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Degrees of Freedom

Imagine a convict, hands and feet bound in chains, locked up in a cell of a tight security prison. He is serving a life sentence. Time has come to a standstill for him. He's all alone, with no companions save the walls and the ceiling. Even the guards show their faces only twice a day when they dump before him a plateful of something they call food. The bondage becomes unbearable. If wishes were horses this convict would be galloping away, far far away from this prison hole, into the vast, open stretches of land, - breathing the fresh air of freedom. But wishes are not horses and dreaming of freedom only makes the misery of bondage more acute. Dreaming won't do. If the convict wants to be free, he must get into action and plan his escape from the jail. He must find out ways and means of eliminating the things that obstruct his freedom.

First of all he must be free from the chains that bind him. Then he must be able to somehow get out of the locked cell. Finally, he must be able to find his way out of the jail doors unnoticed. The plan needs to be worked out systematically. It won't do to have the blueprint ready of getting out of the cell and the jail, but not knowing how to free his hands and feet from the chains! His ultimate freedom may lie in getting out of the prison campus, but first he must be able to achieve freedom from the things that bind him before he reaches the prison gate. In other words, his quest for the ultimate freedom may be quite unproductive if it is not preceded by a series of 'lower' freedoms.

The goal of spiritual life is to be free — free from the bondage of ignorance, free from the clutches of life and death, free from the trap of relative existence. This spiritual freedom is called moksha or mukti in our scriptures. This is the goal every true seeker of spirituality has before him. Freedom Absolute is what he seeks.

Not all, however, are eager for this ultimate freedom. The reason for this is, mukti as an ideal has become either irrelevant or meaningless to most people. Only one who has begun to feel the bondage, the terrible bondage of his very existence as a limited, finite being, only he may understand what the ideal of mukti really means — just as only a prisoner can truly understand and appreciate the glory of being free.

All the hue and cry about freedom we see the world over is not regarding freedom as moksha, but only about a very inferior type of freedom, which may perhaps be compared to the agitation by prisoners for better food, better living conditions etc. All the while they remain prisoners, but clamour for a certain freedom as regards the choice of food and lodging. There is of course nothing wrong with seeking these things, but it is good to remember that even while seeking a so-called freedom one may yet remain in bondage from the ultimate standpoint.

What is more, certain types of 'freedom' may even increase the spiritual bondage of the person. Take for instance the 'freedom' people enjoy in a permissive society. This kind of unrestrained freedom of the senses creates greater bondage and binds the soul more firmly to the world which ultimately destroys it. Freedom of the senses leads to death, freedom from the senses leads to Life Eternal — this is the message that has been echoed and re-echoed by every great teacher of mankind.

To be continued

Story first published: Wednesday, September 8, 2010, 15:11 [IST]
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