Attaining True Freedom
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on January 24, 1976 at a conference on World Friendship.)

What I propose to do now is to think loudly so that you may listen to my thoughts, and if any one of you feels that there is some meaning in what I am saying, and it is going to be of some benefit or help to you in your life, I shall really regard myself as thrice blessed. I speak my own thoughts and feelings because one cannot speak honestly what one cannot think and feel in oneself, and what is not one’s honest conviction cannot carry weight and create an impression in the minds of people.

I am like you; there is nothing special in me, and there is, therefore, nothing particular that I can say. But I can cooperate with the ways of thinking of other people and help in bringing about a community of thoughts. This I think is really the intention of international friendship or interstellar friendship, if we would go a little further.

I am very happy to see the word ‘friendship’ mentioned in the letterhead of the organisation that is amidst us here today because it is precisely this that we are lacking in the world. If there is anything that the world does not have, it is friendship, and it is precisely this for which everyone seems to be working hard. We are working for the achievement of something which does not exist in this world because if it already exists, there is no need for working for it. We are aspiring to bring about a condition of things because that condition does not prevail at the present moment. It is high time, I should say, and perhaps every one of you would also agree, that we awaken ourselves to the matter-of-fact values of life and not mere airy idealisms which bear no connection to the truths of life. Many of us are exuberantly idealistic and seem to be soaring in the heavens of imaginary perfection which, because it does not bear a relevance to the facts of life, does not give us satisfaction.

We are under the impression that we are living in a world, but what I feel is that we are not living in a world. Then where are we living? We are living under certain sets of conditions or circumstances, a particular setup of conditions we call the world. Our joys and sorrows are products of circumstance; they are not things in themselves, and are not objects or substances which are tangible to our physical touch. We seem to be approaching more and more the truth that we live in certain conditions which are determining our experiences, rather than in a world of crass matter.

All this may not be a fact unknown to you because discoveries, scientific as well as philosophical, and also experiences through which people are passing every day, point out that there is something quite different confronting us than what we think is in front of us. It would not be an exaggeration to say that we live in a world of illusions. We are living in a fool’s paradise, under the impression that it is a real paradise. The paradise of the Earth is so enchanting to our bodily organisms and the social organisations, and all these things are certain phantasmagoria that are presented before our unsuspecting eyes merely because of the fact that a condition cannot continue unchanged for all times because every condition is subject to change.

What do we mean by a ‘condition’? It is a situation in which anything finds itself, and no condition or situation can be permanent. It is a fluid universe in which we are living, and therefore, there is historical procession and even what we call evolution. There cannot be history if everything is static in this universe. The very fact that there is meaning in history shows that we live in an atmosphere of conditions, and not in the midst of certain static bodies called persons and things. We are happy today, and we are also unhappy today. Any time we can smile, and any time we can cry, and it is doubtful if we can control our own feelings and reactions to things because we ourselves are controlled by circumstances beyond us.

We have been living under limited conditions of experience, and these conditions go by various names such as a nationality, a community, a setup of values, a body of aspirations, etc. But all these are mere nomenclature and carry no substance in them. We have perforce identified ourselves with the conditions which are governing our lives and the process of historical evolution, which is regarded by everyone as the determining factor of both society and individuals. These conditioning factors seem to be ruling over the heads of people like Damocles swords, and it is futile to imagine that there is really that type of freedom in the individual which one is imagining is there.

What is the reason behind our feeling that there is freedom of choice? The reason is that the conditions which rule over the destinies of mankind pass through the egoism of personalities and get reconditioned into the individual’s feeling that there is freedom of will in each individual. We act like transformers of the forces which produce experience, and these electronic transformers, as it were, that we apparently are, bring about a reconditioning of the vaster conditions which reign supreme over everything in the world, and produce an apparent picture of individual liberty and freedom which has its own consequences. These consequences are what we are seeing today in the international situation.

What is it that we are seeing? Insecurity everywhere, with a feeling that one does not know what will happen tomorrow. This cannot be called freedom. Insecurity cannot be identified with freedom of any sort. A state of helplessness and dependence cannot be called freedom. And is there anyone in the world who is totally free from a sense of insecurity and a feeling of dependence on factors beyond one’s control? If these are truths which cannot brook refutation, then individual freedom is a chimera.

What we should seek and work for is not individual freedom but true freedom, and we should not mistake real freedom for the egoistic affirmations by each person individually. If my freedom conflicts with your freedom, neither I nor you can be called free. Just imagine that everyone is free in this world, as the modern pragmatic philosopher and thinker would opine. Total independence of each individual and utter freedom given to each individual would be a precondition for warfare. Can you imagine war becoming the result of freedom? It is not possible, because we enter into a condition of war due to the violation of freedom, and we embark upon such an adventure, though so risky, merely for the sake of establishing freedom. The watchword of mankind is freedom, and everyone speaks of it, thinks of it, broods over it, and works for it in one’s own way. But no one seems to have discovered it or found it anywhere because it is misconstrued, and therefore, the manner in which one works for its achievement is also misdirected.

What modern mankind is to bring home to its own mind is a type of awakening which is necessary for that achievement towards which mankind at least appears to be working. It is no use merely working like a bull from morning till evening without knowing what this work is for. Sometimes we get so much involved in work that we forget its very purpose. We are too busy to know why we are working. This is to put the cart before the horse, to miss the aim of one’s life and activity because a step that we take, an effort that we put forth or an adventure that we are embarking upon becomes meaningful only if the purpose or aim is borne in mind. Purposeless or meaningless activity is no activity, though it may look like a catastrophic activity in which one is engaging throughout one’s life. “I am so busy. I am so active. I have no time.” This is the complaint of every person. Everyone is immensely busy, terribly active and hectic for a purpose which is nebulous and absolutely beyond the very conception of even the very person who makes this complaint.

The world is directed by a purpose. This is what we call the meaning of evolution. If we are parts of the world, our activities also have a meaning and a purpose. To lose sight of this purpose would be to go contrary to the intention of universal evolution. Our freedom does not consist in self-affirmation of any kind, whether national or personal, but in a coordinated incorporation of the conditions of individual freedom with the circumstances of real freedom. If I have to be free, you also have to be free. I cannot be free if you are in bondage. Also, I cannot be free if your freedom and my freedom are in conflict with each other. Freedom cannot lead to conflict. The very fact that national freedoms and individual freedoms or social freedoms lead to tension should point out that there is something wrong in the very concept of freedom.

All this would amount to saying that we require time enough to think deeply over the nature of the conditions under which we are living in this world today. The world is made up of such stuff and society is constituted of such a character that we are not allowed to think. The bane of mankind is that it has no time to think, and if there is any evil in this world, it is this: that we cannot think at all and we have no time to think. Why is it that we have no time to think? Because we are busy, as I already mentioned. What for are you busy? “Don’t ask me; I have no time.” Is this the world in which we are living and this the purpose for which we are working? Is this not a pity?

I began by saying that our joys and sorrows are products of certain circumstances, and when circumstances change, our joys and sorrows also change. Joys of today can become sorrows of tomorrow, and sorrows of today can become joys of tomorrow. There are no such things as joys or sorrows in life because these are conditions, circumstances with which we get identified for various reasons. If you ask me what freedom is, it is freedom of your mind and consciousness from these conditions that are forcing you to acquiesce in their limited activities and make you wrongly, erroneously feel that there are real joys and real sorrows in life.

If we thoroughly investigate into the substance of our experiences and go deep into the very fibre of our being, we will realise that there are no occasions for joy in this world, and also there are no occasions for sorrow. We are slaves if we feel happy, and we are also slaves if we feel sorry because both these emotions that arise in our minds are indications that we are slaves of circumstances or conditions which have brought about these feelings of joy and sorrow. Only a slave can be happy and only a slave can be sorry, not a man of freedom. This is something startling. If this is going to be the state of affairs, who can say that there is freedom in this world?

A person who is capable of enjoying real freedom is neither happy nor sorry because true freedom is not a prerogative of any individual but a state or condition, we may say, in which the whole universe exists. It is not my condition or your condition, but everybody’s condition. It is an impersonal condition, and our freedom goes on intensifying itself, increasing its compass as we approximate ourselves to the totality of conditions that determine the individual conditions that bring about the particular types of joys and sorrows of people in this world.

We are citizens of different countries, but we are not yet citizens of the world, and even if we are citizens of the world, that would be inadequate, because what is this world but a tiny speck, a little dot of Earth that is hanging in space? We can cling to this little mass of Earth and imagine that we are working for world solidarity, universal uplift, etc. The world is vaster than we can imagine even with our furthest imagination. The world does not mean merely this Earth, just as life does not mean merely the family. We can cosily live in the little room of our own family members and think that the whole world is contained there, but is it true? Is life only as wide as a little family in the room? If this is not true, then the world is not exhausted by this Earth. A person who is working for the peace of the world would not be truly working for it if his ideals and ideas are limited to this Earth, because this Earth itself is conditioned by external factors.

I was mentioning  that there are conditions and conditions, one state restricting and limiting and influencing another. A influences B, B influences C, and so on. There is an interplay of conditioning factors. What makes us imagine that this Earth is all the value that we can think of? Well, we have not yet reached the level of the Earth. We are still at the lower level of nationalities, to which we are so wrongly clinging even with the height of our knowledge and culture. We have lower forms of attachment than the attachment to nationalities, and with these little notions of ours, are we going to work for world peace? Even taking for granted that we have overcome the limitations of nationality, creed, cult, personality, etc., what is our idea of the world when we speak of the world or mankind? It is nothing but this little ball of the Earth.

Astronauts tell us that when they go higher and higher into space the Earth looks like a tiny ball. Is the world only so much? Is life only as little as this ball of mud on which humanity is crawling like worms? This is all the life we can think of.

But life is vaster, and anyone who is ignorant of these vaster truths of life is living in a fool’s paradise. If A is conditioned by B, B is conditioned by C, and so on endlessly, then there are endlessly conditioned factors, and we are living in an atmosphere of endlessness. As long as one is not able to encompass within one’s own mind the meaning of this endlessness, there cannot be freedom, joy or satisfaction in life.

We have read the history of Europe, of the Roman Empire, of Egypt, of Babylon, of Assyria, and of other great empires and nationalities. We learned from this study that there is a procession of events moving towards an idea or an ideal which no individual who is engrossed or involved in the procession of history can understand.

Sometimes soldiers in the field do not know the next step that that they have to take, and are guided by the order of the commander-in-chief. If they are asked to move to the right, they will move to the right, if they are asked to move to the left, they will go to the left, if they are asked to move forward, they will go forward, and if they are asked to stop, they will stop. Just as the soldier does not know the meaning of this movement because the meaning is known only to the leader, these instruments of action do not know the purpose or the meaning behind these movements. Otherwise, each individual will have an idea of his or her own of the movements or the steps that have to be taken.

So the meaning of history, which includes your history and my history, is different from the ideas of life that private individuals may entertain in their own minds. History is super-individualistic. It does not take into consideration personalities. It has broken down even the greatest potentates that walked this Earth. Nature has no pity upon any person, and is a ruthless mistress who can bring down the greatest emperor from his throne, and whose fingertips can order the marching of immense armies. History has no pity upon individuals, nationalities or societies. There seems to be a terrible truth, if we can call it so, ruling this world. It looks terrible and monstrous because we are not prepared to cooperate with it. A tiger is terrific, but it is not terrific to its cub. The little cub jumps upon the body of the mother, bites her ears, plays with her, though she is a terrific tigress. Nature is a tigress, a lioness, who can pounce upon us, swallow us and tear us to pieces if we are not prepared to cooperate with her, but no one can be so kind and compassionate as nature if we are prepared to cooperate with her.

The evil of mankind is the inveterate incapacity to cooperate with the forces of history and nature, and is the self-willed assertion of individuality and bodily pleasure. If this is what is expected of us from the ruling principals of life, which I would like to designate as history and nature, would it not be wisdom on our part to shed our individualities and our egoisms, our self-willed expressions of day-to-day life, casting aside our appellations and our positions in society, and humbly move with the current of the vast historical process which is nothing but the movement of the fingers of nature?

My dear friends, it may appear that I am speaking Greek and Latin, but I am only mentioning what is really ahead of us all, above us all, behind us and everywhere around us, of which we are totally ignorant and unconscious. Ignorance and unconsciousness of existing conditions cannot be regarded as wisdom, education or culture. Whatever be your learning – you may be a professor, a or a vice-chancellor of a university teaching physics, mathematics and so forth – it will be of no avail to you in your practical life if it is irrelevant to the demands of nature and historical evolution.

Many of you might have read Toynbee, the great philosopher of modern history who, in his historical researches, speaks a fantastic language which would put us in a state of consternation and rouse us from a sleep of cosy satisfaction. We would be terrified to live in this world even for a minute if we knew the conditions under which we are living. Merely because our psychophysical individualities are set with the conditions outside for the moment and everything looks like milk and honey in life, it does not mean that it will be so for all times. Today’s friends are tomorrow’s enemies, and our enemies of today may not be enemies always.

So I repeat again, our joys and sorrows are meaningless ultimately because they are only appearances or features projected by certain changing conditions, which we call universal history. Everyone should find time to probe into this mystery of life and live life rather than suffer it. We are not here to suffer life but to live life, and living cannot be regarded as suffering. The very fact that we do not want suffering shows that suffering is not the essential nature of living.

Life is vaster than what we can conceive in our emotional enthusiasm and our parochial understanding. We have to grow wider as well as deeper in our personalities simultaneously at every step until we encompass these super-normal mysteries which govern the destinies of everyone. They cease to be mysteries when they are confronted in the daylight of knowledge and become facts of experience. When the world becomes our own and we become a part of the world – or rather, to put it in broader terms, when we belong to the universe and it belongs to us – we can be said to be enjoying real freedom. That freedom is neither your freedom nor my freedom but it is the freedom that alone rules supreme in the world. This is not a freedom of mankind merely but a freedom of creation as a whole. The word is not exhausted by mankind. It is futile on the part of any human being to think that he is the apex of creation. He is only one of the links in the long chain of development that has not yet come to an end, which has not yet reached its consummation. There is a further movement called for, and we are still puppets and tiny babies in comparison with what is ahead of us.

All this is a grand destiny that is beckoning us and pulling us from the front. To have an idea of and insight into this great mystery and truth would be the essential of our educational process.

May I pray to the Almighty God Supreme to bless you all with right knowledge and the needed insight into the meaning of life, which is commensurate with the requisitions of all people, not merely those living on this Earth but in the larger atmosphere of creation. May I conclude by saying that you are preparing to become universal citizens and not merely citizens of America, Germany, Italy, India, etc. We are working, unconsciously though, towards the achievement of universal citizenship, and then it is that we can enjoy true freedom. Then the government of the cosmos will take care of us and protect us, and we will be provided with our needs perennially, endlessly, into eternity and in an infinite manner.

It is towards this that you are moving, I am moving, and everybody is moving. The aim of life is not within the compass of either our senses or our minds. It is transcendent; and our life’s purpose, therefore, may also be said to be transcendent in one sense because it is beyond the reach of our present faculties of knowledge, but it is at the same time immanent because it is hidden potentially even in the present condition of our existence. It is not transcendent in the literal sense, as the achievement or the attainment of the meaning of this transcendent universal mystery would be only an unfolding of the potentiality that is already hidden within every one of us.