Letting go The Path to Liberation

The attainment of liberation, the freedom from all of life’s attachments, is an integral step on the journey to enlightenment. Letting go of the material world as a means to end suffering may be easy to understand on a superficial level. But from a practical standpoint, how do we “free” ourselves from our attachments to people such as our spouse, children, and all of our loved ones? Most people feel they are simply not ready to let go of their families, and would not even know how to begin doing so. Liberating ourselves from everyone and everything that we have held dear to us for so long is a slow and arduous process; but with insight, patience, and perseverance, we can learn to let go, to love selflessly and unconditionally.

First step on the path to liberation

Liberation is the release of all attachments to living and non-living things, including our own bodies, ideas, and beliefs. Nothing and certainly no one really belong to us. In life, we each have a role to fulfill that relates us to other human beings: mother, father, wife, brother, sister, etc… Each of us was born with our own individual fate that is to be determined by the karma that we created, or the results of all our thoughts and actions. No matter how close or strong our relationships with others appear to be, the people, friends, and family we connect with throughout our lives are all separate individuals with their own destinies that are determined by their own karma. And although our personal interactions certainly affect other people’s lives and vice-verse, the only one that can ultimately change our destiny is our own person. Therefore, it is very important that we aspire to a life of loving kindness and compassion, to fulfill our roles as mother, father, husband, wife, brother and sister as best as we can. Understanding this is the first step on the path to liberation.

Second step on the path to liberation

The second step is to strengthen the mind, analyze, and understand it. This is accomplished through meditation. One form of meditation called samatha focuses the mind and helps us in the development of concentration and mental strength. A weak mind easily succumbs to temptation, laziness and doubt while a strong mind helps to keep us on the path and do what is good and right. The practice of insight meditation or vipassana allows us to gain wisdom, which in turn helps us to understand the truth or dharma. We naturally have many questions about our existence. Who are we? Where do we come from? What are we supposed to be doing? The answers to all of these questions lie deep within each of us and can be brought out through the cultivation of insight and wisdom derived from vipassana. Diligent practice of meditation is essential to understanding our world and ourselves; this is the foundation of our path to enlightenment.

Third step on the path to liberation

The next step is to give. The art of living does not simply entail donations of money and material things; we must learn to give love, kindness, forgiveness and compassion – all without expecting anything in return. The practice of giving unconditionally is the key. Initially, this may be the most difficult part about performing charitable acts. Whether it is money, a favor, gratitude or acceptance, it is only natural to expect something in return. Even when we try to suppress this almost instinctual feeling, there is always a glimmer of hope that we will directly benefit from our actions. Often times, however, what we had expected is not realized or is not to our satisfaction; we then become disappointed, sad or perhaps even angry. The memory of these experiences can be used as lessons to teach ourselves to give unconditionally; so the next time we give, there won’t be any negative feelings regardless of the outcome, only kindness and a sense that we had done the right thing.

Law of cause and effect

In the beginning, we may have to force ourselves to give more and expect less. As we continue to give, however, it becomes easier to help others and think less of our own personal gain, until eventually we are able to give unconditionally. When we are able to give in this manner, with sincerity and pureness of mind, then we are performing a good deed. Good deeds result in good karma, which affects our present and future in a favorable way. This is the law of cause and effect, a phenomenon that we will begin to appreciate as we become increasingly aware of our thoughts and actions.

The law of cause and effect, one of the most fundamental principles of nature, is experienced through the direct or more often than not, the indirect results of each of our actions. According to the law of cause and effect, our good deed (cause) will lead to a good consequence (effect) which we will experience somewhere in time, whether we expect it or not. The law of cause and effect is extremely complicated and is not based on the actions of one given point in time; rather it is the collective actions of an individual from thousands of lifetimes and even of those around him that lead to a specific consequence. Many times, the relationship between the action and its consequence is not clear-cut, directly in proportion, or even evident in the same lifetime. For example, if we help one person, it is not necessary that the same person will help us. It may be his brother, friend or even a complete stranger. For that matter, we may not even be the direct recipients of our actions. If someone helps our child whom we deeply love, that sometimes means more than if they help us. The fact is that when we help another human being with purity of mind and action, someday, someone will help us in our time of need.

A recent TV news show broadcasted a story about an American family traveling to New Mexico on vacation. The family consisted of a man, woman and their small children. It was winter, the roads were extremely icy and they were driving through a heavy snowstorm. The car skidded on the ice and crashed against a snow bank on the side of the road. The father who had been driving lost consciousness while the mother and children suffered multiple fractures of their arms and legs. Soon afterwards, a couple that was driving by pulled over to help the family. They administered first aid, transported the family to the nearest hospital, and then left without giving their names. Several months later, a friend of the couple whom they had related the story to, saw the family telling their story on television and contacted them. The couple (who were actually two married physicians) was reunited with the family and they eventually became very good friends.

The arrival of the physicians to the family’s rescue may sound like a coincidence or just good luck. In reality, though, it is the cumulative result of all the good deeds from the family’s past and present karma. Had the family’s good karma been less than what it was, who knows what kind of people they may have encountered that fateful night – thieves, murderers, rapists or perhaps even no one at all. There is no such thing as coincidence. Every action in this universe has a reaction; every cause has an effect. Everything we do, whether it is good or bad, will come back to us one day. Again, it is not a simple or direct relationship; just because we help someone today does not mean we’re going to win the lottery tomorrow. Nor does it mean that whomever we helped will drop down on their knees and be indebted to us until the end of time. Rather, we should help others simply for the sake of helping others. The results of our actions will come in time; we needn’t worry about recognition of our brave heroism or how we will profit from our generosity. We just need to understand that we are accountable for every single one of our actions.

Ego and Desire

Prioritizing the needs of others above our own is difficult, especially when it requires a great deal of our time, labor and money. But by thinking less of ourselves, we are able to cut down on ego and desire – both a tremendous source of suffering. Ego, or the complex of me-my-I-mine, is the glorified concept of the self, while desire represents that constant need for fulfillment of the senses, ideas, love and emotions. We suffer when the ego is hurt or the desire is not satisfied; yet we suffer again when the ego is inflated or the object of desire is attained, because their fulfillment is transient and fleeting. The pursuit of self-gratification always results in emptiness, loneliness, and feeling of low self-worth, which leads us right back to the desperate preservation of the ego and our bottomless desire to achieve that false sense of completion again. The only way to stop this endless cycle is to channel all that energy spent on perpetuating ego and desire towards helping others. We will then be left with a deeper, more sustained sense of fulfillment.


The positive effects of our selfless actions have on others and ourselves encourages us to continue giving, thereby creating a new and healthier cycle. Each time that we give, we are one step closer to finding true peace and happiness. More importantly, we begin to learn that the art of giving has implications that run much deeper than the physical act of helping someone or donating money. Every time we do something for someone else, we are giving up a small part of our mental construct of reality, the idea of our life here on earth that we have created and added to since the day we were born. Though it may bear some parallels to the concept of ego, the mental construct of our reality is broader, more encompassing and is a concept that may be very difficult to understand. In essence, we are all attached to this egocentric perception of our reality, which includes all the people, ideas, memories and emotions that we have experienced through all of our days. From these experiences, we form a personalized view of our world and how it relates to us. It is the conceptualization of our existence and represents our deepest attachment.

True Liberation

The release from this final attachment results in a state of nothingness. The mind is empty, void. There are no thoughts, no emotions, no constructs of reality and no attachments. There is simply nothing. This is the true goal, to be completely free of everything, including the idea of our own existence. Throughout our life, we may experience brief moments of nothingness when we meditate or when our mind is quiet and calm. In these moments, our minds will be completely void of all thoughts, pleasant or unpleasant, and we are able to taste true liberation. To experience this on a deeper level, we must first understand that the mind is a concept that was created by man to explain the origin of thoughts, where they are created, stored and scattered about. Whether we are thinking of how someone yelled at us at work or reminiscing about a fond childhood memory, we are often consumed by our thoughts, regardless of their content. We are also bombarded by our mental reactions, which represent pre-existing biases to internal and external stimuli. When we are complimented, we react with pride or joy; likewise, when we are insulted, we react with shame or anger. Reactions to internal stimuli such as pleasant or unpleasant memories also occur. The point is that we respond to the stimulus automatically without conscious control. These thoughts and mental reactions, whether they are positive or negative, run rampant through our minds, cluttering it, thereby generating a great deal of suffering.

Body and Mind

It is possible to live above all this, to clear our minds and accept all things with peace and equanimity. We must let go of all the thoughts and mental reactions that together from entity of the mind. Once the mind is free, we will then be able to let go of the attachments to the body, and ultimately our existence. The body, like a house built of wood, stone, nails and cement, is made of the four elements: wind, water, air and earth. When each element is taken away, there is no longer a house, no longer a body. There is nothing left, only an empty space. Thus, when there are no thoughts, there is no mind; when there is no mind, there is no body, and no existence. There is nothing.

What to Do

Meditation is vital to maintaining mental strength and acquiring insight to understand all that we shall encounter throughout our journey. The temptation of self-indulgence is strong; it is always easier to help ourselves and to put our needs first. And although we know that the law of cause and effect exists, it is conveniently forgotten, especially when the profits of our selfish actions are readily seen in the short-run. Meditation, however, provides the mental framework by which we understand that these short-term favorable effects are not the true reflections of our self-serving deeds. Quite simply, the old adage – what goes around comes around – explains what the true results will be. We must persevere in our practice of meditation, so that we may have the will and the wisdom to continue giving, to become less selfish, and to stay on the path. The moments of nothingness we experience on the way will turn into minutes, then hours, then days, until we are able to reach that final step of our journey – nirvana. Until then, we must learn to love, to forgive, to be kind and to live in peace with one another as we strive on the path to liberation

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