Authority and Freedom9 min read

Much of our lives maybe regarded as a search after freedom in different senses. We are at our most restricted as children. As the years pass our physical freedom increases. We gain the strength to go where we will, and we are allowed to go alone. Then, as it is said, we begin to think for ourselves, and this is encouraged. Education, in so far as it is successful, frees us yet more, expanding our minds and removing wrong impressions of the world; and then, with maturity, we begin to live as independent citizens, setting up house, earning money, free to come and go as we please.

As we grow up and become freer, the freedoms we acquire are of different types: first physical freedom, then emotional freedom, then intellectual freedom, and finally economic freedom, when we start in our first jobs, though all these freedoms may be more or less incomplete.

As we acquire each of these freedoms successively, what do we become free from? From different manifestations of authority. When we gain physical freedom, we become free from our parents’ control of our movements; emotional freedom normally means freedom from the engrossing love of parents and close relatives, so that the range of our individual emotional life can widen; intellectual freedom, in one sense, means freedom from the ideas with which we have been surrounded since birth, in the home, our schools, and in our social circle; and economic freedom, at least in part, means freedom from the financial control of parents and relatives. So growing up and gaining these freedoms is to become free from various manifestations of authority, that of parents, relatives, older friends, and school-teachers.

Now in a sense the whole aim of the efforts of parents and the others is precisely to give these freedoms if their task is rightly understood and truly performed. They all have a common aim, to establish the children and young people in a secure independence, to make them fully independent of themselves.

True authority always has this characteristic, that it seeks to give those committed to it freedom, or to create or sustain the conditions in which they can achieve some freedom, physical, emotional, intellectual, or economic. Once it has conferred freedom, true authority retires. The parents and the relatives leave the now independent child to live its own life, the schoolteacher turns to his new intake.

The rebellions against authority in their various forms which are familiar nowadays can, on this view, be interpreted in two ways: either those who are exercising authority do not realise that it has the aim of giving freedom and so use it wrongly, and those who rebel against it are right to do so, or the authority is correctly exercised, but those committed to it do not understand its purpose and so rebel against it, to their own loss, just as it would not be to a child’s benefit to rebel against its parents’ care at a young age.

The rebellions against authority nowadays have therefore to be examined individually: some, no doubt, can be justified and can expect good results; others are unwise and are based on misunderstanding, and are against the true interests of the rebels.

Now Yoga tells us that beyond physical freedom, emotional freedom, intellectual freedom, and economic freedom, in the limited senses in which these phrases have been used, there is another freedom, and this freedom is the true end and fulfilment of life. This freedom is freedom from the mind. Those who have achieved this freedom are said to have a serenity which can never been shaken; they are said to be fearless; and they are said to be omniscient, though the nature of this omniscience has to be carefully understood.

In the distant past in India great sages achieved this freedom, and some of them have left descriptions of it and of the way to achieve it in the works called the Upanishads. Here is one such description from the Maitrayana Upanishad (vi. 34):

“As a fire without fuel becomes quiet in its place, thus do the thoughts, when all activity ceases, become quiet in their place …

By the serenity of his thoughts a man blots out all actions, whether good or bad. Dwelling within his Self with serene thoughts, he obtains imperishable happiness.

If the thoughts of a man were so fixed on Brahman as they are on the things of this world, who would not then be freed from bondage ?

The mind, it is said, is of two kinds, pure or impure; impure from the contact with lust, pure when free from lust.

When a man, having freed his mind from sloth, distraction, and vacillation, becomes as it were freed from his mind, that is the highest point.

The mind must be restrained in the heart till it comes to an end:—that is knowledge, that is freedom; all the rest are extensions of the ties which bind us to this life.”

The thoughts must cease their activity, they must become purified and serene. What happens when this preparatory work has been done? Is this merely a state of mindless torpor? No, it is a state of the utmost alertness. The mind is kept still, devoid of contents, but intensely and calmly expectant. Then from the base of the mind, we are told, emerges a great golden light, and beyond that light is this final freedom, that which originally reveals itself as the essence of the mind but is always free and beyond the mind, that which is said finally to reveal itself as the indestructible essence of everything. Here is how this same Upanishad describes this realization (vi. 35):

“The mouth of the true is covered with a golden lid; open that, O Pushan (sun), that we may go to the true one, who pervades all (Vishnu).

He is the person in the sun, I am he.

And what is meant by the true one is the essence of the sun … That is Brahman, that is immortal, that is splendour.”

Parents, teachers, friends, and nurses, and all the protective, fostering persons, who bring us up to maturity, are in their different ways authorities, and if they faithfully fulfil their function, they foster and protect, and when their jobs are done, depart. So too the mind. The mind throughout life protects the organism and enables it to feed and reproduce itself. Without a mind the body would perish in a few days, unless it was sustained by others. But like the other authorities, unless it is leading to freedom, the mind is a false authority, binding and restricting the individual’s development. There is far more to life, the Yogis tell us, than mere self-preservation or selfaggrandizement.

Having achieved the lesser freedoms, through which we come to physical and mental maturity, we should go on to the final freedom, whereby we come to spiritual maturity.

This authority, from which we have to free ourselves here, is not any external authority, but the authority of our own minds over us, in particular of all those desires, passions and lingering impressions of various kinds which make up our more or less turbid mental life. Only when that mental life has become calm, pure and serene, can this final freedom be approached.           ’

Freedom from the mind is the negative side of this achievement; the positive side is union with the true one who pervades all, who is the immortal essence of all.

In all the lesser freedoms, for example physical freedom, when the child learns to use its legs and walk and run, he is only learning to use what is his already, but what he had not been able to bring into use before. So in the achievement of this final freedom the Yogi does not gain anything which was not already his: he merely realizes fully what his true nature always was, namely that beyond the mass of thoughts and concealed by those thoughts is something luminous, omnipresent, and indestructible. Once a child has learnt to walk, he can walk for the remainder of his life: so once the Yogi has seen this luminous reality, he is said to be able to see it forever.

What happens when a person has achieved freedom from his mind ?

Does he wander around in a mindless, vacant state ? No. What does a man do after he has achieved his independence from his parents? If he is wise, he does not abandon them: he establishes with them a new relationship as between mature, free and independent persons, and this relationship can be a stronger, more creative and more fruitful one than the earlier one between son and parents.

In the same way the man who has achieved freedom from his mind re-establishes with it a new and fruitful relationship; our teacher, Dr Shastri, said that all our minds had enormous unused potentialities, and that only the man who has achieved freedom from his mind can use his mind to the full.

Dr Shastri himself and his own teacher Shri Dada of Aligarh were examples of the great creativity and beneficent activity that are the characteristic results of achieving freedom from the mind.                                                              .

Just as the urge for independence and freedom from parents appears spontaneously in the growing child, so the urge for freedom from the mind first appears spontaneously; but for this urge to be fulfilled, it must be fostered by mental and spiritual exercises and by the study of spiritual literature. This is what Shri Dada said (The Heart of the Eastern Mystical Teaching, pp. 54-5):

“It is easier for the jiva (individual soul) to slip out of a broadened mental field than to escape from the constrictions of prejudices and vanities. When you no longer identify yourself with the mind, then real life begins in the true sunshine of Shanti (spiritual peace), in that region of Self-experience which knows no horizon. As you study, so your mind expands. Friends, expand your minds daily, hourly, every minute! You will be helped by the repetition of the holy names of the Lord.

I pray that you may break through the prison wall of your mind out of your narrow world and learn to call every creature your relative and the whole universe your home.”

Freedom from the authority of the mind is the real rebellion. This rebellion will produce a thousand blessings for everybody and no harm at all. The methods of this rebellion are: first, learning how to watch the mind; then, how to fix the mind on an object of meditation, whether a picture or a concept; and finally, how to dissolve it in its cause.

These are the graded steps which the Yoga teaches on the path to winning the final freedom, freedom from the mind.