Freedom and Spiritual Growth

When we reflect on personal freedom, we tend to make it about the right to exercise our desires, impose our ideas or concepts, or those of the various groupings to which we adhere, upon the world.  We hear people frequently voice the sentiment “it’s a free country, i can do what i like”.  This type of freedom, when we examine it closely, turns out to be not true freedom, but a deeper form of bondage, a bondage to ideas, customs, desires, needs, societal expectations and norms, and the creed of our country or our religion.  To the extent that we try to push our freedom into the society whereby it infringes of the freedom of others, we also find that the society must necessarily create various controls to ensure a civil society can function, so our inner bondage turns also into an outer form of constraint.  We thus see a proliferation of rules, regulations, laws, and doctrines that limit the freedom that we felt we had.  We contrast this with the idea that when a practitioner takes up the practice of yoga, he abandons all attachment to society, laws, conventions, and thereby is “free”.  We see also a potential fallacy here to the extent that this is an attempt to achieve freedom through outer renunciation of the society and action, if it does not resolve the status of the individual who remains bound by all that has been rejected, still dictating his actions and reactions.  The Taittiriya Upanishad provides a definition of freedom:  “…who knoweth the Bliss of the Eternal?  He feareth not for aught in this world or elsewhere.  Verily to him cometh not remorse and her torment saying, ‘Why have i left undone the good and why have I don that which was evil?’   For he knoweth the Eternal, knoweth these that they are alike, and delivereth from them his Spirit; yea, he knoweth both evil and good for what they are and delivereth his Spirit, who knoweth the Eternal.” (Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahmanandavalli, ch. 9, pg. 274)

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “For it is into the Divine within them that men and mankind have to grow; it is not an external idea or rule that has to be imposed on them from without.  Therefore the law of a growing inner freedom is that which will be most honoured in the spiritual age of mankind.  True it is that so long as man has not come within measurable distance of self-knowledge and has not set his face towards it, he cannot escape from the law of external compulsion and all his efforts to do so must be vain.  He is and always must be, so long as that lasts, the slave of others, the slave of his family, his caste, his clan, his Church, his society, his nation; and he cannot but be that and they too cannot help throwing their crude and mechanical compulsion on him, because he and they are the slaves of their own ego, of their own lower nature.”

“… as soon as man comes to know his spiritual self, he does by that discovery, often even by the very seeking for it, as ancient thought and religion saw, escape from the outer law and enter into the law of freedom.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 23, Conditions for the Coming of a Spiritual Age, pp. 257-258

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