This article is graciously provided for republication by the author, Swami Nityamuktananda Saraswati (Dr. Christa-Maria Herrmann), German by birth, naturalized British, originally studied Theology her university studies soon expanded to Education, Psychology, Philosophy and Art and Design (Ceramics). Different teaching jobs (in colleges and universities) in various countries followed. At the center of her studies (as well as her teaching) was always the subject of 'Self-awareness'.
This is one of the core dilemma's we all face. In my own life, this has been a major challenge, that follows me everywhere. ...
Heraclitus, (ancient philosopher) wrote that the root of this dilemma is, that we live in a world of duality.
Happiness is contrasted by grief, joy by sorrow; freedom by bondage. As long as there is one, there is the other... and where there are two, conflict is inherent. Peace and harmony can only come fully when there is Oneness...
This is a very old insight and truth...and from there we can deduce the way out:
We have to rise above the dualities!
Or we could say we have to grow up; grow up mentally and spiritually. For a child freedom might mean, to do what one wants, irrespectively of consequences to oneself or others. And unfortunately this is still the state most of us live in, as well as our whole society.
We have to understand what freedom is; freedom not of the "I" as we tend to think; but freedom "from the "I". This is the core... because as long as we are limited to the conditioned "I" - life is suffering; emancipation, growing up - or freedom, comes after understanding this and transcending it.
This understanding starts with "seeing" that we are not "born free". This is one of the great illusions of our existence. We see a little babe, and look at it at a blank sheet, an innocent, free being, that then is conditioned by the environment. There is and has been much support for this perception throughout. Yes compared to an adult it is relative innocent, seems free, but really a human being is not born free, but can attain freedom by sincere effort (SR).
This effort means expansion of mind; expansion of vision; expansion of understanding who we are; expansion beyond the conditioning - and seeing the Self underneath- which has no limitation. Living as that Self - that is freedom.
So let's go back to the seemingly innocent, free child.... How did it enter the dimension of existence we call our world?
Let's digress a bit: Every action has a result. Every happening in nature has a result (a seed when planted, sprouts!) This goes also for human actions. Swami Rama points to something we all have heard before: "A person performs actions and is remunerated. The fruits of the actions motivate him to perform actions again, and then again he is rewarded. It becomes a cycle: the fruit arises out of the action, and the action out of the fruit. From time immemorial, life has proceeded in this manner. This is called the wheel of karma.
Now the person dies... what happens to the results of his actions, the energy that has moved...is still moving. The "left overs" of our thinking and our actions still exist, as subtle "stuff"; "mindstuff" which is ultimately energy, hence moves and has to manifests again. I.e. The leftovers, of our thoughts and actions, which have not yet found resolution, are still there. They are there with the drive, the energy to resolve. So the "mind stuff" or "cloud" seeks to manifests again; eventually manifesting as human being; born into that situation which allows it to resolve some of the stuff.
These unsolved issues that still drive us and need resolution are the samskaras, the tendencies, the constitution we are born with! Swami Rama says: these "past samskaras are deeply rooted in the unconscious. These latent samskaras, or impressions, create various bubbles of thoughts that express themselves through our speech and actions. "
So the child is not born free; it is born bound by these samskaras; that is what we call bondage! These samskaras are responsible for choosing the circumstances of our life; so they shape our life including our personality, the family we choose, the culture and the traditions because all of these help us to work through, to grow beyond them. They provide the chance, the school - in which to learn how to become free; free of compulsory re-actions to the samskaras which separate us and make us into separate existences...and stop us being fully human; full - punamida; which stop us to "return to the original of "Oness" non-dual, full of peace and harmony".
So first we have to recognize these limitations in us, disidentify with the influences and thus prevent their manifestations. Swami Rama says: " Those who can burn these samskaras in the fire of non-attachment or knowledge, are free from the bondage created by them. It is like a burnt rope that has lost its binding power, though it still looks like a rope. "
By gradually discovering these samskaras in ourselves, the factors that bind us, limit us...we discover that that's not who we are, but underneath these are greater laws, that govern life...not just our life! It's a bit like discovering the laws of physics, the speed of light; the subjectivity of quantum theory; the laws of gravity and antimatter. When we see a wider picture, beyond our ego-world we discover wider laws and contexts within which life plays out its existence.
So the less we are attached to our own little limitations the greater becomes the field in which we live and act. Beyond our personal likes and dislikes we live in/with a wider vision; emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Living from such wider perspective is what the great masters have taught us.
It is here that the question of freedom and responsibility must be contemplated. We find that they are intricately intermingled and cannot be separated.
Lawlessness is not freedom...it's licentiousness; lawfulness can be freedom.
In modern times, we value freedom beyond anything else...but we completely misunderstand it, and thus separate it from responsibility!
We take freedom- like a child: to do what "I" want. But we just saw, that the "I" is bound, is intrinsically bund and conditioned by the mind stuff...which it brings in, and from which result karmic actions in this life.
Most people think: freedom is my "birth-right". Freedom is given to us!
But, despite the conviction that we are free and live in a free country- by careful examination, we find, that we are slaves of the economy (i. e. the fashion industry, the media; politicians; traditions; etc.. which on further contemplation reveal that they simply exploit our slavery to our emotions, desires, impulses and habits!
So in order to be free-we have to give up the illusion that freedom comes from getting rid of outer oppression, or lack.. i.e. the external sources... If we simply do what we want we are carrying out our enslavement to the primitive urges; freedom consist out of control over these (emotions, irrational impulses, habits, etc.
Real freedom then comes out of the opposite corner; i. e. control over our conditioning; it's the conditioning that enslaves, be it karmic or contemporary.
Once we start on the journey towards greater freedom, we find one more relevant component...
We are embedded in an enormous complex system of energies; i. e. totally connected to others. We could not survive without "others"... people, plants, elements... With increased awareness and the struggle to be free we realize that and how we are tied together, hence freeing ourselves means - freeing others, means responsibility to these.
I have a freedom to choose to breath clean air- therefor I behave responsible to keep the air clean! Freedom grows in relationship to responsibility.. Look at the word: Responds- ability!
For a babe freedom is very restricted (kept in a play-pen) because his response ability- is small.
For a bigger child the freedom grows, being allowed to play in the garden or play-ground (but not unobserved on the road.. etc. as it has limited response- ability.
For a teenager has more freedom - but he cannot go out without parent's consent... as he still is not fully responsible for his actions..
As the cognitive awareness grows, the response-ability for the challenges of the world increase.
As adults we are considered respons-able enough to behave according to social rules, our own protection; i. e. from a point of self-control...
Self-control and freedom go hand in hand..
Society as a whole knows that, so they grant freedom only when certain responsibility is shown; i. e limited age for driving; voting etc... And Just as a mother withdraws the privilege of going out for a teenager, if he/she mis-behave ----so society withdraws the privilege of freedom for those who misbehave...
Freedom is proportional to responsibility.
How this is proportioned varies with different cultures...but the principal we find everywhere. Freedom is given, when there is no potential danger to Self or society. As long as we are still damaging others, we are not free...
We might display strange behaviour, and consider it freedom...but it is only eccentric, unusual behaviour within the norms of society. We might react against, the laws of our society and tradition, however that is not freedom! That is still bondage, as it is bound to the "opposite"; to be in opposition to. Like black is the opposite of white, they are opposites, freedom would be to be neither.... i.e. raise above the dualities!
People might think I am funny/eccentric wearing orange clothes... but no harm is done. However when we do eccentric stuff that harms others, or ourselves our freedom will be curtailed, I would get put into jail, or ostracised.
Now that the principal is clear we can take it into another level:
We can control our arms and legs... to some extend... so we are free to move them... as long as we are responsible with them...if we stretch too far, we show our ir-response-ability! Becoming injured; ill!
Divine providence knows our in-capability, like a mother knows the limits of her child. We cannot control our heartbeat or hormone secretions; because we are not responsible enough beings to be able to control these. We have not yet acquired enough responsibility to do this without harming ourselves or others.
It would be useful if we could (when there is imbalance/illness) But this privilege this freedom is not granted to us, by Mother Nature...because we cannot be trusted to use it responsible enough.
We can see the whole story of evolution as a play between freedom and response-ability! How far it can be taken within the realms of being human, we can see if we look at the great Yogis - such as Swami Rama and others.
Example of controlling heart beat... warmth, expansion and contraction of arteries/veins producing heat or cold...etc.
However we, you and I and most people are not able to handle this ability... so we are not given the freedom to use it. We might injure ourselves, just like a child is not allowed to cross the road by themselves, because it might injure him/herself.
We say: oh no we wouldn't injure ourselves...! If you are that responsible, then how come you behave irresponsible with your diet; your life-style and/ or your relationships. You are still causing damage to self and others! You are not able to handle even the freedom that you have been given. Freedom and responsibility go hand in hand.
Mother Nature/Consciousness looks after us and gives us only as much freedom as we can handle, or as we can potentially handle!
You see if we could regulate, for example our hormone levels - we would not need to drugs; but given that ability, that freedom we would use it to make us high, just as we use now drugs or alcohol. Indigenous people talk about the herbs and the fermented fruits as medicine; how ever we take so much of that medicine it makes us ill! We cannot handle these things even now responsible. We are not grown up enough; wise enough, disciplined enough to control our lives- so as not to injure ourselves/ others/earth etc. we are not grown up enough to control our indulgence into food/stimulants/ behaviour to our bodies and life in general.
Once we have learned enough control (like the great Yogis) over our physiological and psychological desires- we can handle the freedom from the more instinctive /conditioned sides.
Free from our enslavements to emotions and unproductive thoughts, we can become motivated and able to handle life for the greater Good of humanity, of Life itself. Once that step is reached, there is little danger of mis-use. Greater responsibility thus goes with greater freedom, just as greater
freedom goes with greater responsibility.
The process to greater freedom is a gradual development; over years and may be over life-times. Responsibility for actions goes hand in hand with responsibility for thoughts. All actions have their root in thoughts or some mind activity. Hence regulate your thoughts; to gain greater freedom- we need greater control over our minds...
Channel the mind, harness and strengthen the mind-energy to step into new dimensions; step into the Guru-mind-field; Cosmic consciousness; Samadhi...free from all limitations....
Again: Greater freedom, greater responsibility, is acting so as to avoid injury towards self and any part of life or humanity... Once we can handle that, we become greater leaders... leaders of a different kind, leaders not for political or any other gain, but leaders for spiritual progress, for fulfilment of life, for the benefit of humanity...and that includes responsibility to all of nature (environment.)
When people, such great spiritual leaders arise, and have perfect control over self and life.... i.e. act responsible...miracles happen. Or that, which we consider miracles; we who don't understand the laws of discipline! This has always happened and happens still today, but we are too occupied with our lesser lives to notice. We cannot see that taken greater responsibility, frees us from the narrow preoccupation, fears, worries, the small mindedness. So we practice, we walk the path of expansion of consciousness; we realize our essential Oneness and learn to life accordingly...we transcend our own conditional bondage.
So true freedom is not rebellion, or emancipation from order - that's just being anti.... (and therefore just has another set of rules) ; but living in harmony with all; freedom from all limiting conceptions and interpretations.
The West believes in external freedom.... The east in internal freedom.
External freedom is conditional...hence not real freedom. Internal freedom is surrender...
In the west we have freedom to have sex, with who however; build a life the way "we want" and do not see, that this is merely re-acting to our primitive fountains (urges) conditioning, limitations.
In the East it's the opposite, socially there are boundaries, one cannot do what one wants (i. e. arranged marriage, strong customs... etc...because of respect for the family, the belief system, and other protective traditions. Either way, we need to watch out, for we get easily fooled about what limits us. We think it's the customs and laws that limits us... it appears like that. But really underneath is our desires, that which drives us to behave egoistically, separate- dualistic.... Which in turn makes it necessary to have the outer laws to protect us from ourselves!
Become aware; peel away, layer after layer of what the restrictions to your responsibility are, and your freedom will grow; peel away the limitations to your ability to respond.
In Buddhist Literature and Yogic scriptures we are invited to achieve freedom from all that causes pain and suffering; misery and ignorance. The lowest level of freedom is, to be free from pain...the highest is to be free from ignorance... There cannot be wisdom without freedom from misperceptions, false concepts, illusions about ourselves and the world we live in.
Sages are the Ones that have freedom from these.
Freedom from fear will allow us ultimately go beyond the familiar limiting habits and preoccupation with satisfying the four primitive fountains: sleep, food, sex and shelter...
This needs courage...Yoga is the Path of Courage.
What does this mean in our daily lives? To become more free...we need to discover what limits us, we need to become aware of our habits, patterns and reaction towards what is offered from the outside world.
You see we are free to drink alcohol...once we are 18....
So at that point we think we are free to drink alcohol; we don't realize how we are bound by many ropes; the desire to be happy (numbed....) the desire to be cool! ; the desire to be able to relate to people etc...(find shelter and acceptance in the society) the desire to tickle our taste buds...etc....
We are a slave to our desires.... That is not
Now let's look at another case: There is a conflict in many of us, between "doing what I want to do" and feeling responsible for the family...(what ever that means Parents/children/ wives etc...)
So what are we really saying: We feel bound by "our limited ability" to respond to the needs of significant others; and moan about our lack of freedom! We forget that freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. Only when we are able to respond to the needs of others, and do not hurt or injure them, can we expand our responsibility; the further we expand our response-abilities, the greater the sphere in which we can move with ease, the greater our freedom to move expands naturally.
There is only one road and that is work on ourselves; expand ourselves, deepen the awareness of ourselves.