From the book: “Experimenting with the Truth” by Prabhuji

Chapter: When talking about freedom, you mention responsibility. Isn’t responsibility an obstacle to freedom?

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 they want without any limitations. They believe that freedom means choosing and deciding without restrictions. This notion, however, does not recognize 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 make conscious decisions always comes with responsibility. Freedom is responsibility, and vice versa. George Bernard Shaw said, “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” Responsibility means consciously accepting the consequences of our choices.

We must understand that a conditioned mind lacks freedom. Such a mind may dream of being free, but it only responds according to its conditioning. Freedom, however, is not about responding indiscriminately to all of our mental and emotional demands. Jean-Jacques Rousseau said: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” As long as our yearning for liberation is born from oppression, we will seek to escape its bonds rather than free ourselves. We often think that if the oppressing element vanishes, we will 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. Many people link it to duty: we think that being responsible means fulfilling our obligations diligently. Furthermore, we hold ourselves accountable if we fail 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 responding appropriately to life’s events with all our capacity. If we were all responsible, we would not need laws, judges, or policemen. But since society is made up of immature people, governments resort to control to maintain order. A higher state of consciousness would allow us to adequately respond to life and to make this world a paradise.

Every moment and situation is a call and requires a response that satisfies the demands of life. Unfortunately, many such invitations remain unanswered because we are not present. Due to our conditioning, we are stuck in memories of the past or hopes for the future. We are absent from the present and from reality. We suffer because we cannot adequately respond to life’s invitations. There is no one in the universe who can respond as we would. But in order to respond in our own style, we have to transcend conditioning and regain the 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 someone is saying. As silence intensifies, attention sharpens. The inner stillness that the śravaṇa requires is not absence of noise but of preconceived ideas, concepts, conclusions, and mental fluctuations. Surely, the first step on the retroprogressive path is cultivating 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 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 various situations that the learning 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 often try to repress them by exerting control. Yet, this resistance is still an egotistic assessment for our personal convenience. Even our ambition for freedom falls into the same category. The ego may be controlled, but it will remain an ego nonetheless. This control, or misunderstood discipline, does not help us eliminate our inclinations but only 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. Although repressed and restricted, these undesirable inclinations continue to live and move within us.

You are still not free, you seek freedom. Your seeking made you sleep-deprived and over-awake.

You aspire to the free heights, your soul thirsts for the stars. But your wicked instincts also thirst for freedom.

Your wild dogs want to get free; they bark with joy in their cellar when your spirit contrives to liberate all prisons.

To me you are still a prisoner who plots his freedom. Alas, the soul of such prisoners grows clever, but also deceptive and rotten.

The one who is free of spirit must still purify himself. Much prison and mold is left in him: his eyes must still become pure.

(Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche)

Control paralyzes certain inclinations and creates habits. It turns living beings into robots and destroys intelligence and creativity. Control shrinks us; it impels us to perform specific actions and aggravates our conditioning. Clearly, freedom is not acquired through control, because we cannot be free within our conditioning, whether positive or negative. To reach freedom and responsibility, sensitivity is required. Sensitivity is not cultivated by control but with discipline. Therefore, it is necessary to separate the terms discipline and control because, although they 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 an aptitude for learning.” 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 it is necessary to dominate animal nature; yet, control is also part of the egoic phenomenon. Control assaults our nature, whereas discipline is spontaneous and blossoms out of consciousness.

Free beings, and therefore responsible beings, require no control, for they are aware of their own needs and those of others. Those who are unconscious and irresponsible have to be controlled because they lack the 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 how freedom, discipline, and responsibility are related. Discipline, in its true meaning, is learning, not in the sense of accumulating knowledge or information, but in the sense 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, we will project what we know on what we are learning. We will not observe reality, but only what we grasp according to our conditioning. The freedom to perceive and to observe is essential for learning. If we wish to study ourselves, we must get rid of all beliefs, concepts, and conclusions about what we are. This kind of learning is responsibility, because it is a response to existence.

Society confuses control with discipline, because it maintains a semblance of order by controlling unconscious people. Unlike imposed order, discipline reveals the harmony of life. Trying to control our thoughts will not help us create inner order. Inner harmony can be discovered only by observing our mental activity.

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 will we act responsibly. Once we transcend memory, we will respond consciously. To be responsible is to be disciplined. An irresponsible being has to be motivated or impelled through control; only those who are responsible can learn.

No, dear friend, responsibility is not an obstacle to your freedom. Responsibility and discipline are implicit in freedom.