By Faraaz Tanveer June 2008 You wander all your life searching for freedom while it waits for you, within Freedom – we long for it, fight for it and dream about it. Sometimes we also get a glimpse of this elusive being in the most unlikely of places – in the midst of a busy day, in helpless bouts of laughter, or in the long morning walk among windswept trees. For some it is a tangible goal, ironically defined by the gravity of their self-inflicted bondages and addictions. An unlit cigarette, a day without the fix, or a few inches lost at the right place – proud testimony to the freedom snatched from the tyranny of habit. For others, it is a vague pursuit, meandering through the walkways of life looking for that passage to the beyond. It is also a great marketing tool, this freedom. The marketer reinforces our inner poverty through tricks of his trade. Creating demand is how he defines this fine art of product peddling. Then he promises to sell it to us for a price. We are more than happy to pay, delighted in our ability to buy our way to temporary nirvana. Wars are declared in its name, and people die. Freed from their bodies at last, fodder for others’ twisted moralities. What is it then, this multipurpose cloak with an elastic moral code? It is the highest goal and the lowest excuse. ‘From this hour I ordain myself loosed of limits and imaginary lines,Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,Listening to others, considering well what they say,Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,Gently, but with undeniable will divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.’ – Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road “Freedom is the understanding that all sense of bondage is an illusion!” says my old friend Swami Ajay, a reclusive Vedanta teacher. He has a way of baffling me with one-liners that few can manage. Pray tell me how that is possible, I ask. “It is the fact! It is a part of your anubhava (experience) even as we speak. You just need to look inside and see for yourself. What happens to you in shushupti (dreamless sleep)? Where is the bondage? Where is the freedom? You step into the dualistic world of creation only when you mistakenly identify yourself as an object (as opposed to the subject). Otherwise, you are always free. Even free from the concept of freedom itself,” he explains. Well, he does have a point. I have experienced the living proof of his assertions in deep meditation, but I need a more tangible view of the situation. So I ask my other wise friend, six-year-old Varun. “Freedom? Do you mean the exact meaning? I do not know, bhaiyya! I can look it up in the dictionary if you want! …. Being free, liberty of action, unrestricted use of…” he reads out. I ask, “But what does it mean to you? ” “To me? I do not care. How does it matter anyway? Can I go and play now? ” says my little Zen master. I decide to ask someone on the path, Swami Kulbhushan, a long-time Osho disciple and reputed editor, author and publisher. “What are we looking for when we are looking for freedom? Is it freedom from want, from oppression, or from self?” he asks. I am not sure, I say. He elaborates, “The first is in pure economic terms when man wants food, clothing and shelter, but he never stops at that because the basics or necessities keep on growing. Food should be wholesome and varied, clothing should be stylish and plentiful, and shelter should be elaborate. Soon the necessities become comforts and the list keeps growing until what was first a luxury becomes a necessity. This is freedom of the physical body.” “Next, man wants to enjoy the freedom for his mind. In political terms, he wants his human rights and a host of other rights that allow him to act in any manner he wants, as long as he does not have any negative impact on others. Obtaining these freedoms has caused the biggest and the most horrendous wars down the ages. The struggle for these freedoms never ends as the mind is subjugated by those who want to rule. Finally, there is freedom of the spirit. Very few pursue it as the demands and hankering for the physical and mental freedoms consumes their entire lives.” He quotes Osho, “As long as your mind is your master, you will remain a slave. The moment you realize reality, natural freedom happens. It is necessary to understand the meaning of natural freedom. Why is it not just called freedom, but natural freedom? The answer is very subtle. There are two types of freedom. One freedom is directed against somebody. In that case, it is self-willed and headstrong. This is not real freedom, for you are obliged to take the opposite direction.” This reminds me of another classification of the kinds of freedoms I had read back in school – freedom from, freedom for, and just freedom. The first is directed against a particular force and aims to confront. The second aims to work towards a goal, while crossing obstacles in the process. Here freedom is the byproduct of consciously directed intention. The last one refers to the sense of intrinsic freedom that all spiritual seekers hanker after. Is there a gradation apparent here, or is the value of every action measured in a unique personal context? I guess it would be easy to classify higher and lower forms of freedom, but the real measure of its relevance lies in the life in which it is lived. The Devil you knowWhat motivates and restricts those who seek freedom? How does it play out in our societal conscience? Dr Ann Marie Yali, a psychology professor at The City College of New York specialising in social psychology, and a fellow seeker, came up with some observations, “During the course of my work, I hear many people complain about lack of freedom. ‘I do not have freedom in my country’. ‘I lack freedom in my job’. ‘I am enslaved to my spouse.’ People feel restricted and confined by external realities. It is not that people do not have any choices or free will, within these situations (even if it feels like they do not). Perhaps, it has more to do with the real or perceived consequences of making such choices, consequences that people may fear. For some, these consequences may be so dire or scary that they would rather choose bondage. For others, this is incomprehensible. “Give me liberty or give me death” (Patrick Henry 1775).” Reflecting further, she adds, “Somewhere in between these two extremes, there are small choices people can make to increase freedom and decrease bondage. For some, it may be that they are actually afraid of freedom, afraid of their power to choose. Perhaps, because with choosing comes responsibility, and often times cognitive dissonance. Thus, it becomes far easier on the ego/psyche to put the blame for our conditions (in this case lack of freedom) on something outside the self. In addition, there may be some sense of familiarity that keeps us in the status quo. Like they say, ‘Better [is] the devil you know than the devil you do not’.” “Any personal experiences to the effect? ” I interrupt, pulling her out of her academic stance. She obliged, “Yes, I once worked in a job where everyone complained how awful it was to be there; how it was like a dysfunctional family. One woman even said she felt like a battered wife who could not get out of the situation. Indeed, very few ever left, but they continued to blame the boss for their misery. They chose to remain in bondage. A few of us chose freedom – we worked hard to find new jobs, as scary and difficult as such a change may have been! Of course, physically leaving was only one path to freedom in this situation. Another option would have been to change the perception of that working environment. To take a new thought or new perspective can be another pathway to freedom. In his letter to the Romans (12:2) Paul says, ‘Be ye not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ It is one of my favourite quotes.” I am the barrier in my path. Often freedom is the permission I give myself. To step out of the if-then-else software of our psyche needs courage. If I get this job then I will allow myself to be happy, else, I will be sad. If she loves me then I will love her back, else I will not. If they accept me then I will perform, else I will give up. The limiting thought patterns hardwired into our internal operating system leave no room for creativity, no door for the unknown, and no place for life to happen. No wonder life feels oppressive. We are active accomplices in this game of catch-up. “Liberty is the prize, responsibility the price,” said Dick Randolph. With freedom comes responsibility, and the frightening prospect of facing one’s own demons. The Moment of TruthPuja Malhotra, a Delhi-based positive health psychologist drives home the point with one of her favourite stories from Buddha’s life. It is said that on an occasion when the Buddha was teaching a group of people, he found himself on the receiving end of a fierce outburst of abuse from an angry bystander. He listened patiently while the stranger vented his rage, and then addressing the group, said, “If someone gives a gift to another person, who then chooses to decline it, tell me, who would then own the gift? The giver or the person who refuses to accept the gift?” “The giver,” said the group after a little thought. “Any fool can see that,” added the angry stranger. “Then it follows, does it not,” said the Buddha, “Whenever a person tries to abuse us, or to unfold their anger on us, we can each choose to decline or to accept the abuse; whether to make it ours or not. By our personal response to the abuse from another, we ca
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