To answer your question, we need to understand four factors: freedom, responsibility, control, and discipline.
Generally, people think that freedom is the ability to do whatever we please without any sort of limitation. We believe that freedom means to be unrestrained in making choices and decisions. Such a notion, however, ignores the responsibility that freedom entails. As the Argentinian writer Jorge Bucay said, “The true seeker grows and learns, and discovers that he or she is always primarily responsible for whatever happens.” Bucay is right; the freedom to take conscious decisions is always accompanied by responsibility. Freedom is responsibility, and vice versa. It was George Bernard Shaw who said: “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” Responsibility means consciously accepting the consequences of our choices.
We must clearly understand that a conditioned mind lacks freedom. Such a mind may dream of being free, but it only responds out of its conditioning. Freedom, however, is not about responding indiscriminately to all our mental and emotional demands.
It is not for nothing that Jean-Jacques Rousseau said: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” The yearning for liberation is born out of our oppression; however, it is not a desire to attain freedom, but to escape our ties. We think that if the oppressing element vanishes, we shall be free. Hence, our attention is focused on the chains, on what we desire to be liberated from, rather than on freedom itself.
Now we should understand what responsibility is. Most people associate it with duty. We think that to be responsible is to fulfill our obligations diligently. Furthermore, we hold ourselves accountable for the results of meeting or failing to meet them.
This idea is both incomplete and superficial. The deeper meaning of the term responsibility, which comes from the Latin responsum, is the ability to respond. If we live like sleepwalkers, we cannot respond properly.
Responsibility means to respond appropriately, with all our capacity, to the events of life. If we were responsible, we would not need laws, judges, or police. But since society is comprised of immature people, every government has to turn to control to maintain order. A higher state of consciousness would allow us to adequately respond to life and make this world a paradise.
Every moment and situation is a call and requires a response that would satisfy the demands of life. Unfortunately, many such invitations remain unanswered because we are not present. Due to our conditioning, we are situated in the past with its memories, or in the future with its hopes. We are absent from the present and reality. We suffer because we cannot adequately respond to life’s invitations. No one in the entire universe can respond as only we would. But in order to respond in our own unique style, we have to transcend the conditioning and recover our ability to listen.
The Sanskrit term śravaṇa means “to listen.” Listening with precision requires silence, as it is impossible to talk and simultaneously perceive what your interlocutor is communicating. As silence intensifies, attention sharpens. Śravaṇa requires an inner stillness that more than absence of noise, is silence devoid of preconceived ideas, concepts, conclusions, and mental fluctuations.Surely, the first step on the spiritual path is the cultivation of receptivity. Cultivate listening: when you have a doubt related to your health, listen to your body; when you are not sure what direction you should take in life, listen carefully to the existence deep within your heart. Those who cultivate the art of receptive and alert listening find silence and peace. Only if we are consciously present in the now, will the ability to respond flourish in us. Inner responsibility is born when we are attuned to the present. Responding appropriately requires being in tune with the now.
Responsibility is discipline. By learning something we respond and by responding, we learn. To be able to ride a bicycle, for example, we need to learn how to respond. If the bicycle tilts to the left, we lean to the right, and vice versa. With a lot of attention, observation, and presence, we respond to the different situations that the process requires. It is impossible to separate responsibility from learning. Responsibility is discipline; responding is learning.
When we notice our own unacceptable, undesirable, or indecent inclinations, we try to repress them by exerting control. Yet the motivation for this resistance is still an egotistic evaluation based on our personal convenience. The egoic phenomenon becomes a controlled ego, but an ego none the less. Even our striving for freedom falls into the same category. However, this control, or misunderstood discipline, does not help us to eliminate our inclinations, but only to repress them. Repressive control hardens us and creates a conflict between “what I am” and “what I should be”; between “what I see” and “what I should be seeing.” Hiding our internal conflict, we become atrophied and lose agility. Our undesirable inclinations continue to live and move within, although repressed and restricted.
“You are not yet free, you still search for freedom. You are worn from your search and overawake. You aspire to the free heights, your soul thirsts for the stars. But your wicked instincts, too, thirst for freedom. Your wild dogs want freedom; they bark with joy in their cellar when your spirit plans to open all prisons. To me you are still a prisoner who is plotting his freedom: alas, in such prisoners the soul becomes clever, but also deceitful and bad. And even the liberated spirit must still purify himself. Much prison and mustiness still remain in him: his eyes must still become pure.” (Thus Spoke Zaratustra by Friedrich Nietzsche. Published by Penguin Books)
Control paralyzes certain inclinations by creating habits. It turns living beings into robots, destroying their intelligence and creativity. Control contracts us; it impels us to perform specific actions and deepens our conditioning. Obviously, freedom cannot be acquired through control because we cannot be free from within our conditioning, whether positive or negative. To reach freedom and responsibility, sensitivity is required. Sensitivity is not cultivated by control but with the help of discipline. Therefore, it is necessary to separate the terms discipline and control, because while these two sound similar, they are completely different.
The word discipline comes from the Latin term discipulus, which, in turn, is derived from discere or disco, i.e., “one who learns” or “one who has a learning disposition.” People relate discipline to control, but these two are totally different. Control is a series of laws, rules, and regulations, while discipline is born of understanding and awareness. Many think that to dominate the animal nature. However, control is also part of the egoic phenomenon. Control assaults our nature, while discipline is spontaneous and flourishes out of consciousness.
Free and therefore responsible beings require no control, for they are aware of their own and others’ needs. The unconscious and irresponsible have to be controlled because they lack sensitivity to respond to existence. Conscious beings are disciplined but free of control. They live awake like seagulls flying high, in total freedom, without laws or rules.
Now we shall examine the relation between freedom, discipline, and responsibility. Discipline, in its true meaning, is learning. Not in the sense of accumulating knowledge or information, but of perceiving and observing what is, as it is. In order to learn, it is necessary to completely free ourselves from all accumulated information. Otherwise, instead of observing what is, as it is, we will project what we know on the object of learning. We will not observe reality, but only what we grasp according to our conditioning. The freedom to perceive and observe is essential for learning. If we wish to study ourselves, we must get rid of any belief, concept, or conclusion about what we are. Such learning is responsibility, because it is a response to existence.
Society confuses control with discipline because it keeps certain order by controlling unconscious people. Unlike imposed order, discipline reveals the harmony of life. Trying to control our thoughts will not help us to create inner order. Inner harmony can be discovered only by observing our mental activity.
Having transcended memory, we shall respond in a conscious way. From within the known, our reaction will always be mechanical. Only when we become free from all conditioning and respond to the call of existence, shall we act responsibly. To be responsible is to be disciplined. An irresponsible being has to be motivated or impelled by means of control; only a responsible being can learn.
No, dear friend, responsibility is not an obstacle for your freedom. Responsibility and discipline are implicit in freedom.