The Book of Yourself Newsletter

Issue 10: September 2022

Dear Friends,

The torrid heat of summer is over. The mellower days of Autumn have come. The leaves are turning, and the fields are being harvested. Once we crossed the equinox, that point of balance between night and day in the cyclical turnings of the Earth, the shadow has been gaining on the light. Every living thing knows it and prepares for the slow descent into the tenebrous darkness of winter with its icy winds, frozen lakes and twilight somnolence. The blackbirds still sing of a pleasant dawn and evening, but seldom. What one hears is the lonesome but familiar chirping of the robin redbreast, that gentle harbinger of the approaching frost. The geese are still grazing in the grassy fields, but they already traverse the sky in their arrow formations waiting for the right signal in the air to take their long journey south. I no longer see the swallows. They must have departed already. What I see are bats darting about the neighbourhood at nightfall. Autumn brings out the hidden colours, bursting in veritable explosions of gold and russet as it regales us with the beauty of its dying fall.

I am afraid I am a bit late with this issue of the newsletter. My apologies. I had some pressing commitments and some medical issues to deal with over this past month and that consumed quite a bit of my time and energy. I meant to announce, as I usually do, the next meeting in the series To Be Human – Examining the Core of the Teachings, which I have been conducting in collaboration with the KECC every second Sunday since July. Although this meeting took place this past Sunday, it might nonetheless be interesting to look at it retrospectively, as it concerns a complex and fundamental issue, namely freedom, which is the subject of the third paragraph in ‘The Core of the Teachings’:

“Freedom is not a reaction; freedom is not choice. It is man’s pretense that because he has choice, he is free. Freedom is pure observation without direction, without fear of punishment and reward. Freedom is without motive; freedom is not at the end of the evolution of man but lies in the first step of his existence. In observation one begins to discover the lack of freedom. Freedom is found in the choiceless awareness of our daily existence and activity.”

The topic of freedom is central to K’s teachings. In his 1929 speech dissolving the Order of the Star, he stated it as his fundamental purpose: “My only concern is to set men absolutely, unconditionally free”. In that same speech, however, he also indicated that no organization, nobody from outside can make us free. Freedom is a creative process that needs to be discovered by each one of us in our own being and existence.

In ordinary discourse, we tend to speak of freedom in a sociopolitical context, as in freedom of movement, freedom to practice a trade or profession, freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of choice, religious freedom. Historically, freedom has been a central concern of civilization. The ancient Greeks valued it, together with intelligence, as their most precious possession. It was at the core of their incipient democracies. In their philosophy, they emphasized self-knowledge as the way to liberate consciousness from the shackles of ignorance and wisdom as the only lasting foundation of a good society. Subsequently, society has undergone any number of upheavals and revolutions in the name of freedom. They have been a form of reaction to the existing conditions of oppression that we ourselves created. Such reactions only change the outward structures but not the inner man, whereas it is inwardly where change needs to happen. So, freedom is not a reaction against the existing pattern of society but comes through self-knowledge, through understanding our own minds:

“Freedom lies outside the walls, outside the pattern of society; but to be free of that pattern you have to understand the whole content of it, which is to understand your own mind. It is the mind that has created the present civilization, this tradition-bound culture or society and, without understanding your own mind, merely to revolt as a communist, a socialist, this or that, has very little meaning. That is why it is very important to have self-knowledge, to be aware of all your activities, your thoughts and feelings; and this is education, is it not?”
This Matter of Culture, pg. 80

K then asserts that freedom is not choice. That freedom is choice is practically a tenet of modernity, so it is hard to see why anyone would deny it and on what basis. One reason why K denies that freedom is choice is that one chooses out of confusion, not out of clarity:

“When you see something very clearly, is there any need to choose? Surely, it is only the confused mind that chooses. And we have made choice one of the most important things in life. We talk about freedom to choose, to choose this or that, to choose our political party, our politicians. So I ask myself, why do I choose at all? I choose between two coloured materials, but that is not what we are talking about. We are talking about choice which is the outcome of uncertainty, of confusion, where there is no clarity; then I have to choose, but a mind that is very clear has no choice.”
The Awakening of Intelligence, pg. 327


Another central tenet of our current civilization is freedom of thought. Generally, in theocratic and autocratic regimes, the State, through its control of the media and education, and through the application of all manner of coercive and persuasive measures, dictates what people should think. So in our struggle against the oppression of authority we have come to regard freedom of thought as a fundamental value. But while K was radical in his rejection of authority, he also denied that thought can ever be free:

“Thought can never be free, because all thinking is the response of memory; without memory, there is no thinking. Memory, or knowledge, is mechanical; being rooted in yesterday, it’s always of the past. All inquiry, reasoning or unreasoning, starts from knowledge, the what has been. As thought is not free, it cannot go far; it moves within the limits of its own conditioning, within the boundaries of its knowledge and experience. Each new experience is interpreted according to the past, and thereby strengthens the past, which is tradition, the conditioned state. So thought is not the way to the understanding of reality.”
Commentaries on Living, Third Series, pg. 234

Placing freedom beyond choice and thought is radical enough, but he did not stop there. He went on to deny free will, which has been one of the mainstays of our culture, particularly when it comes to the attribution of ethical or moral responsibility. Without the assumption of free will, how could we ever put anyone behind bars? K’s denial of free will, however, follows from his denial of free thought. For K will is a concentrated form of desire and desire is thought pursuing a particular goal or sensation through its imaginative cultivation or projection. If we accept that thought is inherently limited, bound, not free, then the will, which is the outcome of desire, which is the product of thought, is also not free. Logically. Moreover, such an exercise of will is a form of resistance and makes for conflict:

“Will is the very essence of desire; and to the understanding of desire, will becomes a hindrance. Will in any form, whether of the upper mind or of the deep-rooted desires, can never be passive; and it is only in passivity, in alert silence, that truth can be. Conflict is always between desires, at whatever level the desires may be placed. The strengthening of one desire in opposition to the others only breeds further resistance, and this resistance is will. Understanding can never come through resistance. What is important is to understand desire, and not to overcome one desire by another.”
Commentaries on Living, First Series, pp. 79-80

K would seem to be placing freedom altogether outside the normal operation of consciousness. But he makes the beautiful and mysterious assertion that “…freedom is not at the end of the evolution of man but lies in the first step of his existence.” This suggests that freedom is inherent to existence itself rather than something to be reached over time through a process of evolution. And what might that first step in our existence be? It is not the first step we took when as babies we began to walk. It is perhaps the present moment, which is the first and last step of our existence. Are we then to understand that this moment now is inherently endowed with freedom? He states: “Freedom is pure observation without direction, without fear of punishment and reward.” On the other hand, he says that when we observe we discover the lack of freedom. This would indicate that we lost our freedom along the way, perhaps by misplacing it within the field of thought, choice and will. But all is not lost, for he adds: “Freedom can be found in the choiceless awareness of our daily existence and activity.” It is the denial of choice in awareness, in observation that restores our primal freedom. Choice enters observation as judgement, identification, rejection and control, which are all operations of the censor, of thought and will. These distort perception and create confusion, fragmentation and conflict, which are the denial of freedom. Freedom is regained when there is awareness without the observer, the chooser, which is the past, when consciousness is deeply quiet:

“There is freedom when the entire being, the superficial as well as the hidden, is purged of the past. Will is desire; and if there is any action of the will, any effort to be free, to denude oneself, then there can never be freedom, the total purgation of the whole being. When all the many layers of consciousness are quiet, utterly still, only then is there the immeasurable, the bliss that is not of time, the renewal of creation.”
Commentaries on Living, First Series, pg. 69

The freedom K is talking about, although inevitably manifested in the outer dimension of our relationship with things, nature, people and ideas, is fundamentally a state of mind that is free from the known. But while this ‘freedom from’ is absolutely necessary – K talked endlessly about freedom from fear, from sorrow, from conditioning, etc. –, in its deepest sense freedom belongs in the emptiness of consciousness and does not exist, either positively or negatively, in relation to anything. For him, laying the ground of freedom, which is a state of mind free from the limitations of psychological time and its inherent disorder, opens the mind to a vastness of space and silence in which the encounter with creation can take place.

These are just words, but they point to a great depth of being that is immanent to every instant of our existence. And that is the challenge: to live so that our first step is the last, in the timeless bliss of freedom.

You take good care, amigos, for winter is coming.


Photos: J. Gómez Rodríguez: 1. Hollandse Hout, Lelystad, NL; 2. Lauterbrunnen, CH.

Email Marketing Powered by MailPoet