‘LIBERATION’ VIS –A-VIS ‘FREEDOM’
Traditionally, ‘liberation’ from a world of suffering, evil, darkness, ignorance, falsehood and death has been a cherished destiny of the individual in the Indian psyche. Psychologically, the concept of ‘liberation’ arises from a yearning for ‘freedom’. Freedom is the magic word that beckons man inspite of his bondage. We are bound to our ‘fate’ and even those who do not believe in the machinations of fate have to concede that we are nevertheless bound to circumstances, social obligations, hereditary influences, ‘biological’ as well as ‘cultural’ genes, ecological discrepancies, family ties, dependency needs, our own desires, the upsurges from our subconscious, collective suggestions and what not! Still, as Sri Aurobindo mentioned in the very first paragraph of the first chapter in The Life Divine, ‘Freedom’ is one of those key guiding lights that return after all attempts at effacement,- it calls, motivates, inspires and rejuvenates us.
As ‘Freedom’ in a world of bondage is dependent on many variables, seers and mystics yearned for a freedom independent of all variables. THIS FREEDOM COULD ONLY BE FOUND IN THE EXPERIENCE OF THE SPIRIT THAT IS ALWAYS FREE AND ONE WITH THE DIVINE. In other words, an ‘Absolute’ freedom could be only be found in the experience of Reality in the ‘TRANSCENDENTAL’ poise – an experience of Reality as ‘ABSOLUTE’, ‘INFINITE’,’UNITARY’, or ‘ONE’ in contrast to the experience of the multiplicity, the finite, the imperfect. The experiential realization of the ‘Transcendent’ is beyond
the constructs of unity and multiplicity, beyond the infinite and the finite, beyond the ‘universal’ and the ‘individual’, beyond the ‘Absolute’ and the ‘Relative’, beyond the ego-centered personality and the ego-surpassing impersonality. It is a poise of perfect freedom, true liberty. That did not mean that the ‘liberated’ individual who had experienced the ‘Transcendental’ poise of Reality became insensitive to the plight of his fellow-brethren. In fact, liberty gave him the right to even transgress liberty with a poise of detachment. Thus was born the concept of the ‘JIVANMUKTA’ – one who was liberated even while operating in the field of life. Sri Aurobindo speaks of this poise of liberty, ‘It is so free that it is not even bound by its liberty. It can play at being bound without incurring a real bondage’ (The Life Divine, pg.46.)
It is here that an existential paradox creeps. Sri Aurobindo explains that Reality is not only the Absolute, the Transcendent, the One but also equally represented and formulated in terms of the many, the finite, the cosmos, the individual formations. In fact, He explains that the ‘ONENESS’ so characteristic of the Transcendental experience is actually expressed though a ‘MULTIPLE UNITY’ – a concept that simultaneously accommodates the complementary terms of unity and multiplicity, of the finite and the infinite. He further explains that this ‘Multiple Unity’ is established in three conditions of creation:
(a) The Subconscient
(b) The Conscient
(c) The Superconscient.
In the ‘Subconscient’ – the awareness of ‘unity’ and hence of ‘freedom’ is not present in cognitive terms, simply because the subconscient represents the inconscience of ‘Matter’. Matter is inert, unconscious, non-responsive and non - cognitive. Yet, it is possible for the scientist’s cognitive repertoire to construct a model of unity in the subconscient as the world of Matter is governed not haphazardly but by universal laws and principles. A little understanding of that ‘subconscient unity’ has led Science to discover its marvels and to ‘conquer’ the physical universe! If the Scientist thinks that his ‘freedom’ is explicit in his ability to design space crafts - he must also concede that ‘freedom’ is dependent on the ‘implicit’ unity of existence at the level of subconscient matter – if for a moment that ‘unity’ is tampered with, his space mission will fail to complete its orbital circuit!
At the level of the conscient, the cognitive awareness of ‘unity’ reaches its acme in the human being. But the human being is marked by its ‘uniqueness’, its ‘individuality’, and this unique individuality is centered on an ego-bound personality. If there was no ‘ego’ or self, no individuality would emerge from the flux and chaos of life and it is the ego that becomes the fulcrum where the awareness of unity emerges. Yet, each human being considers oneself to be ‘separate’ from others – separate in terms of personality but also in terms of gender, religion, race, caste, nationality, political affiliations, intellectual leanings and everything else under the sun! The human individual conceptualises and cognizes ‘unity’ but cannot ‘experience’ it in a wholistic way as each individual considers oneself to be ‘separate’ and ‘distinct’ from others (one may ‘ideologically’ vouch for an unitary model but it is a partial and not a ‘holistic’ experience). In this context Sri Aurobindo makes a very important comment: ‘THIS LIMITATION OF THE UNIVERSAL ‘I’ IN THE DIVIDED EGO-SENSE CONSTITUTES OUR IMPERFECT INDIVIDUALISED PERSONALITY’ (The Life Divine, pg.47). In making this statement, Sri Aurobindo lays the foundation of an unique postulate of Integral Yoga Psychology. It is not sufficient to study the human being in terms of personality for two basic reasons:
(a) What we label as the ‘personality’ limits the universal consciousness in an individuality whose fulcrum is the ego. To experience the universal consciousness without losing the sense of individuality, one has to outgrow the ego and be poised in the soul-principle;
(b) The human being is not only represented by the dimension of personality, individualized in the ego or universalized beyond the ego. It is also represented by a dimension of impersonality poised in the transcendental consciousness that includes and surpasses both the individual and the universal.
This is why the ‘freedom’ that the materialistic scientist enjoys while working with the subconscient (where unity cannot be cognized) cannot be replicated in the field of psychology though it deals with the egos, which can cognize unity (though unable to holistically experience it).
The Superconscient level of existence can be reached or ‘experienced’ when the individual learns the technique to transcend one’s ego. At first this leads to the awareness of ‘Cosmic unity’ but the individual can continue to enlarge his repertoire of consciousness so as to identify with the Transcendence that supports both the cosmos and the individual. For this realization, the individual has to experience a ‘ LIBERATION’ from the ‘ego’.
In Sri Aurobindo’s scheme of things, THE LIBERATION FROM THE EGO IS NOT EQUAL TO THE LIBERATION FROM LIFE/EXISTENCE. THE LIBERATION FROM THE EGO IS NOT MEANT TO ABANDON LIFE.
The Freedom of the Spirit does not necessarily mean an abandonment of existence. Rather, Sri Aurobindo envisages a MEANINGFUL FULFILMENT OF Life, a perfection of existence. For that purpose, an individual liberated from one’s ego- centric nature is necessary.
‘The liberation of the individual soul is therefore the keynote of the definite divine action; it is the primary divine necessity and the pivot on which all else turns. It is the point of Light at which the intended complete self – manifestation in the Many begins to emerge. But the liberated soul extends its perception of unity horizontally as well as vertically. Its unity with the transcendent One is incomplete without its unity with the cosmic Many. And that lateral unity translates itself by a multiplication, a reproduction of its own liberated state at other points in the Multiplicity. The divine soul reproduces itself in similar liberated souls as the animal reproduces itself in similar bodies. Therefore, whenever even a single soul is liberated, there is a tendency to an extension and even to an outburst of the same divine self- consciousness in other individual souls of our terrestrial humanity’ ……. (The Life Divine , pg. 47.).
LIBERATION AND TRANSFORMATION
Sri Aurobindo views the concept of freedom not as liberation from the cycle of birth and death, not as an abandonment of life but as liberation from the ego. This movement is necessary for Sri Aurobindo’s real agenda which is transformation of nature leading to the transmutation of the present human species to a higher order species. This is hinted in the celebrated verse in the Isha Upanishad, ‘By the Non-Birth they cross beyond Death and by the Birth enjoy Immortality’. When one surpasses one’s ego, one can extend from the individuality born within the constraints of space and time into the everlasting (hence ‘unborn’) cosmic freedom of timelessness and spacelessness. This is meant by the passage, ‘By the Non-Birth they cross beyond Death’. This was the cherished movement of the ascetic. Sri Aurobindo goes one step ahead. His concept of immortality is based on the transformation of the present imperfect humanity into a perfected, higher order race of supermen.That transformation is a new Birth and that perfected race is symbolic of Immortality.
‘By attaining to the Unborn beyond all becoming we are liberated from this lower birth and death; by accepting the Becoming freely as the Divine, we invade mortality with the immortal beatitude and become luminous centres of its conscious Self – expression in humanity’. (The Life Divine ,pg.48.)
Naturally, Sri Aurobindo’s view of ‘liberation’ from the ego prepares a ground for what he terms as ‘transformation’ of earthly nature as we know it. It is not that the change of nature was not emphasized in traditional spirituality. However, the change of nature in the old systems was generally limited to an optimal point so that it was not an obstacle to the immediate spiritual endeavour. The complete change of human nature was sought by a few yogis more for a personal ‘siddhi’ or ‘enlightenment’. But Sri Aurobindo seeks a radical transformation of human nature not for a few individuals but for the manifestation of newer and higher models of human beings – a new ‘Nature’ in the earth – consciousness. In Sri Aurobindo’s parlance, Freedom’ and ‘Liberation’ thus attain newer connotations. The Liberation of the ego- bound individual makes one ‘free’ to climb the hierarchies of consciousness and ‘manifest’ a radically new consciousness in earthly nature:
‘My breath runs in a subtle rhythmic stream;
It fills my members with a might divine:
I have drunk the Infinite like a giant’s wine.
Time is my drama or my pageant dream.
Now are my illumined cells joy’s flaming scheme
And changed my thrilled and branching nerves to fine
Channels of rapture opal and hyaline
For the influx of the Unknown and the Supreme’.
Date of Update:
(Sri Aurobindo Collected Poems, pg. 133.)
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu