What does the word Freedom mean to you? What thoughts and feelings does it evoke?
People living in the United States of America embrace their country as the “land of the free, home of the brave.” They pledge allegiance to a flag ending with the words “with liberty and justice for all….” But, America is a country with diverse citizens from many cultures living here, and a history of violence that includes slavery, land theft and genocide. So, what exactly does it mean to be “free” in this country?
According to Wikipedia, the word “liberty” is “the ability to do as one pleases. It is a synonym for the word freedom. In modern politics, liberty is the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life, behavior, or political views.”
Other definitions include "freedom from control, restrictions, obligations, interference, etc."
But what happens when your freedom infringes on your neighbor’s freedom? If you are free to make loud noise at all hours of the night, your neighbor is NOT free to enjoy peace and quiet. If you are free to not wear a mask in a public place during a pandemic, how is your neighbor free to NOT be exposed to your germs? If you are free to use chemicals on your garden that cause cancer and those chemicals poison your neighbor’s yard – how can your neighbor be free to grow organic vegetables?
If your religions gives you the freedom to discriminate against people from other cultures or backgrounds, or people who live differently or love differently – than how is it that they are also able to enjoy freedom?
In Sanskrit, there is a word, “moksha”. Derived from the word muc (“to free”), the term moksha literally means freedom from samsara. Samsara Is the continuous cycle in which the soul is reborn over and over again, according to the laws of action and reaction. This concept of liberation or release is shared by a wide spectrum of religious traditions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.
Moksha is the “release from the cycle of rebirth impelled by the law of karma; also, the transcendent state attained as a result of being released from the cycle of rebirth."
This kind of “freedom” is a personal freedom that requires personal practice and does not infringe on the freedom of anyone else. You are responsible for your own freedom. Yoga offers a path towards this freedom, if one is diligent and follows the true practices of yoga.
For me, it was the idea of moksha – obtaining freedom from the cycle of birth and death that drew me to the practice of yoga. Some 28 years ago, I knew I wanted to be free from this cycle. I knew that I could not guarantee the health of the earth for my children and their children for seven generations, so I chose not to reproduce. I knew I lived in a society that did not embrace the same ideals I did of connection and respect for the earth and all living things - a society that had very different ideas about freedom. In America, freedom seems to mean the ability to do whatever you want without restriction – even when that causes harm to other beings. There is a pride of “ownership” of a country that has a false idea of “freedom” that causes harm to many of its own inhabitants.
The path of yoga requires us to cultivate an awareness of our own thoughts, feelings and beliefs through the practice of svadhyaya (self-study), and to release our attachment to limiting beliefs that may harm ourselves or others. Only then can we truly be free. Namaste.
Photo by Kaan Tanriover