Is there anything as “Free Will” or is it one great illusion? Whom can you call a “free spirit”?
What is freedom of mind? What is freedom? What is mind?
Profound questions these, the answers not so obvious.
The modern word ‘free’ comes from the Old English word frēo. This word is connected with frēon which in Old English means ‘to love’ as well as frēond which means a person whom one loves, that is a friend or lover. To many a great philosophers, freedom implies love. One of the ways Freedom can be interpreted is “Freedom is a state and quality of mind.” Freedom is a state of bliss. It is a state of mind of the highest quality.
One of the greatest illusions of freedom is thinking that we are free if we have the power of choice. Equating the power of choice with freedom is a mistake very easy to make. Isn’t the option of choosing from given options a limitation into itself? How can there be freedom, total freedom of mind, when our choices/actions are restrained by the guidelines and ideas not entirely our own. Most of our actions are just a manifestation of “what we should be doing” or “what is accepted as the right thing to do”.
Let us take a simple example – attending lectures in morning. A student’s choice is limited to either attending the lecture or not attending it. It may seem he is free to make his decision. But the repercussions of not attending are so great he is compelled to wake up and sit through it though only half-awake. So the apparent idea that we are free to make our choices is not really freedom.
But the issue of freedom doesn’t apply just to simple choices. Given any situation, we think based on the information we already have, the knowledge that we possess and act based on what we (or the society) think we should do. In other words our choices are limited by our memory, social customs and the preconditioning of mind. A certain St. Augustine very poignantly said of his instruction, “Give me a boy from his birth until he is seven, and I will have him for the rest of his life.” For such a boy with such an upbringing, what can it possibly mean to say he chooses to be a Christian, or chooses to pray? Same is the case with any Islamic fundamentalist, who has been programmed into believing that they are fighting for freedom and a higher cause. What freedom is he fighting for when his mind itself is enslaved by a single thought – an idea not his own?
Can there be absolute freedom? Is any decision ever made which is free of bias? There are decisions which we perceive as our free decisions. Are they really free or are they guided by forces which we are not even are of? How significant are factors like memory, preconditioning, peer pressure, expectations, social structure etc in our actions and decisions?
Are there any free answers to these questions? Answers which are not guided by any of the above factors?
Another aspect of freedom is fear. Or rather fear is the opposite of freedom. We are afraid of death, we are afraid of what the future might unfold, we are afraid of our past and so much more. What more, fear breeds fear. In short fear kills freedom.
Why do people worry about future when it is all uncertain?
One thing which we are afraid of, without even being aware of it, is the past. We ponder over it, lament over the missed opportunities and cause ourselves pain. We are chained to our own past. Past is but a memory. Past is just a ghost… Unless and until we let go our past, we will never be able to break free of the shackles of our own memories.
People are afraid of death. Even people who want to go to heaven do not want to die to go there. What is it about death that scares us so much? Why do we fail to realize that that death is the single greatest tool of evolution? Why be afraid of nature’s second greatest invention (first being life itself)? Maybe, the only thought that can help get over the fear of death is that “death is inevitable.” Nothing can change that. The best we can do is embracing this Fact and Living each day the best we can.
It is tough to find someone who is absolutely free of fear; someone who has broken free of any and all kind of preconditioning. Even if they were to tell us what “absolute freedom” meant, we won’t understand it or even appreciate it. Freedom is an experience; it is a state of mind – of the highest quality. A free mind is in the state of bliss. A free mind can experience joy as none other.
Ironically though, being free is a choice. Anyone can choose to be free.
That’s an individual quest, the rewards of which are more than what we can ever imagine.