Loving Sai Ram and greetings from Prashanti Nilayam. This
Sunday we wish to discuss the topic of freedom, especially personal
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 thraldom 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
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
- 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
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
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
“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
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.
With Love and Regards,
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