enslavement and has led to great environmental destruction.

The contributors to this issue of the SGI Quarterly explore different facets of freedom. One common view that emerges from these varied perspectives is that freedom, in both its social and individual dimensions, is born of effort. It is in no sense a matter of being simply carefree. Freedom is the fruit of the struggle to be not only one's own master, but master of oneself--master of one's destiny as well as one's impulses.

It is the perspective of Buddhism, moreover, that the happiness that all people seek lies in a full engagement in that struggle.