Freedom

 

(Parts 1 and 2)

 PART I

I was not born to be forced.  I will breathe after my own fashion.  Let us see who is strongest. 

                                                                                                                          -Henry Thoreau

Are we all free?  Living on this planet earth, where life is limited by time and space, our interaction is limited to 24 hours a day, and to a distance where our instruments can allow us to travel, one can claim that one can be “free” within this limit.  These limitations do have an effect on our reality, that there are certain things that one cannot change.  We cannot have 25 hours for one day.  We, as human beings, can do many abstract things in this world, but there are also basic and fundamental realities that truly describe our limitations, which could give good indications as to how far we can act and react.  Being our nature as conventionally agreed physical, intellectual and spiritual, but may be more, the degree of our freedom is controlled and affected by the degree of satisfaction of these natures, whose needs may be very paradoxical and extreme opposites.  To satisfy these needs, it is not a simple job, but rather working hard may not even accomplish, and there are conditions, which we call “restraints” that we need to modify, before we claim ourselves as free beings.

What is freedom? As conventionally agreed and advised, man has three aspects in nature, physical, intellectual, and spiritual, the freedom that one is claiming should satisfy these basic natures, but if one of them is missing, what one claims as free will be incomplete.  Since three of them do have different needs and requirements, it is very hard to meet their requirement due to the varied nature of their character which does have an effect on finding the suitable ingredient to satisfy the needs, but the harmonious movements of their peaceful interaction may bring what we desire to our being a ‘sound personality’.  When we say the harmonious movement, it is not something that has a straight line, but it is something that can be detected by the outcome or effects of man’s interaction with the environment in balancing his needs with thoughtful and accountable manner. And this outcome is manifested in a form of joy and relaxation that does not lead to consequential disappointments and frustration.  It keeps on building confidence and ‘stable personality’ in one’s being, where one’s real horizon of self is realized and understood.

Freedom has different aspects.  These aspects can be physical, which is related to movements, economic resources and other elements that are associated to man’s physical nature. These freedoms are relative and vary from place to place and society from society in which one is living in.  They are in most cases controlled by the people in authority and power, who have the power to decide the fate of many people in the laws they formulate.  The individual has some power over it, but the most goes to those people in authority.  If they say, man cannot travel from place to place, the individual’s freedom of movement will be limited accordingly.  If they change their economic policy, no matter how an individual accumulates possessions, one’s desire for the free exercise of one’s wealth will be restricted.

The other aspect of freedom is intellectual freedom, which is related to the development of intellect.  This freedom may have two aspects by itself.  The first one is concerned about internal development, in which no one has a control over, and the second one is the outward orientation, which is exposed to external entities for interaction and communication.  The internal intellectual development originally needs the external freedom from various agencies [freedom of education].  Education is the key element for man’s intellectual development, for this, man needs to go through the regular rules and regulation of the system, which one needs to observe.  After one went through with all the procedures of the external environment [schooling and the environment] and gets the necessary intellectual nutrition, one may start exploring realities independently which may lead to one’s intellectual freedom which allows him to think so deeply and immensely, that no earthly power has control over such freedom.  Man needs the external environment to upgrade his mental development until he reaches maturity [related to independent investigation].  The inner intellectual freedom of man cannot be controlled by any power on earth, and nobody has power and the ability to make him not to think, in which it is a natural phenomena for man to think from tangible to very abstract, from best to the worst ideas and many other mental exercises. 

Many agents like government, society, family, friends and other entities have affected the result of individual’s internal intellectual freedom, when it is expressed outwardly.  Here man lives in a state of confusion if the outside environment rejects what one thinks inside.  It is indeed a big challenge.  Many thinkers faced this challenge, what they believe and think deep inside as so true may be rejected by the outside environment as false, and they suffered a lot, for the freedom that they exercised inside brought them with a theory which they think right, but the translation of the product of this internal freedom might be resulted in rejection from the external factors who have control over on the external freedom what one has.  The human cloning is a good example, even though it is an issue and may not be mentioned as something highly important.  Galileo is another good example, killed by the clergy for what he thought, but which is considered as a truth these days.  The Manifestations of God are also another examples to which the inspirations caused them to sufferings.  Many other great personages can be good examples for the freedom of such type, in which the external agent interferes with the internal one.  The intellectual freedom has two aspects, where the inside is free and no one has control over, but the outward expression of it may or not be freely entertained.

The other aspect of freedom is related to spiritual reality, which is a very hard aspect to discuss.  Since man’s spirituality is conditioned by the connection that he creates with his Creator, which is such a mystic phenomena that man himself cannot have control over, his freedom in this aspect is defined by the mutual agreement of the Creator and man himself.  Freedom in this aspect may turn upside down in perspective for what man thinks and assumes to be.  To define this relationship, on has to look to the station and nature of the two, which is the Creator and the created, in which one has a power and an authority over the other.  As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said: Freedom is not a matter of place.  It is a condition.  Its dimension is different and we need to view it in different angle.  It is a state of being where one reaches to the highest form of spiritual liberty, cleansing oneself from all kinds of attachments of the benefits of this world [physical, intellectual and even spiritual benefits], which needs a set of mind higher than ever, which is stated in one of the spiritual books of Buddhism, Dhammapada, those who meditate with perseverance, constantly working hard at it, are the wise who experience Nirvana, the ultimate freedom from chains. Nirvana has two definitions one in Buddhism and the other is in Hinduism, in which both discuss about the station of our soul.  In the Buddhist system of religion, it is considered as the final emancipation of the soul from transmigration, and consequently a beatific enfranchisement from the evils of worldly existence, as by annihilation or absorption into the divine.  In the Hinduism system of religion, it is considered as emancipation from ignorance and the extinction of all attachment.  Both refer to detachment from all kind of attachments we may have in this world, and our final destination after we divorced from the many of our attachments, is the station of Nirvana.  Freedom here is connected to a phenomenon, which cannot be influenced or destructed by any external force, but it is a matter of revealing the realities embodied in one’s being with self-governance.

PART II

Freedom is not merely the opportunity to do as one pleases; neither is it merely the opportunity to choose between set alternatives. Freedom is, first of all, the chance to formulate the available choices, to argue over them—and then, the opportunity to choose.

                                                                                 C. Wright Mills

       Is our freedom a natural one, which is borne with us?  Life in this world is not an easy matter where we face circumstances that restrict our reality, and limit our interaction by subjecting to the rules and regulations of the environment we are living in.  Originally it is not our choice to be borne in any given family; it is a result of the exercise of the free will of the individuals before us.  We are created without our consent, and nobody was provided a choice to be created. Coming to existence until one reached doing things independently, one’s whole reality is shaped by the rules and regulations of the society one is living in, which shaped our mentality and rational as well. 

No matter where one lives, the training of any person on earth starts from the rules and regulations of the family [the unwritten laws], which has no codes and numbers, then with the law at the community or society level, followed by the laws at state [national or international] level, which are written and organized in the form of articles and codes.  The above three govern every individual whether one likes or not.  The other type of law, which governs society or individuals, formally or informally, and willingly or not, depending on the type of society where one is residing, is the laws of the Manifestation of God.  Since societies do have different structures and laws [except the laws of the Manifestations of God, in most cases, which are universal in its character and nature], the type of law one is to abide have an effect on the way one thinks, and shapes every individual within that domain.  Laws are the bones of any society, without them stability and order is a chimera.  This phenomenon does affect our lives directly or indirectly and contributed a great deal to what we define to ourselves as ‘identity’.  Our freedom is our reality, but what really matters is the way we perceive ‘freedom’.

         Basically there are two types of ‘restraints’ that affect the three kinds of freedom that every individual inherently possesses.  These are External and Internal restraints.  To enjoy our physical and intellectual freedom, there are always external agents, which interfere in one’s physical and intellectual freedom.  These external agents like states (governments), or societies that interfere on man’s freedom are beyond the control of an individual.  States or societies formulate laws primarily to benefit the integrity of their system and to promote the best interests of their citizens in their jurisdiction, which may help them to establish peace and order in the society.    Even though one of the characteristics of law is to suppress the natural freedom of the individual [which may be bad or good], the necessity and appropriateness of it is unquestionable.  Practically speaking, every human being is trained and molded by the way one’s parent thinks and then is conditioned by the environment that one is living in.  As far as one’s training is conditioned upon how other people perceive any reality, and one’s upbringing is mainly dependent upon these peoples rational and mercy. 

          In one’s training days [childhood], one’s dependence on others is of no choice.  One is entirely subjected to listen and act according to the freewill of other people whom one follows or imitates.  Imitation is a sign of dependence, which should not be the true quality of any individual.  But it may help as a bridge to bring about the true reality of one self, as far as one does not lose one’s own identity latent in one’s reality.  But if we make imitation as good way of approaching any kind of reality, we may deprive ourselves from the true identity we inherently possess and extinguish the values enshrined in our own being, which might be by far better and worthier than the imitated one.  As Buddha said: Believe nothing just because a so-called wise person said it.  Believe nothing just because a belief is generally held.  Believe nothing just because it is said in ancient books. Believe nothing just because it is said to be of divine origin.  Believe nothing just because someone else believes it.  Believe only what you yourself test and judge to be true, which is indeed a great guidance that one can use when investigating any reality.  

            When we are imitating people’s mentality, most probably, we are also imitating not only their good deeds but also their biases and prejudices, which may make our path so stony in finding the truth of any reality or identity, and hinder us to enjoy the free nature of our reality that we already have.  For it is a plus to the original bias that one may have in ones own interaction.  The renowned Austrian psychotherapists, Victor Frankyl, expressed freedom in the following:  Everything can be taken from a man but ... the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.  One has the freedom to choose one’s own way, but needs a capacity.  To acquire this capacity, families and societies would help.  But when we look at the history of human kind, in no time in the history of religion that the majority of mankind has willingly recognized and accepted the messages of the Manifestations of God in the time of their physical presence in this world in every age.  What societies offer us is what they know, but if there is a truth they do not know, they do not show us on how to act or react peacefully, rather many are trained in only one way, i.e. to reject in different ways, there is one option but doing it in different ways.

We may need to work again on the ideas and mentalities we are oriented, and inherited from the people before us, checking their compatibility with the standards that we believe as true, and modifying them accordingly.  Otherwise, if the people before us were making mistakes, and we are following their footsteps, our freedom for making choices and decisions would be under question.  This genuinely demands our whole reality to accept ‘changes’ and make ready ourselves to something new and better.

Where is our freedom of choice, which should be exercised in one’s own way?  It is good to learn and acquire knowledge from others, but it is not worthy to be entirely captured by mentalities of other people, which may not be compatible with what one thinks deep inside as true, and may not help one to ascend to the worlds that one can go.  We are trained to exercise our freedom of choice in a way those people before us practiced it, which affected the way we think and act, and cannot fully claim that our own reality is free from other peoples mentality.   Even though it may not be appropriate to deviate violently from what society has offered to us [wrong thinking and mentalities], it may be necessary, at times, to wisely take courageous acts of change to transform the society.      

            Societies train us from what they have experienced, and learned from life, which is for the good and betterment of us, and we accept such marvelous gifts with gratitude, but our imitations of reality should be weighed not only with the standard of societies, but also with the standards of what we believe as ‘true’.  Our actions determine our thoughts and our reality in tangible way as far as this physical world is concerned.  When we are reflecting a mentality that the people before us were exercising, which is not in agreement with the belief or thought we accepted as true, our freedom of choice will be in conflict, and may create a kind of identity crisis, in which what one believe as good, is not accepted by the society one belongs as true or good.  In this case, there needs much work to be done to enjoy the real freedom and liberate the society from the old thought and mentality. 

            The External restraints which affect the individual freedom [physical and intellectual freedom], in terms of thinking and expressing it outwardly, in movements, experimenting ideas, is still a challenge, which man is working on; depending on the society one is living in, which is highly complicated and complex, for many of the power and authority to accept changes is beyond the control of the individual, but through mysterious forces of Reality, there are exceptional great Personages, like Manifestations of God and other thinkers, even though they were obliged to accept suffering, who were not affected by the negative-influence of society, to fulfill their missions and purpose.  In fact, through the courageous acts of Their services, the concepts/ thoughts They were inspired influenced and transformed society from one stage of development to the other.

To be continued…

 

 Written by Dereje Amera


The views reflected in the above article  are solely of the author and are not necessarily shared by Meskot.  You may contact Dereje Amera  for comments at dderseh@bwc.org .

 

 

 

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