The Society

Editorial - A handful of random thoughts on Freedom

Jan Nicolaas Kind – Brazil

Thought – One

I vividly remember how my dear mother, in the early 1950’s when I was a child of 5 or 6, would hold and firmly squeeze my hand while walking across busy streets with traffic in the centre of Amsterdam. It was that sort of feeling you get as a child, that your mum wants to take care of you in a potentially dangerous situation. The squeezing I had instinctively taken for granted, but there was one particular street near the Royal Place and Dam square, called the Raadhuisstraat (English: Town Hall street) where, if we went across there, the squeezing increased to an almost intolerable level. A few years later, I must have been around 7 or 8 years old, and after I had repeatedly asked my mother why the squeezing on that particular street always seemed to increase, she took the time – and had the courage – to tell me why.

 


German army vehicles rolling into the Raadhuisstraat in Amsterdam on May 15,1940

She explained to me that a traumatic experience in that specific street was the cause of that intense squeezing. Each time when she would be in that Raadhuisstraat the memories came back of the May-days in 1940 when German artillery rolled into the centre of Amsterdam after the Dutch army had capitulated to the all-mighty German Wehrmacht. As young as I still was at the time, I do recall that she said that the experience of seeing foreign soldiers, speaking another language, entering the domain of others in order to conquer it, while taking over the administration of cities in the mother land – is a dramatic and traumatic experience. For those who have gone through this intense suffering, it is evident that no longer being able to enjoy basic, personal freedom, means that they became prisoners in their own land. Personal freedom, simply the freedom to be–can be taken away.

Thought – Two

Freedom of Speech is not a license to abuse. It is a responsibility.

For those who proclaim, deny, insult, lie or belittle under the banner of Freedom of Speech – this observation: There cannot be any freedom (of speech) if there is no willingness is to be responsible. If the idea is that one should be able to say whatever one wants, while not taking any accountability, we enter a kind of hellish twilight zone. Conversely, to express opinions with the aim to do good and when the intentions are pure, and what is said is true, is the path all women and men should follow. Words are thoughts with sound. Our speech provides an awesome framework for what we think. The Ageless Wisdom teaches us that thoughts are not abstract, but instead are concrete, causing strong vibrations on our plane. Words therefore have that same characteristic, having a definite impact, influencing our behavior. They can inspire us, but they can also put us on a very wrong course. In the last century we have seen how demagogues could hypnotize large crowds, especially when they would tap into pent up anger and dissatisfaction. As so often is the case, history repeats itself! Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to love, but also to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate.

Our freedom of speech is always subjected to laws superior to the ones we write down in our law books. If we do not live up to those “eternal” laws by ignoring them, uttering falsehoods based on extravagant egotism, if we give in to greed and vanity and listen to the empty words of so called leaders, there is a painful dissonance. We are out of tune with the universe, resulting in the destruction of our environment, conflict, disease and, as we have seen recently in Yemen and other troubled parts of our world, catastrophic and unprecedented famine.

Thought – Three


Walt Whitman

Perhaps, in the New Year to come, we should think of freedom more often, meditate on it, developing ideas, looking into what we have done with our freedom, or what we did for the freedom of others. Talking about this subject with a friend, she suggested I should read the following, penned by poet and journalist Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892):

“It is not only true that most people entirely misunderstand Freedom, but I sometimes think have not yet met one person who rightly understands it. The whole Universe is absolute Law. Freedom only opens entire activity and license under the law. To the degraded or undeveloped – and even to too many others – the thought of freedom is a thought of escaping from law – which, of course, is impossible. More precious than all worldly riches is Freedom – freedom from the painful constipation and poor narrowness of ecclesiasticism – freedom in manners, habiliments, furniture, from the silliness and tyranny of local fashions – entire freedom from party rings and mere conventions in politics – and better than all, a general freedom of One's-Self from the tyrannical domination of vices, habits, appetites, under which nearly every man of us, (often the greatest brawler for freedom,) is enslaved. Can we attain such enfranchisement – the true Democracy, and the height of it? While we are from birth to death the subjects of irresistible law, enclosing every movement and minute, we yet escape, by a paradox, into true free will. Strange as it may seem, we only attain to freedom by a knowledge of, and implicit obedience to, Law. Great – unspeakably great – is the Will! the free Soul of man! At its greatest, understanding and obeying the laws, it can then, and then only, maintain true liberty. For there is to the highest, that law as absolute as any – more absolute than any – the Law of Liberty. The shallow, as intimated, consider liberty a release from all law, from every constraint. The wise see in it, on the contrary, the potent Law of Laws, namely, the fusion and combination of the conscious will, or partial individual law, with those universal, eternal, unconscious ones, which run through all Time, pervade history, prove immortality, give moral purpose to the entire objective world, and the last dignity to human life.”

[From: Prose works, 1892]

Thought – Four

Viktor Frankel (Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor 1905-1997) wrote: “Everything can be taken from a man except for one thing – the last of all human freedoms: The ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances, the ability to choose one’s own way.”


Victor Frankel

It seems to me that if we have the freedom to choose, we have the freedom to change. To change ourselves, but also our surroundings, the given set of circumstances to which we are exposed. Although Annie Besant was politically active, in Theosophical circles the following phrase is almost an axiom: ”We do not engage in politics.” In her The Key to Theosophy, Section 12 under “What is Practical Theosophy?” HPB, when asked, makes it very clear that The Theosophical Society as such does not undertake any political initiative:

“ENQUIRER. Do you take any part in politics? THEOSOPHIST. As a Society, we carefully avoid them, for the reasons given below. To seek to achieve political reforms before we have effected a reform in human nature, is like putting new wine into old bottles. Make men feel and recognize in their innermost hearts what is their real, true duty to all men, and every old abuse of power, every iniquitous law in the national policy, based on human, social or political selfishness, will disappear of itself. Foolish is the gardener who seeks to weed his flower-bed of poisonous plants by cutting them off from the surface of the soil, instead of tearing them out by the roots. No lasting political reform can be ever achieved with the same selfish men at the head of affairs as of old.

THE RELATIONS OF THE T. S. TO POLITICAL REFORMS.

ENQUIRER. The Theosophical Society is not, then, a political organization?

THEOSOPHIST. Certainly not. It is international in the highest sense in that its members comprise men and women of all races, creeds, and forms of thought, who work together for one object, the improvement of humanity; but as a society it takes absolutely no part in any national or party politics.”

We have the freedom in our individual lives to observe, to choose and to change. Equally, when it is about the political systems which are ruling our world, that same change-mechanism of our human prerogative of choice, is certainly applicable. Sometimes I hear, based on what people have understood from what HPB has stated, that Theosophists should not even write or talk about politics, even though they might be activists or members of political organizations. I would argue however, that since The Key to Theosophy was published in 1889, much has changed. Needless to say, HPB’s world was quite different from ours. The existing political “isms” for the most part have hopelessly failed, whether we talk about socialism, communism, or any form of liberalism or conservatism. Although it was possible to combat and do away with an evil system such as fascism, it is clearly visible that the seeds of that evil still exist wherever we look. Dictators are still very much around; some Politburos in the East, all-determining still. And in the so-called free West, ordinary citizens are caught in a web of lies and false promises, surely the inexorable concomitants of a corrupt capitalistic system, controlled by but a few, whereby all that is and will be on that level, is decided on by global stock markets with their grasping tentacles spread out all over the world.

Now, before my readers think that I am a kind of Karl Marx devotee, I’d need to state that I am not, although I believe that in “a” future to come, our descendants might want to have another look at Das Kapital. In these random musings on freedom, I am just looking at a kaleidoscope of different freedoms, and what it means to be truly free. As inquirers trying to find answers, this freedom to change within, should be fearlessly fathomed. Likewise, in particular when it comes to politics, Theosophists should explore the obstacles and opportunities regarding very needed change in our world. Once it is understood that the Ageless Wisdom offers solid keys to a better understanding of the true functioning of those faulty systems, clear alternatives can be proposed by which all of us can work towards a better world.

It is very simple, and just think of it: all that we eat, breath, read, hear, feel, smell, grow and even earn for a smaller, or a larger part is politically manipulated. Without ever becoming a political movement, the TS as a body and its members, because of the knowledge and widened perspectives they are able to convey in the 21st Century, should indeed engage in bringing about in our society a better understanding of the various underlying processes.

Thought – Five

So many of us have spoken about, are still talking about, or are in search of freedom – its all-important meaning. Speeches, books, documentaries, poems and films, there is seemingly no end to it. While I realize that my attempt to look at some of the various aspects of freedom are far from complete, I gather that all of us, when we take a real good look at ourselves, might find that our searches, our certainties and uncertainties on the subject, are not that different. It is all about exploration, the freedom to explore in order to discover, or come closer to truth.

While looking for material for this editorial I found this quote by P. Krishna, from his book Right Living in Modern Society.

“When you are trying to defend a particular position which you have arrived at before exploration, then exploration has no meaning. So there has to be freedom at the very beginning, freedom from a view, freedom from an idea, freedom from a fixed position. If we can free ourselves from any kind of fixation in our mind and then look and find out, maybe we can together find the truth. If one is seeking the truth, it is important, right at the beginning, to free one's mind from all this which we call culture, but somebody else may call prejudice. And knowing this one must explore hesitantly not readily accept, neither readily agree or disagree because neither agreement, nor disagreement has great value. Your opinions and my opinions have no value. The truth has value because it is what is, it exists, therefore it has value.”


P. Krishna

This approach, so that one is freed from any form of prejudice or fixation as P. Krishna calls it, enables us to fully participate in the quest for truth.


Radha Burnier

In her well-known book Human Regeneration (1990), the former International President of the TS-Adyar, Radha Burnier, at one point says this about her yearning to be free in her own search:

“It has been made very clear officially that there is no authority in the T.S. Neither HPB nor Annie Besant, nor anybody else is an authority in the Society, for the simple reason that conforming to an authority is damaging to human intelligence. The whole process of evolution is what has been called the awakening of intelligence. … I would refuse to be in a society where there is an authority and where specific writings are treated as scriptures. If the T.S. took that position, I would not care to remain a member. In our Society, freedom is given to every individual to inquire, to see what is acceptable to him for the time being. He can follow any course which to him is inspiring for the present. That freedom within our Society is very precious. It is limited only by the principle of brotherhood. Brotherhood and freedom are the two pillars at the entrance of the Theosophical Society.”

Perhaps we could also look at the “Freedom of Thought” resolution, which was passed by the General Council of the TS Adyar in 1924.

Here is the full text:

“As the Theosophical Society has spread far and wide over the world, and as members of all religions have become members it without surrendering the special dogmas, teachings and beliefs of their respective faiths, it is thought desirable to emphasize the fact that there is no doctrine, no opinion, by whomsoever taught or held, that is in any wav binding on any member of the Society, none which any member is not free to accept or reject.

Approval of its three Objects is the sole condition of membership.

No teacher, or writer, from H. P. Blavatsky onwards, has any authority to impose his or her teachings or opinions on members. Every member has an equal right to follow any of thought, but has no right to force the choice on any other. Neither a candidate for any office nor any voter can be rendered ineligible to stand or to vote, because of any opinion held, or because of membership in any school of thought. Opinions or beliefs neither bestow privileges nor inflict penalties.

The Members of the General Council earnestly request every member of the Theosophical Society to maintain, defend and act upon these fundamental principles of the Society, and also fearlessly to exercise the right of liberty of thought and of expression thereof, within the limits of courtesy and consideration for others.”

I would like to specifically refer to the word AUTHORITY in this resolution. The term as such is polysemous. Merriam – Webster’s Dictionary, among other definitions, gives the following relevant connotation for it: “power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior and person in command.”

As far as I understand it, for Adyar Theosophists, HPB does or should provide expert guidance in Theosophical matters, but not as an official decision-maker, domineering and commanding all thought, opinion or behavior. She is someone to respect and to consider very seriously, but not to follow blindly. She was the one who opened up windows, reintroducing what had long been forgotten at the peak of nineteenth-century materialism, when it was thought that all mysteries had been discovered and unveiled. She brought light into the darkness of that era.

All living beings on this planet deserve the freedom to be, thus having freedom to choose and to discriminate, having the freedom change, to enquire and to be totally FREE.

 

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