Philosopher Caf?: Soaring with the Wind, Controlled by the Thread

Subject: Control and Freedom

Time: 2011/04/23

Place: 10th Floor Library of Degui Academy at Dharma Drum University

Inviter: Ku, Chung-Yu

After a period of off time, the Philosopher Cafe was once again launched at the Degui Academy. Instructor Ku Chung Yu of the School of Life & Living at Dharma Drum University brought all into the world of speculation in philosophy and enjoyed a beautiful Saturday afternoon together.

23 companions from different places got together, and it was a first time experience for most to participate in such an activity. As usual, the instructor introduced the historical origin and spirit of the Philosopher Cafe to all at the beginning. Of course, there are rules to follow such as deep listening and speeches without criticizing remarks, so an intellectual exchange can take place without rigid format, and in that way it distinguish itself from other activities.

The subject for the gathering was control and freedom. Most people yearn for freedom but are often controlled by invisible forces. So, what are those invisible forces? Could we really have the real freedom? What is freedom? What is being in control? Instructor Gu, as the leader of the group, led all participants to grope for the answer of whether they truly have freedom by discovering freedom first. What are the reasons for being free or not free? Some in the group thought that they were free and being free or not is a matter of choice; others thought that they lacked freedom especially when it came to their “mind” as it's often restrained by different roles and expectations of the society, the desire to control others, yet being controlled by others.

Therefore, the instructor then asked: Is there some kind of frame which causes people to think that they are not free? Work schedule, career pursuits, expectations, social environment, self restrictions or self expectations? The instructor also led all in a group activity to experience the passing of time. With this experiment, participants can perceive time also as one of the frames. Is it a subjective feeling or objective limitation when one experiences the time passing slowly or fast?

Then, a question was thrown out by the instructor: Are freedom and control completely opposite or conflicting to each other? Some in the group pointed out the relationship between rights and obligations; others used kite soaring freely in the sky as an example. The kite flies high in the sky, yet, it is still controlled by another through a thin thread tied to it; it is also like the active force and counter force of a physical phenomenon, and they all coexist too. Is it also a matter of choice to relate one's own perspective and attitude to what is being free and what is not being free? All the participants enthusiastically offered their own opinions and shared their experience in life, exchanging their own stories, and having dialogues with all in the group.

In the end, the instructor used topics such as “Does it really make one unhappy if one is not free?” and “How to be one's own master?” to guide all to think deeper, and to discuss about how to master ourselves when changes take place in the environments and situations that we are so used to all the time.

Up to this point in the discussion, many in the group brought up their viewpoints what the instructor called “the reconciliation of control and freedom” to allow one to enjoy freedom when under the controls of others and be able to find a balance. Those viewpoints are to be responsible for one's own choices and be grateful for all that one has. Other people also pointed out the approach advocated by Master Sheng Yen in dealing with matters, “face it, accept it, deal with it, and let go of it”, as a way to approach freedom.

Finally, the instructor brought out the views of some philosophers and the wise such as “choose to free one's mind when physical conditions are not” and “freedom is when body and the mind are in accord with each other” to allow open thinking on these topics, and hoped that there would be more friends to join the Philosopher Cafe's in the discussions and reflections in the future (Reported by Zheng Xin Li).