Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Aung San Suu Kyi's inner freedom


Over the weekend, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd had the privilege of spending two hours with Burma’s pro-democracy hero Aung San Suu Kyi. The rest of us were privileged to have the opportunity to listen to the first of her BBC Reith Lectures, which was broadcast in Australia last night on ABC NewsRadio.

The series of two lectures, which can be watched or read online, is titled Securing Freedom. It was recorded in secret and smuggled out of the country by BBC staff.

Aung San Suu Kyi was released on 13 November last year after having spent 15 of the past 21 years under house arrest. What is most remarkable is that she does not regard her release as the moment of her freedom. 

Freedom for her is something altogether different from being allowed to move out of her house. The way she explains it makes her actual release from captivity seem almost inconsequential.

She says that whenever she was asked at the end of each stretch of house arrest how it felt to be free, she would answer that it felt no different because her mind had always been free. The freedom that mattered most to her was an inner or spiritual freedom.

‘I have spoken out often of the inner freedom that comes out from following a course in harmony with one’s conscience.’

She insists that spiritual freedom does not imply passivity and resignation, but instead it reinforces ‘a practical drive for the more fundamental freedoms in the form of human rights and rule of law’.

The first step in the battle towards freedom is to conquer fear, because fear paralyses individuals and whole societies. It is the real enemy, and once it is overcome the battle is as good as won. Meditation plays no small role in this particular struggle.

Western democracies wage wars in the name of freedom. President George Bush spoke about the freedom America was securing for Iraq, but did not seem able to go into detail about what he meant by freedom. He was not the only one. It is therefore not surprising that freedom eluded the so-called Coalition of the Willing.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Reith Lectures should be compulsory reading for every commander in chief.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.  

Topic tags: Aung San Suu Kyi, freedom, BBC Reith Lecture, Burma, release, fear



submit a comment

Existing comments

Thanks very much for this, Michael. She's one of the great presences of our world. Her couragious, sustained pursuit of freedom, and the paradoxial combination of selflessness and championing of self that has gone with it, have given a challenging meaning to the word saintliness.

Joe Castley | 04 July 2011  

She is no longer in house arrest. But she has not yet been allowed to go anywhere she needs to. Her political role is restricted. She has to be careful about what she speak. At the same time, the people are suffering from war, corruption, shortages of basic services, and whatever they have suffered before even thought the generals in civilian cloths have selected themselves to rule Burma in the terms of civilian government. I wish the world leaders to seek/provide the means to empower her so that she would be able to do her duty more reasonably.

AZURE | 04 July 2011  

Aung San Suu Kyi,as quoted by Michael Mullins, regards "human rights and rule of law" as "more fundamental" than spiritual or 'inner' freedom. This strikes me as very different to what Michael is suggesting. And the rule of law was certainly an objective of the war in Iraq. The Iraqis, since the overthrow of the fascist regime that the palaeo-cons supported, have voted in three multi-party competitive elections for a parliament. No longer do the Baathists receive 96% of the vote. I think Aung San Suu Kyi would approve and I know she seeks the same basic system - a parliamentary democracy - for her country.

Barry York | 04 July 2011  

Thank you for giving prominence to a living saint of the Buddhist persuasion. Aung San Suu Kyi's life exemplifies that iconic aussie expression of putting your money where your mouth is. I pray that she might live to see her beloved country hold free and fair elections and run by the rule of law. Meantime I will try to imitate her and grasp that inner freedom that comes with following the dictates of ones conscience. As a Christian I believe that living such truth will indeed set one free.

Ern Azzopardi | 05 July 2011  

Similar Articles

Aborting abnormality

  • Zac Alstin
  • 12 July 2011

Research suggests that 85 per cent of Australians support legal access to abortion for 'severe disabilities', and 60 per cent for 'mild disabilities'. While we encourage tolerance and diversity in our multi-ethnic society, our medical culture is moving in the opposite direction.


Rupert Murdoch as moral arbiter

  • Michael Mullins
  • 11 July 2011

In the wake of the News of the World scandal, the British Government media regulator Ofcom has deferred its decision on whether Rupert Murdoch and his executives are 'fit and proper' media owners. Ofcom does not define 'fit and proper', but it's more likely to be about moral rather than financial solvency.