Loving Sai Ram and greetings from Prashanti Nilayam.
This Sunday we wish to discuss the topic of freedom, especially personal freedom. There is no one who does not want freedom; indeed, history is replete with accounts of uprisings, revolutions, mutinies, etc., in quest of freedom. Countries held in thralldom have sought freedom, oppressed people and communities have sought freedom, slaves have sought freedom, women have sought freedom, and campaigns to free children held in bondage have also been mounted. With so many centuries of fight for freedom in so many societies and countries, surely we must by now know what freedom means. Moreover, there is no dearth of scholarly essays on the subject. So, you dear, reader might legitimately wonder what on earth can we say that is new. Well, we are not going to say anything that is new, but something that is hardly known; to that extent, what we shall be saying might come as something not only new but possibly also as a bit of jolt!
Boring though it might be for you, we would like to start with the fact that a human being is complex mixture of the gross body, the subtle Mind and the Causal Heart, the Spiritual Heart that is. When we talk of freedom, we must keep this important fact before us. Freedom implies no constraint, no bondage, and no subjugation. We all understand this. But the way we interpret these words is generally flawed. Yes, a slave has no freedom; freedom in relation to what? In relation to making decisions, in relation to education, travel, working hours, the type of work he or she wants to do, owning property, etc. The restrictions relate mainly to the body and to the Mind to some extent. When slaves in America got freedom, it was with respect to these parameters of life. Consider now an ex-slave who can literally do what he wants, provided of course it does not violate the law of the land. In this respect, he now is equal to others who earlier held him in slavery. Can we now say the ex-slave is completely free? Yes, free he is but only in a worldly sense. Does that mean there is another sense of the term that also we must consider? Indeed there is and that is what we shall be concerned with from now on.
To make sense of the last remark, we have to go beyond the body and the Mind to include also the Heart in our discussion of freedom. The Heart has something to do with freedom? Yes, and that is where what we say might appear as something new. However, Krishna pointed it out all long time ago, echoing the Vedas that had said it even much earlier. And of course, our beloved Swami too has spoken about this matter, though it might not be well known; which is why this Sunday we are dealing with this important topic.
OK, what has the Heart got to do with freedom and all that? To answer that question, we must understand the subtle relationship between the Head and the Heart. Consider a person who says: “I am free to do what I want. I like to drink, and nobody is going to stop me. I enjoy smoking; who is going to stop me? There is no law against smoking, is there?” and so on. The person goes ahead and does all these things. Can we say this person is free and really exercising his or her freedom? That is the point we shall now explore.
The person who says I am free, is referring to constraints from outside. If say, the father of the person or the wife of the person says don’t drink, don’t smoke, and the person defies, the person does all that to show he is free from the constraints others try to impose on him. OK, the person asserts himself, defies his relatives and all that; does that make that person free? We submit, not at all. Why do we so assert? For a simple reason.
A person addicted to alcohol and smoking and who indulges in these habits in the name of freedom is actually a slave to these habits. How can a slave claim to be really free? This is where Vedanta comes into the picture. Vedanta declares – and this is also the very first thing that Krishna taught to Arjuna – that every human is Atma first, then only Mind and body. Symbolically speaking, the Mind is between the senses and the Atma. In God’s preferred scheme of things, the Mind should work harmoniously with the Atma. Why? Because that is when the person acts in accordance to his or her true nature. Whether the person knows it or not every human being is a Spark of the Divine. This fact becomes critical when we discuss the issue of whether a person is truly free or not.
Consider a king, who behaves mostly like a joker. The people of the kingdom would say, “This fellow is no king; he is a joker.” The person wears the robes of a king and yet his subjects describe him as a joker. Why? Because his behaviour is not consistent with what he is supposed to be, namely a king. Similarly, every person with human form being a Spark of the Divine is expected to exhibit Divine attributes and qualities in all his or her actions. If those qualities are missing, then the person is not acting according to the true nature of that person, and that true nature is the Divine Atma. In short, if a person acts in accordance with the dictates of the lower instincts that penetrate the Mind and capture it, then how can the person call himself or herself free?
Krishna has warned that the enemies of man hide in the dark crevices of the Mind, and Swami has told us time and again that we must fear Kama, Krodha, Lobha, Moha, Madha and Matsarya as six types of deadly snakes. These mortal enemies of man entice man through agents called senses. And once man is trapped by the senses and his Mind becomes a prey to these enemies, that man is no longer free, even if he deludes himself into thinking that he is. That is the point we are trying to make.
Let us put it all together and go over the arguments once more, slowly.
- Humans are primarily the embodiments of the Divine Atma; the body has a human form that is perishable, but the core is Eternal and Divine. That is why Swami always used to begin His Discourses in the old days with the word: DIVYATMASWAROOPALARA, meaning, Embodiments of the Divine Atma.
- Being Divine at the core, our true nature is also that of Divinity.
- As such, our actions must reflect Divine attributes that is to say, virtues like Selfless Love, Compassion, Forbearance, Non-violence, etc., rather that the attributes of the lower self that include, anger, jealousy, greed, selfishness, etc.
- A person whose actions are guided by the attributes of the lower self is not at all free; rather, the person is a slave to the senses, even though the person may delude himself or herself as being free.
- In analysing issues relating to freedom, one should beware of the fact that the human Mind being extremely powerful, has infinite capacity to trick itself!
It is necessary at this point to make a reference to the viewpoint held in the “enlightened” world regarding freedom. If we look carefully, this viewpoint is all about what is usually referred to as “freedom of expression” and “freedom of choice”. Let us examine these matters a little bit. Freedom of expression is something that is widely valued and prized in the Western world, especially by the media and by artists. On the face of it, there can be no objection to it; however, when it comes to practical expression of this freedom one wonders whether the passionate advocates of this freedom have a good idea of the nuances. There is a saying that the media, for example, must be allowed “to tell it like it is”. That is the Western view. Vedanta, on the other hand, says that it is not in the spirit of Truth to state so-called facts, if they would cause hurt.
Swami has often made a reference to the Sanskrit original, while speaking on Truth [nah bruhiyat sathyam apriyam]. In this perspective, avoiding unnecessary hurt to another person is far more important that trying to assert one’s so-called rights. Right now, there is one such issue that is causing concern to many people in India . An artist of high repute, almost an icon, has produced many paintings, showing Hindu Goddesses topless and even without any clothes whatsoever. This is supposed to be all about creativity, giving full expression to artistic freedom and all that. Understandably, this has hurt the sentiments of millions and caused a public furore. The art crowd, of course, is furious that there are objections, that artists are being denied their legitimate freedom, and that protests amount to stifling creativity, freedom of expression, etc. What the artist has done appears perfectly reasonable to the “enlightened” crowd who regard the protestors as bigots, etc.
This is one side of the story. Let us for a minute look at the other side. On this side are ordinary people who worship these Goddesses, Parvathi, for example. They are shocked by these paintings, pained, hurt, and of course angry. The art crowd screams that these illiterates cannot be allowed to curb basic freedom and that if they [these “bigots] have their say, then we would slide into a totalitarian regime, etc.
Let us now look at both sides together. Suppose for a moment the people who want to harp on their rights focus instead on their responsibility, would they exercise their so-called right, especially when it can cause pain and even lead to conflict? By the way, the Danish cartoons and remarks by the Pontiff did lead to vigorous protests and even violence. So the question arises: “Why cannot people who are supposed to be enlightened, exercise some self-restraint in the interest of peace, and give expression to their artistic ‘rights’ when people have become ‘enlightened’ due to better education, etc?” Soon after India gained independence, Nehru, the first Prime Minister of the country, often used to say: “Freedom beings responsibility.” That observation is very relevant in the present context also, though, of course, Nehru meant it in a different sense. How can one call people “enlightened”, when they insist on their rights even if it causes hurt, when they can easily forego that privilege in order to avoid causing unnecessary hurt? It is difficult to believe that the artist in question has run out of topics to paint; did he really have to do these paintings as an expression of his creativity?
“Rights” – that is the buzzword of the “enlightened” crowd. Right now, the Government in the State of Karnataka wants to ban the sale of soft drinks and fast food in schools on the ground that they contribute to child obesity. The soft drink lobby and the media are up in arms. Their slogan is: “There must be freedom of choice. If certain parents don’t want their children to eat or drink these items, then they could advise accordingly.” This is the same argument used by the peddlers of porn in the Internet.
There are any number of such issues but we shall not go into them. However, there is one general observation we must make, before we wind up. And that is – the so-called freedom to do what one likes does not amount to freedom, just because Society allows them all. Freedom means that one does not pay for one’s actions. Payment may not always be extracted by Society; yet, there might still be a stiff price to pay. Drinking and smoking are permitted in all countries, but that does not mean the drinker and smoker do not in the end pay a price. As the famous physicist George Gamow, a heavy drinker, said shortly before he died, “Finally, my liver is presenting the bill!”
Freedom granted by Society does not amount to true freedom. True freedom of action is that dictated by a mind that is not a slave to the senses and the eternal enemies, Kama, Krodha, etc. Such a mind is a companion of the Heart, and follows the dictates of the Atma. Actions are then in perfect harmony with the true nature of the individual. As indicated earlier, these ideas are not by any means new. They are as old as Vedanta, and in fact the word in Sanskrit for freedom is Swarajya, meaning self-rule; rule not by the lower self but “rule” by the Higher Self or the Atma.
So the bottom line is: Freedom to act and choose based on options is not true freedom. True state of freedom is that state where there is no price to pay; and that is the state of the Atma. When the Mind is united with the Atma, that is the true state of freedom. In all other states, there is, as the saying goes, “no free lunch!” Not only is there no price to pay in the true state of freedom but, equally important, one is in Bliss and in a state of total peace.
Jai Sai Ram.
H O M E P A G E