Thinkers from all walks of life, including philosophers, psychologists and cognitive scientists, have often attempted to respond to the question: what is free will, and do men have the capacity to act freely? To some, the answer is a categorical no, citing plethoras of limiting factors which range from karmic debts to genetic determinism to ethical, moral and legal contracts imposed by the society. Others find evidence of man’s free will everywhere – in our capacity to think, to create, to expand, and to continuously push the boundaries of what is considered possible.
Most people consider free will to be about doing what they want. But this level of freedom is only at the level of the mind, and it thus merely scratches the surface of true freedom. Spiritually inclined individuals ought to become aware of not only the free will of the mind, but that of the body, the soul, and the Higher Self, too.
There are two facets of freedom – the inner and the outer. When the mind and the body are externally controlled by a particular type of governance or by a patriarchal social system, one experiences lack of external freedom. However, the freedom to be, the freedom to think, and the freedom of the soul are less dependent on the outer reality. For example, meditation programs conducted among prisoners often give quick results, with inmates transforming their behavior from aggressiveness to compassion. On the other hand, external freedom does not guarantee inner freedom. People often get imprisoned by their attachment to material wealth.
So what is, then, true freedom? While many enlightened masters have offered their take on this, we can tackle the question from the feminine point of view, by channeling the grace of two Indian goddesses – Lakshmi and Saraswati. There are many gradations of consciousness, but Goddess Saraswati divides them into four: Mind (ego), Body, Soul and the Higher Self (Buddha-Self, the ultimate Oneness, the Source). Therefore, freedom has to be understood from one’s current level of consciousness.
Freedom of the Mind
To people who are at the level of mind-consciousness (ego), the level of freedom is outer. Since the mind is our densest part, to be in the mind means being to be farthest away from ourselves. Being in the body indicates being more inward. By focusing on the breath, anapanasati meditation helps us connect to the body.
The mind determines our perceptions and thought forms (such as judgments, perspectives and expectations). Identities can be very narrow (for example, tribal, caste or national pride), or wider, more inclusive/wholesome (“I am just a living being”, “I respect all life”). The bigger the one’s identity, the freer the one becomes. A simple exercise to accomplish this is to celebrate other people’s success. Replace your gross judgments with the understanding that every human is suffering in this world, and they all desire to be free from suffering. While this too is a judgment, it is a better one than the judgment based on comparison and competition.
Another way to dissolve the mind is to continuously question one’s own opinions. This enquiry approach, based on the ancient tradition of spiritual debating, consists of questioning every thought, especially those rooted in our deepest beliefs and convictions. In the past, some proponents of this approach have been Shankaracharya and Jiddu Krishnamurti. However, one needs to use both doubt and faith; there is a right time to question, and a right time to have faith and surrender. Such balance gives true freedom. That is the divine feminine path.
Freedom of the Body
What does it mean to be free in a body? Are you comfortable in your body while sitting in meditation? Are you aware of the tensions and pain in certain part of your body? Breathing meditation, yoga, physical exercises, dancing and healthy diet will ground you and give you more inner freedom of the body. An old Buddhist aphorism says, ’You eat when you are hungry and you sleep when you are tired. That is enlightenment.’ Refrain from using food or drinks for stress relief. Do not use your body to find freedom for the mind. When listened to and respected, the body opens the door to the soul.
Freedom of the Soul
At this point, a leap of faith is needed. Know that you are infinite, and that the soul never dies. This faith opens doors. Live like you are seeing things for the first time. Fully engage your senses and feelings. Be open to the magic of what is happening, and you will connect. Honor the life and you will feel the Soul energy. There are 54 soul feelings (mentioned in the book ‘A Thousand Seeds of Joy,’) which dissolve the ego and open the channel towards the energy of the divine. Among them are the feelings of love, hope, empathy, joy, compassion, gratitude, peace, forgiveness, acceptance, harmony, wisdom, trust and bliss. Surrender to these states of expanded reality. A hundred percent faith means living a miraculous reality, but most of the people have less than ten percent faith. The purity of these feelings is what really counts on the spiritual path. That is freedom.
Freedom of the Higher Self
Once you have attained freedom at the level of the Soul, you are free from the cycle of rebirth. You are free to serve as compassionate being and help all sentient beings become free, too. Freedom keeps expanding into realms of higher dimensions.
Inner freedom is infinite. Outer freedom is limited. Inner freedom is from the Self. Outer freedom is of the Self. Inner freedom is where suffering ends. Outer freedom is where suffering just changes its forms.
Listen to a detailed talk on ‘Inner Freedom’ by Anand Karunesh at:
Anand Karunesh is the author of “A Thousand Seeds of Joy,” a book highly appreciated by Brahmarshi Pitamaha Patriji, and recommended as a great read for every spiritual seeker.