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Nothing Left to Lose

The Nature of Independence

The history of western civilization reads like a collective effort to understand the word “freedom.” Both the US Independence Day and France's Bastille Day celebrate high points in the movement toward universal recognition of human rights. However, in the East freedom was generally understood in a completely different way, less a relation between the individual citizen and the state, and more as a single soul's relationship to the totality, the enormous and expansive universe of which we are all a part.

Each of these perspectives on freedom brings with it gifts and drawbacks. From the Western side, individualism helps people develop themselves and inspires a store of self-confidence, trust and determination. With that can often come pride and egoism, which, in the end, undermines the very promise of individualism. On the Eastern side the understanding of Maya, the earthly illusion that the soul is separate from the whole, allows the individual to overcome selfish desires in order to accomplish collective goals. This spiritual empowerment, however, has often led to political and psychological docility in the face of repression. Today, with both East and West, we can create balance, and freedom, by using the positives of both traditions to support each other.

Letting go of held preconceptions about freedom can be difficult to do, as it is usually discussed in such stark language (because freedom seems like an absolute – you’re either free or not), but there are certainly gradations: a waiter provides service, but is not a slave, after all. So consider the paradox of selfless service. An act of kindness is the most truly free act a human can perform. Overtaking the ego, the will acts for the benefit of something, or someone, other than the self. Working for both the whole and the self at the same time, you embody freedom: the best of East and West, and of Heaven and Earth.

Dev Atma
Recommended Reading: The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt by Albert Camus


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