Freedom -- Outward and Inward

This article has been transcribed from the February 2001 issue of "The Theosophical Movement," a publication of Theosophy Company (India).
Valuing freedom of thought above all things, as the only way of reaching at some future time that Wisdom, of which every Theosophist ought to be enamoured, we recognize the right to the same freedom in our foes as in our friends.

--H.P. Blavatsky

When freedom is not an inner idea which imparts strength to our activities and breadth to our creations, when it is merely a thing of external circumstance, it is like an open space to one who is blindfolded.

--Rabindranath Tagore

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.


In these days of mechanistic materialism we are apt to evaluate all things in terms of externals. Thus, when we think of freedom, we generally think of the freedom of the outward man. If a man is serving a term in prison and confined to his cell, we say he is not free. And this is true as far as the movement of his body is concerned: he cannot go where he wants to. But bodily imprisonment is only the loss of outward movement. There is another kind of imprisonment, namely, psychological captivity, and this is far, far more injurious than physical imprisonment. For a man may be in prison and yet remain free in mind and free in conscience. A slave may be dragged through the streets in chains and yet remain a free man. And the reverse is equally true. A man out of prison may walk the streets at liberty and go to whatever places, near or distant, he want to, and yet be a captive. He is not under physical constraint, yet may be a mental slave afraid or unwilling to think for himself. As Sir William Drummond's saying goes: "He that will not reason is a bigot; he that cannot reason is a fool; and he that dares not reason is a slave."

What applies to the individual is equally applicable to the collectivity and the nation. Political freedom does not necessarily include true freedom, which is inward. And this is being demonstrated again and again in contemporary history.

The age in which we live is one of over-organization and over-regimentation. These are fast reducing large numbers of men and women to the condition of mental slaves; men and women willing to abandon their most precious gift, that of free thinking, to sell their birthright for a pottage of lentils! And yet without inward freedom man ceases to be man. Freedom is the essence of human progress, and, deprived of it, man stagnates and degenerates.

The challenge of the modern age is above all the challenge to man's freedom of thought. Men are not machines; no, not even "thinking" machines. Men, to be men, must retain their freedom of thought. This alone makes them moral beings. For no action which is not voluntary can be regarded as moral.

In this thought-provoking book Brave New World, Aldous Huxley describes the drastic consequences of totalitarian distatorship utilizing all the devices of scientific knowledge to make men "conform" to their rule. Under such a regime life would be a veritable nightmare and human endeavour a mere parody. Man is a strange creature and, faced with the problems of economic, political and social insecurity, he is too often tempted to surrender his individual liberties. Tired of the struggle for existence and the conflicts of life, he escapes into passivity and servile obedience to external law. Such obedience and conformity imply having someone else do your thinking for you.

And science has developed tremendous weapons for the exploiter and the tyrant, more dangerous than nuclear weapons. There are both crude and subtle ways of psychologizing men's minds and influencing their thinking, through systematic propaganda to brain-washing.

These methods are already conditioning and indoctrinating human minds in various fields and their potential danger in the hands of the exploiter should not underestimated. While legislation can and should condemn some of these methods as illegal, legislation, we all know, cannot enforce the law. What is needed is a greater awareness on the part of the individual. Rightly did Lord Buddha say that vigilance is the way to immortality and that the heedless are already dead.

The only remedy lies in educating the children to enable them to protect themselves against the forces of tyranny. The success or failure of a democracy lies in its system of education.

Children must not be allowed to become the victims of undesirable suggestions, but helped to develop sufficient discrimination to recognize the danger and protect themselves. "A proper and sane system of education," says Madame Blavatsky, "should produce the most vigorous and liberal minds, strictly trained in logical and accurate thought, and not in blind faith." Are our teachers helping to produce such "vigorous and liberal minds" and can they succeed unless they are fearless and liberal themselves and able to think and reason for themselves? We need teachers who are able to kindle and to enlighten the spirit of liberty in the hearts of the young; and only "free men and women, free intellectually, free morally, unprejudiced in all respects, and above all things, unselfish" can communicate to their pupils the true meaning of freedom and impart to them its value. It was H.G. Wells who said that "history is becoming more and more a race between education and catastrophe." Yes, but education must be such as will provide children with a foundation sound enough to satisfy both reason and aspiration. They must be able to look after themselves morally and intellectually, so that they cannot be easily drawn into the destructive currents of our times, or easily exploited by those in power. Realizing their responsibility and able to face it courageously and wisely, they must be able to recognize truth from error and not be misled by mere slogans, glamoured by false promises or deceived by external appearances. They must be helped to develop integrity and honesty.

We must not overlook the fact that education can also be exploited by vested interests and that a wrong and perverse system of education can corrupt and produce men and women incapable of thinking for themselves. A king in ancient Sparta on being asked what boys should learn in school is said to have answered: "Why, I suppose, what, being men, they shall do." Let the children be taught self-reliance, altruism and freedom of thinking, that the men and women of tomorrow may be true and responsible citizens of a Republic of Brotherhood.

May we learn to value freedom of thought above all things, that we may see the Truth and act accordingly!

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