Buddhism and the Freedom to do Nothing…

Freedom FROM is as much or more important than freedom TO, and this illustrates much of the historic difference between east and west, Buddhism and Christianity, that we Westerners typically want to DO this and DO that, as if all these actions hold supreme importance, as if the world has somehow advanced a step forward if one of the flying Wallenda brothers walks the tightrope over the Grand Canyon or not, as if the spectacles of our life are more important than our fundamental dignity, as if a more important goal is to put the ‘fun’ back in that ‘fundamental’ freedom. But this is a perversion of the concept, IMHO, because a more important freedom is the freedom from the fetters that constrain us, freedom from the ties that bind too tightly, regardless of whether we push that freedom to its final conclusion, regardless of whether we tempt fate simply for the sake of the deliverance we so desire. Because deliverance is easier than all that, it being a simple freedom FROM something, whatever it is that you so fear. Desire need not be brought into this simple equation, when the only result we seek is a simple zero which signifies balance. So why do we need to risk death to prove that we are free, when it is death that we want deliverance from in the first place? Obviously, we don’t. But boredom is the price of freedom, in that once we are free, that we don’t always know what to do with it, because for me to thrust my freedom in your face is to assert the primacy of my freedom to DO something over your freedom to be free FROM something, i.e. me, in this case. But we Americans love to ‘get in people’s faces’, ‘push your buttons’, ‘stand our ground’, even if it means that we reserve the right to follow you around doing just that (and these are all actual quotes, not mere suppositions). And this is something that Buddhism understands well, and makes it negative, in a technical sense, in that you really don’t have to do anything to be a good Buddhist, because more important is what you don’t do, which is to harm anyone else, or any sentient being, for that matter, so not dissimilar from the classic maxim of bio-ethical non-maleficence ‘primum non nocere’, i.e. first do no harm. And the principle carries over easily into social ethics: you don’t have to do anything, as long as you do nothing bad. So ‘not bad’ becomes the definition of ‘good’, and ‘unfettered’ becomes the definition of ‘freedom’. And if this seems like a passive lifestyle, then so be it. You can test your limits as time permits, as long as it does not impinge on the limits of others. After all, the future is distinctly uncertain, and so risky, while the past is certain, but scarcely known. So how can we know where we’re going, if we don’t even know where we’ve been?