The Open Door by Ven. Silacara
from The Maha Bodhi, Vol. XXXVI No. 1, January 1928, pp. 13-16
Man is a prisoner. Some men feel and know this, and all the time resent it. The bars of time and space and all that these bars involve, to them are a perpetual, never-ceasing irk. They would be free. To freedom they unendingly aspire. And if for them the bars of the prison should happen to be gilded, none the less for that do they remain bars, hemming them in, shutting them off from liberty. They wish them away.
Other men, the great majority, do not feel much restraint upon their liberty in the prison. It provides them room enough for all they wish to do. They have no feeling that they are missing anything by their confinement within its walls. Only when the nature of their prison announces itself to them as pain, only then are they taken with a vague feeling that [they] would like to be somewhere else. But this feeling goes no further than a desire to get into some other and — as they hope — better room in the prison. These men are to be envied; or perhaps pitied! For they have no idea of freedom: not yet! But some day that idea will arise within them. And then the very finest apartment in the prison will no longer avail to content them. They too will want freedom. And nothing else but freedom will satisfy them.
Who is the jailer that keeps each man shut in behind the bars of time and space? It is himself. It is his self. None else holds him there. If he could get rid of that jailer he would be free. That jailer it is, and no other, who keeps the door to liberty shut upon him.
And how does that jailer come to be there holding shut the door? Thought put him there; thought keeps him there; thought, in fact, made him. We think self, and so we are selves. There is no other reason. Even as it is written: “In all that we are the primal element is mind (or thought). We are made by thought. Thought is chief.” The door to liberty is shut against us by the thought, self, and by this thought alone. To get that door open a little way, we have only to cease a little to think self, and a thin slit of the sunshine of liberty opens upon us. We have only to cease a little more from the thought self, and the slit becomes a wider chink: more of freedom’s light shines in on us. And still with more and more achievement in ceasing to think self, the wider becomes the door, and we begin to catch glimpses of wide prospects we had never hitherto dreamed of, vistas of space, of light and free air, of far horizons the very existence whereof our pent-up condition within the prison-house had never allowed us the chance even to imagine before. Such things at last we see through the open door. It no remains only to pass out through that door, and taste the freedom we have seen.
Why then do not all we world-prisoners who, with the thought non-self, Anatta, have somewhat opened that door and seen a little of what lies beyond — why do we not all pass through it and take fully what no we partly glimpse? Alas! though we see non-self, Anatta, we cannot yet do it. There are chains, there are fetters, upon us. We cannot, as we would, move out through that door we see. There are obstacles, there are hindrances, between us and that exit upon liberty. Those have still to be removed from our limbs before we can walk freely where we wish. These have still to be surmounted, overcome, before we can reach and pass that threshold into freedom.
And yet it is much, it is very much, that we keep the door open. It is much, very much, that we do not allow it to be closed upon us, shutting out from us the sight of what lies beyond the walls of our prison-house. It is much that we can think Anatta, and still continue to think it, still hold on to the thought of it. By and by, perhaps becoming stronger, we shall be able to get rid of the fetters, one after another. We shall be able to clear out of our way the hindrances that obstruct our passage to the door, and so at last make our way out into freedom, into the freedom of the universe — and of beyond the universe!
Meanwhile, if we cannot yet pass through the door, we can at least keep it open. We can hold to the Anatta thought, the non-self thought, to the Right View of things. We can refuse — in thought at least — to be shut into the prison-house of eternal self. We can refuse, against every attractive inducement from without or treacherous inclination from withinm to let the door close upon us and shut out our prospect upon infinitude. We can hold to Anatta, to non-self, in thought, even though the scorner may point the finger of mockery at us. We can hold to the though of Anatta even though in bitter moments we may feel all too keenly how his mockery is only too well justified, and that we are no more free from self in our action, no more unselfish in our doings, than others who have not, and apparently do not desire to have, our Right View.
No matter! Still we must keep to that Right View. Still we must hold to that Right Understanding of things, even if as yet it does not have all that influence upon our conduct that we wish it should have. Some day, if held on to, it yet will be followed by Right Conduct, and by everything else that is right, even by Right Wisdom, whereby at long last we shall pass out indeed into Freedom, and never again be prisoner of the sad jailer self in the prison-house of Saṃsāra.