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.

(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 .