I decide to take the bus back to Hong Kong Island instead of the MTR. Reason: I want to look outside, see the many harbours of Hong Kong, the sea, the mountains, the houses and the people. So I look outside. I have freely chosen to take the bus, and while riding it, I am free to look wherever I want: the sky, the road, the sea, the traffic, the people. I am free – but also confined by the boundaries of the bus: the route it takes, the road it travels on, the turns it makes on intersections.
I am free – but within a set boundary.
This afternoon, I listened to a missionary priest telling me about his experiences in mainland China. He explained to me the concept of ‘freedom within boundaries’. He explained to me that, while being in China, he is free to do all the work he wants; sometimes he is even encouraged by the government to provide certain social services to people in need. As long as he does not try to influence these people too much, he can do everything.
I have heard this more often: People are trying to do what they can within the boundaries that are set. If they try to escape from the boundaries, they will get blacklisted and will be denied entrance into China. Their work will have to stop at that point. A Buddhist monk explained it like this:
If you have a car, you can go wherever you want, and drive on all the roads. But there are traffic rules. When you come to a traffic light, you stop when it’s red, and move on when it’s green. Of course you have every freedom to ignore the red light and drive on. However, the consequences of doing this (AKA: of taking up more freedom than the boundaries permit) could end your life.
When I asked the Buddhist monk who sets up these boundaries for life, he laughed and told me that it is the Buddha, the Great Teacher. While talking to the missionary priest this afternoon, he told me it was the government. I however cannot stop to think that they themselves might have something to do with it as well. Boundaries are not set; they are continuously reset through influence of both the people on the inside who push the boundaries back, and people on the outside who push just as hard to keep the boundaries in place.
And then there is the matter of perception. Are the boundaries really there, or are they just perceived to be there? Are it the actual boundaries that restrict people’s freedom, or is it just the perception that these boundaries might be there somewhere? Are the boundaries fact, or fear?