There can be no final freedom in conditioned existence.

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Prometheus Bound
Vulcan Chaining Prometheus by Dirck van Baburen - see Wikipedia on Promethus Bound

An article originally published November 1972 edition of the American Theosophist (p315). This web edition published 2014 and compiled from Geoffrey Farthings original typed notes.

In discussing an abstract subject such as freedom it often helps to look at its opposite. If we take bondage as being the opposite of freedom let us see what that means in terms of limitation and restraint as it applies to ourselves - see why we are not free and what we can do to obtain such freedoms as are open to us on our long journey to the final freedom.

There can be no final freedom in conditioned existence. It is not possible to be anything without suffering the limitations of that state. Freedom as it relates to any state of being can necessarily be only relative. Most of us will be only too painfully aware of these truths as they apply to us. We suffer the limitations imposed on us by our bodies. We are so used to operating in our body that if it is well, it does obtrude into our consciousness. We are not normally aware of its inabilities but these are in fact remarkably severe. Our physical strength is relatively puny, what we can accomplish without our tools and sophisticated equipment is relatively small. In our inner being we suffer similar limitations. Emotionally our capacity for feeling, especially our feeling for others, our sympathy, is limited, in some of course much more than the others.

Mentally, intellectually, in our memory and imagination, are we not only too often reminded of our deficiencies of superficiality and smallness? Occasionally another's brilliance will totally eclipse us but even his performance is relatively trifling when compared with that of genius.

Our experience of ourselves in real life situations (not in our imaginations!) teaches us our place in the scale of endowment. The illusions of youth and our conceits of ourselves do not last long if we are normal healthy beings. This recognition of our true stature is the basis for a proper honesty and humility. An inability to recognise our own limitations can be a personal tragedy. It is so often associated with pettiness and an undue anxiety to impress and be of consequence. It leads to posing and playing a part, sometimes very impressive but such a man's position is very insecure. Nearly all of us are more or less afflicted in this way but we do not know it. All too often, even with some earnest self analysis, we do not discover it. We think this is a disease only other people suffer from!

All this is generality. It becomes specific in two ways. First in so far as we can see its relevance to ourselves individually, and second, as this is a Theosophical magazine, its relevance to us in the light of our spiritual progress and our Theosophical teachings. In both these areas we suffer the awful limitations of opinionation. In the one case we think we know about ourselves whereas we do not. In the second case it is safe to say for most of us, that we do not know our Theosophy. What we have got, as has often been pointed out to us are ideas, concepts, beliefs, from our reading. We know, as opposed to knowing about, nearly nothing of the qualities, forces, energies and powers of nature. The third object of our Society bids us investigate these but do we?

Regarding beliefs, we might feel that at any rate we are free to hold what beliefs we like and that in this instance, this is the significant freedom. In a quest for truth however we must realise the limiting effect of beliefs. A belief held dear and unchallengeable prevents our seeing, or at least being willing to accept, anything at variance with our belief. We ought to notice that by adhering to our beliefs we are ourselves limiting our own freedom. We bar the way to further investigation in the area of our beliefs. For example, if we are committed Christians all other religions are closed to us. If we are staunch Democrats we cannot indulge in Republican thinking. If we are socialistic or communist in tendency then we cannot tolerate liberalism or conservatism. If we adhere to a particular line of Theosophical thinking or belief, we logically cannot allow that any other is right - although we might tolerate it - or we would be divided against ourselves. Even in our own opinions we are restricting our freedom.

We are considering freedom here in a philosophical sense, not in the context of our community. Here though men have come to regard freedom as essential to their proper self expression and happiness. As individual men go through the stages of growing up from infancy through adolesence, so it seems in the very long term, does humanity. Not so long ago kings were absolute rulers. They were in a sense father of their people. In a feudal society the local lord played this part. Society was ordered from the top downwards. The freedoms of individuals were graded according to their position social scale. With authority went responsibility and also a degree of freedom. As the majority of mankind matured it seems this order of things palled. All men felt the urge to be free. The slogan of the French Revolution was "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity." Among the inalienable rights of citizens of the U.S.A. are "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". Slaves were freed because the idea of such a restriction on a man's liberty became intolerable to the ordinary man.

Man now demands the right to be himself in his own way. Freedom is essential to this. As we have seen freedom cannot be absolute. In a community, the freedom of individuals must, to some extent, be curtailed for the common good. Men will tolerate a minimum of essential restraint but resent bitterly any unwarranted incursion into their liberties.

What of freedom in relation to our inner lives and our spiritual progress? Within ourselves most of us would perhaps feel quite free. We would think that no one really interfered with our thinking. But would we be right? How much are we conditioned by convention? How much by thoughts inculcated in us in our upbringing and schooling? How much are we affected by advertising? Does not this same kind of conditioning apply to us religiously or even Theosophically? We may feel free but are we? These questions are pertinent here although it might be irrelevant pursue them.

Where are we getting to in our enquiry? We have seen we suffer limitation, and corresponding restraint, from our environment, from our fellows and from ourselves. What relevance has Theosophy to all this? What are its answers to fatalism, to a destiny that shapes our ends?

If ye lay bound upon the wheel of change,
  And no way were of breaking from the chain,
The Heart of boundless Being is a curse,
  The Soul of Things fell Pain.

Ye are not bound! the Soul of Things is sweet,
  The Heart of Being is celestial rest

I, Buddh, who wept with all my brothers’ tears,
Laugh and am glad, for there is Liberty!
  Ho! ye who suffer! know

Ye suffer from yourselves. None else compels

(Extracts from Edwin Arnolds “Light of Asia.)

Theosophy tells us of the law of Karma, the harmonising law continually adjusting and maintaining in equilibrium, not only the whole Cosmos but, in the long run even the detailed circumstances of our own little lives. This law binds us to the consequences of our actions. We are girt about by the effects not only of our own doings but those of our fellows. By this same law, however, in its perfect justice, not only are we as we have made ourselves but we can make ourselves what we will.

This matter of will introduces us to the key to all our difficulty. It has, however, to be related to other important factors affecting our behaviour and so its results. One such factor is the mind. It is with this we take note of experience. By this we slowly learn from our pleasures and our pains. Another related factor is the power possessed by all of us of free choice. We are always free to consider alternative courses of action. This is probably our ultimate and perhaps greatest freedom while we are still struggling on the way to liberation. Quoting an old member of the society; “the free mind of man makes man free” and “we are free in action but fated in re-action”. It is in dwelling on such thoughts as that maybe we can sense what those of us who would hasten our freedom must do.

First we must sense something of the operation of the law in our own lives. As well as maintaining or restoring harmony, it seems that nature is working out some long-term purpose through all creation in all creatures. We are of those creatures. The grand universal purpose is apparently the achievement of perfection. It is almost beyond us to conceive what total and final perfection could be. What we can see is the process of perfecting being worked out, stage by stage, in the multiple lives developing life forms which in the aggregate we call evolution. This is the mighty process by which what we call in Theosophy the One Life, is slowly unfolding, giving expression to, its infinite potentialities through all the substances and forms in all the kingdoms of nature and in corresponding ways even in the inner invisible realms of being, which we know of only through psychic phenomena and our subjective experiences.

What is required of us? In the large view this is that the dharma of mankind. In the restricted sense it is the dharma of each man. In an article it is not possible even to enter into a consideration of what a particular man's role in this process is but it is possible to consider what in general terms our action should be. First if the law’s reaction is fated we had better act so that the reaction is the least painful to us and that it is in line with nature's overall progressive purpose. The next question is how are we to know to do?

Here we have got some guidelines. The law is that of harmony. To be in accord with it therefore our actions must, so far as we can make them, make for harmony. Practically it may not be easy to know what would, in terms of the impersonal law, be harmonious. But we do have another guide. It is the fundamental Theosophical teaching of unity. Any action which tended to integration rather than disruption would be likely to be in line with the law. Any action stemming from love or compassion would surely be unifying. Any action stemming from hatred or inconsiderate selfishness would have the opposite effect.

We should notice here that when action is willed, it is from an internal impulse. It is positive. When an action is motivated by desire the impulse is outside of us. We are reacting. It is therefore negative.

Another important point to note here is that while seemingly we are free to make our decisions in any way we choose, nature will not tolerate indefinitely our perverseness. The processes of evolution cannot be halted at our convenience. Suffering and incapacity would be corrective.

Our liberation is best served by cooperation with the law. Why seek freedom? What is this liberation we talk of? Obviously it is some state wherein our personal limitations are transcended. It is remarkable that the idea of liberation, of final freedom should be a feature of the major religions. We are familiar with such sayings as, “The truth shall make you free”, or “In my service is perfect freedom”. We know of the Nirvana of the Buddhists, or the Moksha of the Hindus. It is interesting to note that all these states are envisaged as being quite different from those usually thought of in connection with the after-death states, the heaven worlds, Swarga [A heavenly abode, the same as Indra-loka; a paradise. It is the same as Svar-loka; Theosophical Glossary], Paradise and so on. These seem to us all to relate to conditioned states of being as extensions of the more pleasant aspects of Earth life.

Final freedom seems to relate to something of an entirely different order but which must be entirely relevant to us. The commonly held idea of Nirvana as extinction or annihilation could not be consonant with that of freedom from limitation which we as entities could enjoy, or with the Buddhist idea of an expansion of our ultimate being and consciousness into the all. Wherein we should gain infinitely and not lose at all.

Again it seems to me Theosophy has something relevant to say here to help our understanding. It is in its classification of the principles of Man and its allotment of them to the ‘personality’ and the ‘individuality’. The personality being the man's body, with its subtle counterpart and vital energy, together with his ‘psyche’, his personal mind and his emotions and desires. His Individuality, the real man, the Ego, as opposed to the personality ego, is the inner man, the ultimate thinker, that centre of animate life co-ordinating, as far as it can, the mundane activities of the waking life of the personality. Its influence, except as the source of our individual life, is for most of us very limited indeed. This is by reason of the personal limitations from which we have seen here and otherwise know so well, that we suffer.

The personal man, in Theosophical literature is often referred to as the animal man. This is because his body is basically animal and in his ‘psyche’ he shares elements of the mind and emotions available to, but in most cases very little developed, the animal kingdom. The proper human, the spiritual Egoic principles are not available to the animals. Immediately then, it seems that our most severe limitations are in the animalistic area of our make-up. This is the area of our passions, of our fears, of our appetites, hence of our deep rooted selfishness. We can see here immediately an area of development for men which must be in line with the great evolutionary scheme. Man must learn to unfold his human characteristics at the expense of his ‘animalistic’ ones. This will be achieved in the long run by a redirection of man's attention and interest. This reorientation will be from the passional side of man's nature, with the emphasis on the satisfaction of the appetites, to the ‘intellectual’ side. Intellectual is here used in a wide sense to include not only that which would be of concern the mind of developing man but to his other inner faculties. It will be the growth of these which will affect this slow reorientation. Man's interests will become more aesthetic. He will become more discriminative in the use of his time. There will be more ‘willed’ activity and much less prompted by desire. Similarly, man will be motivated by ‘higher’ feeling, which will enrich his relationships. His sympathies for, and understanding of things, creatures and fellow humans, outside of himself will grow. Do we see a real tendency in this direction already starting in our otherwise so puzzling present-day young people? We certainly see them claiming their freedom to the maximum extent!

Some of us are slowly learning that our best long-term interests are served by cooperation rather than competition. In this way the interests of unity are slowly being fostered. It may be that man's present revolts against the constraints and restraints of ‘authority’ are signs not only of his innate urge to move towards freedom but also of his anxiety to taste and accept the duties of responsibility. In his willingness to accept responsibility is the willingness to work for others. The idea of service is coming alive in a more widespread way than hitherto. Is this one of the encouraging signs of the times even if it is hardly in the embryo stage?

To summarise, we have seen that in his present state, with his present institutions man is not free. He suffers the real lack of liberty within himself by reason of his imperfections and limitations.  These are of his lower personal (animalistic) nature. He has, however, a mind which is free. He can make choices between alternatives of behaviour. He does not have to follow his desires nor his habit patterns. He has an empowering, and if he cares to use it, sovereign will. We have seen there is a universal law, to which the whole dynamic process of Cosmos subscribes, and progress is inherent in the process. The gradual attainment of perfection is the goal. Man can participate knowingly and intelligently in this process if he wills. He must begin on himself.

Man’s will is a faculty of his higher human self. In this higher self according to Theosophy are, by reason of it’s reflecting in itself the unity of Cosmos, all the cosmic qualities and powers. Within himself, but deep within his inmost being, man is of this mighty stature. His efforts to move toward freedom will slowly unfold these latent powers and as he progresses he will shed his crippling limitations and move out into a state of freedom hardly dreamed of it as yet by most of us.


This document has been reproduced from Geoffrey Farthing's original typed copy created in preparation for an article of the same name published in the November 1972 edition of the American Theosophist. The Blavatsky Trust 2014
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