The concept most people have of freedom is that of escaping the limitations imposed by life’s circumstances. We erroneously think that freedom is overcoming oppression: the prisoner wants to be free from jail; the slave, from the master; the depressed, from the sadness; and the sick, from the pain. Freedom, however, is not the same as emancipation or independence, even though the dictionary will present these as synonymous. Emancipation is liberating oneself from something or reacting to something. Freedom, on the other hand, does not entail any kind of escapist reaction; it cannot be dependent on anything.
There are also those who live escaping freedom out of fear of taking the responsibilities that it implies; they content themselves by simply imagining freedom, while blaming others for their oppression.
Liberation from slavery is born from slavery, and therefore, forms an integral part of it. Its very existence depends on slavery, and thus, is not without oppression. The same happens with liberation from hunger or toothaches. These forms of liberation consist in changing one deplorable situation with another that is more likeable; changing uncomfortable conditions with others that promise greater comfort. It is a mere reaction against that of which we wish to be liberated from. It is not aimed at freedom, but toward a certain circumstance. Liberation from poverty is not related with freedom but with money; liberation from diseases is related with medicine, hospitals, and ailments; and liberation from slavery, with shackles and prison cells.
Isaiah Berlin, in his essay Two Concepts of Liberty, suggests a difference between positive and negative freedom, both clearly reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The negative is ‘freedom from something,’ meaning, the absence of obstacles for action. The positive is ‘freedom for something,’ the possibility to take decisions that lead to action. Positive freedom is related to the accomplishments of our goals and purposes.
The idea of freedom most people have is limited to these two classes: positive and negative freedom; freedom from something and freedom to do something. The first is related to the past, and the second with the future. However, both are only psychological reactions and mere superficial emancipations. They go after our mental projections, but not reality. Total freedom cannot be conceived from within the limitations of the mind, but only when the mental content is transcended.
Therefore, our reasoning is nothing but a response of our conditioning, of the accumulation of experiences in our memory. In such a way that thought is inevitably chained to this baggage of experiences.
We are not free from our psychological limitations. For Karl Marx, the economic structure of the capitalistic society defines our way to interpret the world. As victims of this “false consciousness of classes,” we necessarily interpret the world from a view point determined by our social class. Marx believed that the only way to disentangle from the limitations of this perspective and be free is to understand material dialectics and adopt socialism; a highly debatable point, of course. In a matter of fact, political freedom does not exist because it only has sense in relation to others. Various political movements have tried to impose their own concept of freedom, leading to totalitarian and oppressive regimes. If we found ourselves alone in the desert, a suitcase with ten million dollars will not increase our freedom even one bit.
We are conditioned beings, not just by capitalism but by society in whole, with all that it implies. In the same way, we incontrovertibly lack the psychological freedom needed to access reality. Expressions like ‘freedom of thought’ or ‘freedom of worship’ are nothing but a verbal stimulation that activates our conditioning. All our ideas and concepts about other human beings, the world, life, and therefore, freedom, originate in our psychological limitation. Only the transcendence of this conditioning will allow an objective perception of reality. Without a clear perception of reality, aspiration to freedom is impossible.
Authentic freedom has existence of its own; it is independent from everything and has no cause or motive. Absolute freedom simply is.
The Sanskrit term moksha means ‘freedom.’ Those who aspire to freedom are called mumukshu; one who aspires the authentic freedom, that which flourishes from consciousness.
True freedom is not physical, mental, economic, or sexual. Authentic freedom does not belong to the objective, temporal, and hence illusory reality. Liberty is subjective and belongs to the eternal and infinite consciousness. As it is an intrinsic quality of our reality, freedom cannot be given or taken away; it is inherent to our true nature. Nothing and no one external can liberate or subdue us. In fact, we do not have the freedom to renounce our freedom. It is possible to oppress the body or the mind, but consciousness can never be limited. Meditation is the only opportunity to recognize the freedom that has no limits of any kind. Only in the depths of our interior, we are free from body, mind, emotions, and all that we believe to be. The New Testament points to this when it says (John, 8.32): “Then you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.”
Absence of freedom means lack of consciousness. We are as free as we are conscious. Such freedom is not from something, neither is to be able to do something, but it is freedom of being simply what we are. Freedom consists in a return to the state of original pure consciousness. Our authenticity is freedom, and it is the divine source and origin of any virtue.
When we transcend the relative, the absolute is revealed; when we go beyond the false, the real is unveiled; when the illusory and temporal is transcended, truth is recognized; and when we go one step beyond ourselves, freedom is discovered. Only the recognition of Truth will allow us to transcend the fetters of illusion and realize freedom.