Freedom

 

“Blessedness, eternal peace arising from perfect freedom, is the highest concept of religion, underlying all the ideas of God in Vedanta – absolutely free Existence, not bound by anything, no change, no nature, nothing that can produce a change in Him. This same freedom is in you and in me and is the only real freedom.” – Swami Vivekananda [1]

Freedom lies at the heart of all of existence: the desire to break out of our limitations, to be released from all bondage of body, heart and mind. This great energy of freedom is awoken on the holyday of Pesach (Passover). By drawing on the tremendous power of the energy of freedom, we can break free of all of our slaveries.


Pesach is in the spring, because the spring is when this power of freedom emanates out into the world. In the spring, the essential life force bursts forth everywhere, emerging out of the limitations of its form: the chick breaks out of the shell, the sapling spouts forth from the seed – all that has been dormant now becomes active and vitalized.

“Our soul is escaped like a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” – Psalm 124:7-8

“I felt that my soul was beating against my ribs like a bird beating against the bars of a cage, trying to get free.” – Swami Ashokananda [2]

Freedom is at the core of the human spirit. Everyone desires to be free. Everyone seeks to achieve ever more elevated levels of freedom, from the desire for physical freedom to the yearning for liberation from material consciousness. Everything is in a state of movement toward wider freedom, toward new horizons, toward new modes of living and experiencing life.

The greatest people are totally free; nothing holds them, nothing binds them, not convention, not others expectations, not praise or blame, not name and fame. They are free to be exactly who they are, to fully express their innate Divine nature.

What is freedom?

When Moses is given the two Tablets of the Law, the Torah (Ex. 32:16) tells us: “The writing [on the Two Tablets] was the writing of God, graven [in Hebrew, harut] upon the tablet.” The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah: Ch. 18) comments on this Biblical passage, “Do not read the word as ‘harut‘ – engraved, but as ‘herut’ – freedom.”

The Torah is God’s way of bestowing freedom upon us. The rabbis give several different interpretations of the kind of freedom that the Torah bestows.

Rabbi Nechemia says that the Torah bestows freedom from foreign rulers. This interpretation sees the Torah as a way to insure that we maintain our national freedom. If we bind ourselves to God, then we will escape the bondage of physical oppression.

The opinion of the majority of the rabbis is that the Torah grants freedom from suffering. This explanation views the Torah as a method of lifting us above the whirlwind of afflictions in this world. The Torah leads us on a path that will eliminate the patterns of living and thinking which cause us to suffer.

Rabbi Yehuda, however, believes that the Torah frees us from the grasp of the Angel of Death. This understanding regards the Torah as a path to immortality. The Torah enables us to transcend physical awareness and become liberated into the freedom of the spiritual realm.

The way of Torah is a path to freedom. Through the practice of its spiritual disciplines, the Torah will transform us into masters of our lower selves. Through the study of its wisdom, the Torah will expand our consciousness out toward the Infinite. Through the devotional performance of its rituals, the Torah will sunder the chains of our heart and arouse in us a profound love for God and the whole of His creation.

The Eastern religions speak of reaching a state of desirelessness. But to be without any desires whatsoever is not freedom, but death. As Swami Prabhavananda of the Ramakrishna Order once explained:

“’Desirelessness’ is really not a correct word; freedom from craving is a better expression, because we may have desire to continue spiritual practices, etc., and these do not prevent liberation.” [3]

It is this kind of freedom that we seek: to be free of all of our petty desires so that we are able to live by our highest aspirations; to be free to feel the love and joy and peace of mind that are the greatest treasures upon this earth.

The great Indian saint Chaitanya exclaims in his famous prayer:

“Oh Thou who stealest the hearts of Thy devotees.

Do with me what Thou wilt –

For Thou art my heart’s beloved, Thou and Thou alone.” [4]

It is very hard for the Western seeker to understand this kind of mindset. Nancy Pope Mayorga, a modern day Vedantist, has written succinctly of the evolution in her own understanding of this ideal:

“For years I have been saying, ‘Do with me what Thou wilt’, with the emphasis on the wilt as though resigning myself to whatever pain and unpleasantness He might choose to send me. But lately I have become so convinced that what He wills for me is just to be one with Him, that my attitude is now affirmative. The emphasis is on the do. ‘Do with me what Thou wilt.’” [5]

People are afraid of surrendering their will to God, of losing their little self, of merging into the Oneness. They are afraid of losing their freedom of action and movement, but nothing could be further from the truth. Harut (engraved) and herut (freedom) are intimately connected: When God is so engraved in our heart that we can only do His Will; then we really are liberated.

True freedom is freedom from all the struggles of the lower self; freedom from all of the entanglements, rivalries, misunderstandings, jealousies, demands, expectations, fears, desires and worries that arise from thinking that we are separate beings that need to make our way on our own. When we realize that God, and not us, is in control of our lives; then we will have loosened our shackles. When we realize that everyone and everything is part of the infinite Unity of Being, then we will truly be free.

Ultimate freedom is… to do the Will of God.

copyright © 2010, by Yoel Glick
first published 26/3/2010

Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Swami Vivekananda, The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. I: 337
  2. Sister Gargi, A Heart Poured Out, p. 20
  3. Swami Yogeshananda, Six Lighted Windows, Ch. entitled: “High Above Hollywood and Vine”, p. 65  
  4. From a prayer of Sri Chaitanya, translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, 1956
  5. Nancy Pope Mayorga, The Hunger of the Soul, entry for July 1, 1970, p. 118