1. Western style freedom
We hear the notion that USA is the land . Western style freedom
We hear the notion that USA is the land of the free, of people defending free speech, even unto the stage when they might not agree with what I say, but they will defend to the death my right to say it. Even if that message is promoting rape culture.
Coming from a Buddhist perspective, I have a different notion of freedom. (No. 3-6)
First, let's look at the way Americans usually talk about freedom. They generally mean freedom from the government to do whatever they wish to, as long as they do not break the laws. Part of their definition of freedom is the freedom to do evil onto themselves, laws are just to protect evil done onto others. Yet a lot of times, there are firm resistance towards new laws which would help to protect others.
Most obviously is the laws to outlaw guns or even lesser, just to make guns harder to obtain. They got trapped in a false debate on the causes of unintended deaths due to the massive gun ownership situation in USA. The debate for those who wishes to have the freedom to own a gun (which they claim to be the freedom from fear of criminals having guns) focuses on the reason that it is crazy people or people with careless keeping of the guns who are the causes of gun deaths, ignoring suicide by gun cases.
Those who wishes to have the freedom from fear of being gunned down, are focusing on the fact that guns are massively owned and too easily obtained. The truth is of course, both are right. You need guns and crazy people both to produce the gun dangers in USA. Australia outlawing guns had shown that taking guns out of the equation is an effective measure to reduce the deaths. Of course a healthy mental education is required to produce less extreme personalities so that they do not become the local terrorists, and less suicidal cases. And better economic distribution of wealth to reduce the numbers of criminals in the world.
Secondly, there is the freedom of speech. By the terrorists attacks on the French cartoonist who drew the Islamic prophet, people are realising that free speech does not mean freedom from responsibility from your speech. This is a step towards the right direction.
Free speech also should not be used to justify evil speech. Eg. Speeches by predators who teaches men how to get laid and then dump the girl for another one. Or songs which promotes treating women as objects. These are unhealthy developments which is against gender equality. As we know, the pen is mightier than the sword, it is perfectly good for Universities and countries to block assess to those evil people wishing to spread messages which causes harm to others.
From the Buddhist perspective, right speech is the way to go. Speech which is true, harmonious, kind and fruitful spoken at the right time is right speech. So there is a self restriction in speech to promote freedom from fear of: being cheated or lied to, freedom from being slandered or having tension in relationships due to speech, freedom from fear of being blamed or scolded unreasonably, freedom from being bombarded with useless information which clouds the mind.
My take on free speech, is that free speech which adhere to right speech is best spoken to all who have open mind and the wisdom to judge the contents. Not to all, especially ignorant youths and foolish, closed minded people.
As for the gun issue, practising right action, we get avoid killing, stealing and sexual misconduct. If everyone does that, there would be no criminals to need to defend yourself from. But even if there is criminals, having a gun is to hurt or more likely, kill others, so it is still not compatible with right action. People in most parts of the world do not live in fear of being robbed due to not having guns. So USA is actually not free if they are being manipulated by this fear.
Yet, no matter the political situation, there is no real freedom to be found via any system of politics or economy. More on that later. Obviously, people in USA would think that Singaporeans have less freedom in that they cannot buy chewing gums, simply indulge in drugs, no guns etc. But Singaporeans enjoy freedom from fear of being victim to crime, freedom from gun violence, freedom from social harm caused by drugs.
2. Catwoman Freedom
This is inspired by the movie Catwoman. In it, Catwoman says she is free to be good or bad as she likes. There is a disregard for the law and of good and bad as well. Yet this is not real freedom. There is no freedom for Catwoman to unmask herself when she steals things. Or if she does, then there is no freedom to live like a normal citizen under the law as she regularly breaks the law. There is also no freedom to just walk around unhindered while in Catwoman costume as law enforcements would want to catch her.
And from Buddhist perspective, there is no freedom from kamma for her when doing both good and bad things. There will be good and bad results for her.
3. Freedom from blame/ Moral Freedom
This is not freedom from being morally upright. It is being morally upright so that you are free from blame and regret. It is to avoid killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and intoxicants (alcohol, drugs, tobacco) which clouds the mind to be heedless. The last one is so that one does not become heedless enough to violate the previous ones.
Also it is doing the right thing when no one is watching. It is to have integrity, to develop generosity, loving kindness, respect for self and others, contentment, honesty, right speech. To be generally speaking, a good person, at least on the level of speech and actions. This is the foundation to have freedom from regret, to be a pure hearted person and the start of the Buddhist journey towards even greater freedom. Observing morality, you also give the gift of freedom from fear for others around you. They no longer fear that you might do something bad to them.
You can also add in the various social justice to here. Feminism, LGBT rights, Veganism etc. So overall, humanity is getting more and more morally whole. But also in some other respect, humanity is less moral, for the lost of respect for elders, higher divorce rates, increase in porn consumption which drives sexual slavery etc...
Morality is a spectrum, the basics is avoid evil, higher than that is to do good, and even higher is sense restraint, to develop the 10 perfections of virtue, etc.
4. Freedom from unwholesome thoughts/ Freedom from the world of sensual pleasures.
So the next step is mental training, or commonly called meditation. There are also stages of freedom depending on the level of mastery. With meditation, we can be free from not just unwholesome speech and action, but also unwholesome thoughts, at least temporarily. It happens when the 5 hindrances of greed for sensual pleasures, ill will, restlessness, sloth and torpor, and doubt are temporarily overcome and reduced.
Keeping on the training, one can eventually attain to Jhana, which is the form world, free from the world of sensual pleasures. It is bliss and happiness so beautiful, it surpasses all sensual pleasures and is identified by the Abrahamic religions as experiencing God.
5. Freedom from Greed and Hatred/ Freedom from Self view
This is the freedom from development of wisdom. Here I split wisdom attainments into no. 5 and 6. It encompasses from the first insight all the way to the 3rd stage of sainthood.
So having freedom from regrets from morality practise, one can practise meditation well until freedom from sensual pleasures is attained (Jhana). Then one can see things as they truly are: empty of self. There is no inherent enduring soul which does not change and independent of things. The body and mind we identify as self gives us a lot of trouble. We tend towards a self centred view of the world, if it does not concern me, then I don't care as much as when it does concern me.
With the story of a self to describe essentially just automated biological and psychological series of events we call the body and the mind, we develop likes or dislikes in response to pleasant or unpleasant feelings when our senses are in contact with things. These likes and dislikes develops into greed and hatred at the extreme.
So the wisdom to realize that there is no self can eventually lead to even the letting go of likes and dislikes, much less greed and hatred. This was what the Buddha realized by practise and helped to spread out. He also realised even more. Onto the next freedom.
6. Freedom from death, freedom from suffering/delusion/pervasive conditioning
This is what I mean earlier on no matter what political and economical solutions are in the world, they cannot lead to freedom from death and suffering (dissatisfaction).
This dissatisfaction is deeply meant by pervasive conditioning. That all conditioned things are subject to change and thus once attached to will cause suffering. Yet, everything worldly we do inside the conditioned world still leads to conditioned world. (The laws of nature applies) There seems no escaping this suffering world. Yet, the Buddha had shown the way out of all this. The noble 8fold path, the middle way of morality, meditation and wisdom.
In wisdom attainments, this is the arahant (4th and final stage of sainthood/enlightenment) level, to the level of parinibbana, the death after attaining to arahant.
Having attained to enlightenment (freedom from delusion that the world is self, happy and permanent, when in actual fact, all conditioned things are not self, suffering and impermanent), one realises the unconditioned Nibbana (which is not self, the highest happiness and permanent). The mind is freed from suffering. An arahant can still have bodily suffering as the body is still conditioned upon this world. So when the body dies, it is the ultimate freedom from all suffering.
Also as there are evidence for rebirth, (google it), the arahant is also freedom from death, as there would be no more rebirth for them as they had abandoned all cravings (which leads to rebirth). That is the ultimate freedom worth suffering for.
So which freedom are you devoting your life for to attain?