Discipline vs. Freedom, Lids & Flowers.

Via Waylon Lewis
on Aug 26, 2009
get elephant's newsletter

discipline freedom trungpa

Discipline vs. Freedom: from Buddhist point of view, one is foundation for the other.

We see the conflict, in the West, frequently. Notions like “School without Walls” lead us to forget grading systems and urge children to shape their own curriculums. We see it in art, with abstract, modernist art breaking all boundaries…and yet, sometimes, missing something that more traditional, straightforward, literal art used to possess (the famous painting by Norman Rockwell re: Jackson Pollock captures something of that conflict, humorously).

In the Buddhist tradition, interestingly, a sense of discipline (rules, boundaries, limitations as the Dog Whisperer might say) are viewed as the foundation of freedom, not an opposing, smothering force to be rebelled against. For, like a vase, it’s the frame that makes possible the setting and power to the picture it holds. It’s the container of a liquid that makes it possible to drink. It’s learning that makes doing possible. From constriction or necessity rises true openness or creativity.

But let’s hear it from someone who knows what he’s talking about (see quote, below).

“Like a great river that runs down toward the ocean, the narrowness of discipline leads into the openness of panoramic awareness.”

He’s talking, of course, about the path of meditation, the Buddhist path of developing oneself into a useful, compassionate, capable citizen.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche designed the school I went to for a number of years as a child, and though one might think of a Buddhist school populated by a bunch of ex-hippies’ children might be loosey goosey, we instead all wore uniforms, underwent rigorous academic studies (which we excelled at when we later went en masse to public school), studied Japanese flower arranging, meditation and Western calligraphy…the school was anything but “anything goes.” And yet there was a real freedom to it. School uniforms meant I, the only child of a single mom, looked the same as my friends who had wealthy parents and lived in big houses. We were all good buddies. I never experienced that at any other school. We enjoyed (most of the time) our homework, and regarded our teachers as friends and as respected elders, both. We all loved each other, really, even if some of us weren’t that cool and were kinda proud and too sensitive and uptight and sweet but prone to tantrums (yours truly):

Meditation is not purely sitting alone in a particular posture attending to simple processes, but it is also an openness to the environment in which these processes take place. The environment becomes a reminder to us, continually giving us message, teaching, insights.”

~ Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, “Ocean of Dharma – The Everyday Wisdom of Chögyam Trungpa.”

With thanks for the tip to Panoramic Awareness.


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


4 Responses to “Discipline vs. Freedom, Lids & Flowers.”

  1. Caroline Root says:

    Thanks for this Waylon. I only got one year at Buddhist school so I don't remember that much of what it was like, but I've recently started teaching and I really appreciate the idea of discipline based on respect and a wider vision. More schools should work on this.

  2. […] in Boulder, then Vermont—was immensely fortunate (though my momma was immensely poor). It was a gift. That said, my mentors and teachers and community weren’t perfect, and in one way in […]

  3. vivian araullo says: