In this continuation of the series on the freedom of the soul, Hazrat Inayat Khan contrasts the liberty for which we search with the lamentable imprisonment caused by our self-assertion, and also explains the common appeal of ‘tragedy.’ The previous post in the series may be found here.
In all ages, prophets and masters, thinkers and philosophers, have taught that the ultimate aim of philosophy and mysticism is to attain to the freedom of the soul. This truth is disclosed in many different ceremonies, sacred legends, and philosophies. Whatever be man’s longing in life, whatever his life’s pursuit, whatever his object of attainment, behind it all there is only one pursuit, and that is the craving of the soul to become free from all bondage. Man does not want to think about that which will make him free when he is absorbed in getting things in life; he does not give a thought to freedom, but only to what he pursues for that moment. Perhaps if he gave a thought to the real condition of life, he would become different, his attitude would change, his outlook would become wider, and he would not attach so much importance to the things he usually thinks important.
If one asks what kind of captivity it is, the answer is that for a spider, the thin threads of the web are a captivity, and for an elephant, iron chains are a captivity. The stronger a person is, the greater the captivity; the greater power he has, the greater are his difficulties; the stronger the soul is, the heavier the load it has to carry. Therefore, in captivity we are all equal. When a person sees only the surface, it appears as if one has an easy life and another has to toil all day; as if one has a gay life and another is miserable. But that is the outside. When we look deeply into life, in some way or another, whether a person looks cheerful or sad, some captivity is always hidden there. We do not know. In order to understand their life’s situation, it is not enough to cast a glance at people from the outside. We only see the prisoners; if we saw the prisons we would be shocked.
I have met numberless people who do not know what they want to do next week; they only think of today. Life is becoming uncertain, and its burden greater. They say that we are progressing – but towards what? Freedom? No, towards captivity. A greater and greater load of duty and responsibility is put on our shoulders. Perhaps it is worse in the West, perhaps it is worse in the East; but the cause of it all is the lack of understanding of freedom. One must look in another direction to see the sun or the moon; one must not look at the earth. How to die before death is something that man today does not know; and he does not care to know. The central theme of life today is self-assertion. When a person speaks about himself, he wants to make himself ten times more important than he is. He cannot help it; if he does not do so, the others will not understand. I even heard one man say to another, ‘Your modesty is your greatest misfortune’.
Every man has to be self-asserting, continually guarding his interests in order to live. There are many who toil from morning till evening, guarding their self-interest, and thinking about nothing else. And what is it all for? In order to exist. But even germs and grubs exist, and enjoy life much better! Birds fly in the air and are quite happy; but man is loading his heart with a thousand troubles, making his responsibilities greater and greater. And in the end he gains nothing; his health is spoiled, his spirit wrecked. He does not know any more where he is, nor where his spirit is; and if he has nothing here, he has nothing in the hereafter. Many die without ever having given a thought to the deeper side of life. Not that they did not care for it; but they could not find time for it; they had too much to do in life.
One might ask, why is this condition so tragic, why can it not be improved? The answer is that it is natural. What is man? Man is a process; manifestation is a process through which the spirit goes from one condition to another condition, from one pole to another pole. And through this whole process, the attempt of the spirit is to find itself. In that process, the spirit first loses its freedom; freedom is lost in order to arrive at freedom. That is the tragedy. Yet in the end, there is happiness, for the whole of creation was intended for the fulfilment of this object.
To every thinking soul, to every feeling heart, tragedy appeals. Why? Became tragedy is going on continually. Man would like to get away from tragedy, but it appeals to him became the soul is always in that condition; it is longing for freedom, though it does not know what it is.
The highest perception of freedom comes when a person has freed himself from the false ego, when he is no longer what he was. All the different kinds of freedom will give a momentary sensation of being free, but true freedom is in ourselves. When one’s soul is free, then there is nothing in this world that binds one; everywhere one will breathe freedom, in heaven and on earth.
To be continued…