The true essence of individual freedom

A casual glance at the subversive output from most media outlets today will make you feel that there is a huge threat to individual freedom in the current societal context. Any behaviourist will tell you that fear can be one of the strongest forms of persuasion. The concept of individual freedom is glorified as a western civilisational import and is portrayed as being under threat from the Indic value system. A lack of understanding of the nuances of Indic tradition has led to the sad state where we are unable to even articulate a response to this challenge. Trying to defend our stance using the attacker’s frame of reference is a losing proposition. When the paradigm has been set for decades by ‘liberal’ and left-leaning intellectuals, any defence in the context of the same paradigm would lead to the defenders being painted as fascists. So we would need to essentially change the frame of reference being used by propagating the true Indic concept of freedom as being superlative and richer than its lacklustre western counterpart. That is a real problem for us as most of us are vague about what freedom really is in the Indic view of life. For that, we need to ask questions keeping the Indic frame of reference. What is really the essence of freedom? Is it just to say or do whatever one likes? Or are there deeper dimensions to this which are not explored?

Almost none of us are ever truly free. Our thoughts, opinions, beliefs are all a by-product of different types of external and internal conditioning. Our views are not really our own. If our views are not our own, then can our actions be our own? And isn’t that the whole argument…that we should be free to do and say what we want. The premise is that ‘you’ are really aware of what you want. Most of the time these wants arise out of biology, immediate emotional triggers and our acquired view of the world. Since we have never really taken the effort and trouble to understand our ‘self’, how can we really know what this ‘self’ truly wants? I will give an example to illustrate my point.

In the meanwhile please do not think of a yellow elephant dancing in the middle of the road. Apologies for using that ancient trope. I suppose you got the point. You know my statement to be a deliberate trigger as it was a ridiculous suggestion in the middle of a supposedly serious essay. Most of the time these inputs are much more subtle and subconscious. It is so easy for us to mistake such external triggers as our own thoughts that we do not even realise that what we claim as our mind is not really our own.

What then is the way to attain true freedom? If the problem is that what we consider as our mind is actually external to us, then it follows that the solution is to know what is truly internal to us. So once we know this true ‘self’, we would be truly free. Hence, if there is a system which has systematic steps which can lead to understanding the internal ‘self’, the logical solution to being free would be to follow the aforementioned system.

In the Vibhooti pada of Rishi Patanjali’s yoga sutras there is a verse –

सत्त्वपुरुषयोः शुद्धिसाम्ये कैवल्यमिति ॥

All of our scriptures have a deeper layers of meaning which requires one to be at a higher level of Shakti to really understand them. So while I am not qualified enough in Shakti terms to comment on the deeper yogic essence of the Yoga sutras, my rudimentary translation of this verse would run as – Kaivalya or Liberation happens when by virtue of purification of one’s mind there remains no difference between it and the Purusha (universal consciousness). Sounds very complicated. I will illustrate this phenomenon with an example.

Assuming that there is a universal source of pure water which represents Consciousness. So all water and liquids derived from this source of water should have the same essential nature as that of the original pure water. Due to the mixing of external impurities, the surface nature of derived forms of water has changed as in the case of most drinks that we consume. Now there is a chemical process which we know that can revert all these to the original state. Depending on the nature of the impurity, there is a valid process for reconversion. Once the respective process is applied and the water reverts to its natural state of pure water, only then is it truly free. An interesting thing to note is that for all these cases the energy needed to clear out impurities is much higher than in the vice versa case.

While distillation, condensation, desalination may work for purification of water, but what of the human mind? For the human mind, there is the discipline of Yoga. The modern interpretation of Yoga is that which helps manage midlife health crises or gets us a shapely figure. It is saddening to think that something of such vast potential has been reduced to this. In my own experience, the asanas and pranayama aspect of yoga is just scratching the surface. It is the preparation for the actual yogaYoga happens and cannot be done. It can only be prepared for. States of yoga require a gradual build-up of tremendous amounts of energyOnce this energy reaches a threshold level, altered states of consciousness can begin to occur in which the deeper purification can take place. Asanas prepare the foundation of the body to remain steady, stable and handle higher states of energy. Pranayama starts building the required energy in the system and clears out the Nadi blockages facilitating the freer flow of energy. Yama and Niyama are the lifestyle guidelines to reduce energy leakages and keep the mind fixed firmly on the path. The most important aspect of Yoga is that of Guru Kripa or Guru’s grace. Without this, there will be next to no progress on the path.

My own path is that of kriya and meditation where even my initial forays have made me realise what grand treasures we have as our heritage and how we have grossly neglected and underestimated them. There is no religion or philosophy in the world which takes individual freedom as seriously as we take it in this land. In fact, if we take a careful look we will find that all Indic religions have a common thread of liberation running through them. Liberation is a much deeper and richer concept than any non-Indic idea of individual freedom.

This essay was first published on Pragyata.

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