The Ideal of Freedom


Our voice is raised for spiritual freedom, and our plea made for enfranchisement from all tyranny whether of Science or Theology.

—H. P. Blavatsky

The outward freedom that we shall attain will only be in exact proportion to the inward freedom to which we may have grown at a given moment. And if this is the correct view of freedom, our chief energy must be concentrated upon achieving reform from within.

—Gandhiji

Thy Soul cannot be hurt but through thy erring body; control and master both, and thou art safe when crossing to the nearing "Gate of Balance."

The Voice of the Silence

While concepts of freedom are many and varied, the ideal of freedom itself is one which awakens a response in every human being. Such a universal innate response, however instinctive or unconscious, points to the fundamental fact that true freedom is the birthright of man. The history of humanity records the struggle for freedom, political and economic, social and religious, of nations and communities, groups and individuals. The most shameful and tragic pages of history are those that depict acts of tyranny and oppression, of persecution and enslavement, of man's inhumanity to man. These invariably give rise to opposition and to rebellion too often marred in turn by vindictive retaliation, violence, and human slaughter. But one thing is certain: the conscience of mankind cannot be silenced for long and human thought will ever struggle to be free, for freedom is man's undeniable birthright.

That this is so is recognized today and such a recognition should be a source of encouragement and inspiration to all who believe in the principle of freedom.

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood!" Thus proclaims the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 1. This Declaration, adopted at the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10 December 1948, is a most significant landmark in the progress of mankind. Based on "the recognition of the inherent dignity of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family," it sets forth the fundamental freedoms of every individual. It acknowledges the relationship of freedom to both justice and peace. The peace of the world rests on the securing for all its citizens of justice and the fundamental freedoms—freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want. These fundamental rights are explained specifically in the Articles of the Declaration. Thus, for example, Article 18 states: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion...."

The implementation of this Declaration will indeed pave the way to the realization of the dream and aspiration of all men of good will, that of one humanity living in peace in one world.

To the fulfilment of this great and noble ideal each man, each woman, must contribute. The Declaration itself calls upon us "to act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." This means that the individual himself must accept the fact that all men are brothers, that mankind is one, and endeavour to guide his own daily conduct on that basis. What makes man violate the laws of brotherhood?

This leads us to consider another aspect of the problem and raises questions pertaining to philosophy. What is freedom? Who is a free man? Too often freedom for the individual has been misinterpreted as the right to do "as he likes." Has anyone such a right?

Beyond the multiplicity of the different concepts of freedom and the varied fields in which freedom is sought, there lies the archetype of freedom itself. Archetypes belong to the sphere of the Eternal; types, to the world of conditioned existence. Archetypes are permanent and everlasting. Types are changing and impermanent. Man's quest for freedom, whether political, social or economic, reflects a deeper search—the search for the ultimate freedom, that of the Spirit, alone eternal and immutable. Man, ignorant of his true nature, often mistakes the shadow for the substance and runs after an illusive freedom, merely external. Mere outward freedom does not liberate, but only strengthens man's inner bondage. Thus he goes from form to form until he learns to recognize that external freedom must be rooted in internal freedom, that no man is truly free who has not attained freedom within. True freedom is essentially an inner state of consciousness.

The life of man is a series of paradoxes and none is perhaps as striking as the one behind the concept of freedom.

Great is the complexity of human nature. In every man dwell contrary tendencies for ever opposing each other, pulling in contrary directions. This results in a conflict within, which rages incessantly and must last until man, becoming aware of his larger SELF, gives supremacy to that SELF, making all other interests and desires subservient to It. The Self of Matter and the SELF of Spirit cannot meet. One of the twain must disappear. There is no place for both.

All spiritual traditions point to this central fact and call man to the establishing of peace and harmony within himself. A man or a woman who is suffering discord and conflict within is bound to reflect these in his relationships with others and thereby to sow the seeds of misunderstanding and of dissent leading to strife and hostility.

The Declaration names "freedom from fear" as one of the fundamental freedoms, but whence the root of fear? Says Lord Buddha: "From indulgence arises grief; from indulgence arises fear. There is no grief for one who is free from indulgence. Whence, then, can there come fear?" (Dhammapada, Ch. XVI, ver. 214)

Similarly, selfish desires and impure cravings lead to grief and are the cause of fear. Only the fearless person is the free person and he is free from fear in the measure of his subdual of his lower self.

To quote Lord Buddha again:

Craving grows in a disturbed mind, also when passions flourish, and when yearnings for the pleasant arise. Thus fetters grow strong.

He who delights in quieting his disturbed mind and becomes mindful of the pleasant but undesirable nature of craving, he will certainly remove, nay destroy, the bondage of Mara.

—(Dhammapada, Ch. XXIV, verses 349-350)

The cause of bondage lies in ignorance, ignorance of our spiritual nature. The way to freedom lies in the realization of the Higher Self. That inward freedom reaches beyond mere political freedom and transcends political contests. Political and social forms come and go, but the knowledge which confers liberation upon the human Soul is hidden from dynastic or economic organization. It arises in the Soul who, at last aware of the reality of its Divine Parent, the Spirit, begins to long for final liberation. Such knowledge brings detachment and the strength to control and conquer the inclinations of the senses and the cravings of the separative self. The fetters which bind the Soul are the appetites and desires rooted in ahamkara or egotism.

Man is "the weaver of his freedom," and the fabric of freedom is woven with the thread of unselfishness and dispassion.

The chain which keeps the Soul in bondage is the triple one of the world, of the flesh, and of orthodox tradition.

Says Shankara in Viveka-Chudamani:

When a man follows the way of the world, or the way of the flesh, or the way of tradition, knowledge of Reality cannot arise in him.

The wise say that this threefold way is like an iron chain, binding the feet of him who aspires to escape from the prison-house of this world. He who frees himself from the chain achieves Deliverance.

That Soul attains Deliverance who has united himself with his Divine Parent, and this is possible only when he has fully conquered the inner animal.





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