Freedom Through Control

By Rev. Jon Turner

I recently began reading the book Presuppositions of India’s Philosophies by a philosophy professor named Karl H. Potter. It was first published in 1963. The first chapter is entitled Freedom and Its Conditions. In the opening sentence he states:

To understand the philosophy of a culture we must come to some understanding of its ultimate values – of what is of paramount importance in the lives of the people of that culture, of what are the highest ideals of its wisest [thinkers].

For European thought, he explains that the ultimate goal is that of moral perfection through rational thought and discipline. In other words, we reach our fullest potential or perfection when we can control our passions by relying on the power of our intellect. In contrast, he writes that the ultimate value recognized in the Indian tradition is one of freedom. It is not that morals and ethics are not important. It is merely that living a life in which one expresses their true self is given supremacy. This helps to explain why Buddhism, Hinduism and Yoga share a common underlying theme.

But freedom does not mean that one is selfish or self-centered. As Joseph Campbell might say, that is “a” conclusion but it is not the necessary conclusion. Being free is to be authentic not selfish. Morals and ethics are necessary in order to express oneself authentically but it is very often not sufficient. I would suggest that control is needed to live freely. It takes control in order to do the self-reflection necessary to determine exactly what this “true” self is for you. The true self is not what we originally imagine it to be. It has to be cultivated and discovered through practice.

In America, the difference in European and Indian thought is difficult to explain. An example of freedom needs to be selected very carefully. One that either affirms ethics in some way or is not relevant to the story. Luckily, I was able to recently experience such an example in my everyday life – the best kind of example.

Six months ago, I was on my way to Camp Morningstar in Big Bear for a one day Jr YBA seminar. I was carpooling with a golden retriever named Deja. A name that means “to remember”. It was the Hanamotos’ dog and car. It was the five of us with Barry, Linda and their daughter Brianne. I had noticed this dog at OCBC before but hadn’t realized that she was a guide dog in training. Even during the drive up she was being groomed to be a guide dog.

Deja had to be able to socialize while remaining calm. Guide dog candidates are bred specifically for this role. They begin their training around six weeks of age at the Guide Dogs of America (GDA) facilities. At eight weeks they are given to their Puppy Raiser (foster) families. Training begins immediately, it is constant and consistent. They always have one goal in mind, one day this dog will be the eyes of a blind person.

The training is always positive. The dog is always rewarded for proper behavior rather than being scolded if they misbehave. These dogs also must have the “right” temperament. They cannot get too excited or be too timid. They need to be confident but not stubborn. They need to take direction but also know when to disobey if there is unseen danger ahead. They must use all their sense without getting distracted. They must be able to handle loud noises, traffic and crowds in a calm manner. Deja also had to be comfortable with being leashed at all times. Deja was certainly one of these dogs. I wish my dog Maddie could have learned from Deja. I am afraid that my wife and I are Maddie’s service humans.

After about 15-18 months with the Hanamotos, Deja was ready to return to GDA to begin 4-5 months of formal training. Up to this point, Deja had passed all the requirements to become a guide dog. The discipline and training had paid off. Deja was following all of the rules, she had internalized the behaviors needed of a guide dog.

One main aspect of formal training is to transition the dog from the leash to the harness. I recently asked how Deja was doing with this and found out that she had “washed out”. Deja did not want to wear the harness. They discovered that Deja is not that kind of dog. They had spent 4-5 days trying to get her to accept the harness but she was having none of it. So Deja was unable to complete her training. Instead she will be adopted by a loving family - chosen from a six year waiting list.

At first I felt bad for Deja. She had not succeeded. But then I realized that she is also the dog who lives her life as only she can live it. Deja is not a dog to be harnessed. You have to really respect that. She has become authentic. She may not be a guide dog but she will be a very special dog for some very lucky family. Perhaps Deja is actually a lead dog and not a guide dog. I am very proud of the Hanamotos. They trained a very rare dog indeed, one that is living her life on her terms. Maybe Deja and Maddie have more in common than I had ever considered. A spirited animal is something to be admired not ashamed of. Deja merely remembered who she really is.

In gassho,

Rev. Jon Turner