Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Freedom

I have read the book Advaita Vedanta by Eliot Deutsch many times. Here is a selection on "Freedom", from chapter eight titled Moksha and Jnana-Yoga.


The distinctive characteristic of most practical and theoretical concerns with freedom is the attempt to discover how one can be free from something: be it one's own passions and appetites, society, laws, or forces of physical nature. Freedom is generally conceived of that state of being or that opportunity which is on the other side of "necessity". Thomas Hobbes sums it up neatly when he writes that "liberty or freedom signifies properly the absence of opposition" [Ref: The Levithanian].

The Advaitic concept of freedom (moksha or mukti) likewise is cast initially in negative terms, as freedom from karma, from actions that bind one to the world, and from the ceaseless round of births and deaths in the world (samsara). But it also recognizes that when freedom is conceived of only in the negative sense of "freedom from," it is not something that human beings ultimately value; and that when taken to its fullest term, freedom is something from which they flee. [emphasis mine]

Whenever one is in a situation of strong constraint, one may indeed earnestly desire freedom from this constraint; one may even indeed become obsessed with the desire to the point when one is rendered impotent to act effectively within the situation; but once all constraints are removed, one finds oneself facing an abyss. One doesn't know what to do, one doesn't know what to make of one's freedom, and rather than face an infinite possibilty, one voluntarily seeks some other kind of constraint. We ceaselessly chain ourselves to things, to ideas and to dreams and illusions. From some inner compulsion, we turn away from the possibility of freedom. We imitate the servitude of others and convince ourselves that we are thereby fulfilling our social responsibility. "Freedom from" is denied by us. In human experience it turns out to be empty of substantial content [Ref. footnote].


This "Freedom from," however, does not denigrate the meaning of freedom: there is another kind of freedom that is a positive goal towards men may strive. The other kind of freedom does not merely lie on the other side of constraint; rather all oppositions between "freedom from" and "necessity" are overcome by it.

The Sanskrit word moksha (or mukti) connotes to the Advaitin "freedom from karma" and also the other kind of spiritual freedom. Moksha, in the positive sense, means the attaining to a state of "at-one-ment" with the depth and quiescence of Reality and with the power of its creative becoming the a Spiritual freedom means the full realization of the potentialities of man as a spiritual being, It means the attaining of insight of oneself; it means self-knowledge and joy of being.

footnote : This denigrating of "freedom from" is not meant, however to deny the validity of the very important distinction between choosing one's constraints and having them imposed upon them by others. The word "liberty" is perhaps more applicable here and is something that is indeed valuable. Because man is unable to endure "freedom from," in the fullest sense of the term, does not imply that he is then subject of whatever constraints may be imposed upon him. Self-chosen constraints are one thing, externally imposed constraints (or involuntary actions) are quite another thing.

1 comment:

amar said...

The first line of this post is wrong. I am yet to digest most of what I have read from the book. Digesting the book seems to be an extremely daunting task indeed, which I have not yet completed.