The Book of Yourself Newsletter

Issue 27: February 2024

Dear Friends,

The question of freedom has been fundamental for humanity politically, socially and spiritually or psychologically from the most ancient of days. Of late, due to the rising populist autocratic and dictatorial tendencies in the world, it seems to have acquired a new contemporary relevance. We live in interesting times, for sure, and such swings to authoritarianism are a typical reaction to the perceived anarchy brought about by the excesses of democratic freedom. Independently of the particular political and cultural circumstances, we are all under pressure from the environment to conform to the prescribed collective patterns of conditioning. Everyone is telling us what to think, how to feel, what to do and who we are or should be. We are constantly being influenced by the collective stream of contradictory information so that it becomes difficult to think independently and to find the truth for ourselves. Our minds end up being shaped and we fall prey to certain forms of thought which, being conditioned, deny freedom. Conditioning and thought form a feedback loop from which it is almost impossible to extricate oneself: thought is the reaction of memory, which is the residue of experience, which is determined by conditioning. In other words, if I am conditioned in a particular doctrine or ideology or look at the world with a given set of conclusions, that determines my experience, which is the basis of my thinking, which reinforces my conditioning. So the political and social freedom that we all might value as a fundamental human right is ultimately rather limited without freedom from this inbuilt pattern of conditioning. This quality of inner freedom is essential if there is to be peace in the world.

Freedom was very central in K’s teachings. In the speech in Ommen in 1929 dissolving the Order of the Star, he stated that his fundamental purpose was to set man absolutely and unconditionally free. Truth and freedom go together. Not only does truth liberate, but there must be freedom for truth to emerge. When he wrote ‘The Core of the Teaching’ in 1980, not only did he reiterate that this core was the statement he had made back then that truth is a pathless land, but added a paragraph on what he understood by freedom:

Freedom is not a reaction; freedom is not choice. It is man’s pretence 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 Core of the Teaching

In this paragraph K takes the negative approach and denies that freedom is reaction or choice, that it is the outcome of motive or the end result of the evolution of man. He places freedom in the field of pure observation and awareness. Again, he approaches awareness and observation negatively, by indicating that they are choiceless, without direction and without reward and punishment. This is very much in tune with his basic tenet that the first and last freedom is the freedom to observe.

Within the context of our modern civilisation freedom of choice has been taken as a fundamental principle. That generally implies other freedoms, such as freedom of movement, freedom of belief, freedom of expression and freedom of thought, which end up being translated as freedom to do and be what you like, which can indeed be a recipe for disorder. K’s general objection to freedom of choice is that where there is clarity there is no choice, that we choose only when we are confused. For him freedom is not a matter of being able to express oneself outwardly but of having no confusion inwardly. Clearing this inward confusion implies not being trapped in any psychological, ideological or confessional cages and being free of fear, anxiety and hurt. That is logical, since if the mind is caught in ideologies and beliefs and suffers from various psychic disorders, it lacks the clarity of pure observation which is the key to freedom and right action. So to understand the true nature of freedom one must start with oneself. And, as K remarks, when we begin to observe, we discover the lack of freedom.

The instinctual urge to be free is universal but we have not gone deeply into it. We feel it particularly when we are young, sensitive and inquisitive, which makes us naturally discontented with the status quo, with the contradictions of traditional structures, values and practices. Such discontent was for K the beginning of freedom but generally as we grow older that flame of discontent is funnelled into the respectable social patterns and there it withers away. It is generally very difficult to maintain the quality of pure discontent. Interestingly, K traces the beginning of the quest for freedom, of the urge to break through the wall of conditioning, to the feeling of ‘otherness’, i.e. to the encounter with a dimension of being beyond thought.[1] This is a very important point because it indicates that our universal urge to freedom has its deeper source in a religious feeling. So what concerns him is not the outer but the inner quality of freedom that is receptive to this transcendental dimension.

[1] ‘Otherness’ is a term K uses to describe that which is other than and beyond thought. In his Notebook he employs this rather neutral term to refer to the presence of the sacred.
When it comes to inner freedom, K discards the standard approaches of reaction, conformity to a pattern of authority and the dualistic structure of forcing what is into the mould of what should be. He even takes issue with what he calls ‘freedom from something’, which he contrasts with freedom per se or absolute freedom. Our normal approach to freedom is as a reaction against something troublesome or unpleasant involving the exercise of will to transform it into a desirable or virtuous state. This implies resistance, the conflict of opposites and a process of discipline requiring time. The very comformist and conflictive nature of such a process denies freedom, so it is not the way. Freedom thus requires de denial of all psychological authority and tradition, which is but a repeating pattern of memory. Such repetitive patterns confine the mind to the past and make it mechanical, which denies direct perception and freedom. What matters is to see and understand ourselves, how we think, feel and act, directly, not through the knowledge and instruction of others.

Freedom is a questioning state of mind that dissipates every form of conformity and slavery to tradition, authority, knowledge or conclusion. That implies standing alone, being an outsider. In such solitude we understand the need of living intimately with ourselves, of seeing ourselves without judgement, as we are, which is real discipline. Discipline means to learn, i.e. to see what is without interpreting it according to our conditioning, desire and pleasure. It is not a dualistic process of conformity and control, of the conflict of the will imposing what should be on what is. Conformity implies the comparative pursuit of becoming, the exercise of will to be or not to be. To be choicelessly aware is to live without comparison, not as a slave of the verb ‘to be’. This brings about a highly sensitive quality of mind that is not set in a pattern but flows like a river, disciplining itself without conformity or the desire to fulfil. For K such a free mind is religious and understands what it means to learn, to love and to meditate.

Although he sees the significance of being free from such things as anger, fear and sorrow, K feels that freedom from something is a reaction, has a motive and is the result of circumstances, influences and logical conclusions, which is not complete freedom. Freedom is a state, a quality of mind that is not the outcome of will or the product of thought. The mind only knows its own measurable compass and frontiers. Such a mind, being limited, cannot invite the immeasurable freedom of the ‘otherness’. All it can do is to be aware of what is without condemnation or choice. The perception of what is is the beginning of the breaking down of the frontiers of the mind. Observing what is means watching it without the observer, without the past that condemns and justifies. In perceiving without the observer there is total freedom, which is total order. The mind needs order to function properly. Order comes naturally when the mind observes choicelessly the disorder in daily life. Seeing things as they are, the mind can come unknowingly upon that total freedom. Only such a free mind knows love, beauty and truth.

K considers that we have the instinctive capacity to perceive immediately what is true from the beginning, so that freedom is not at the end of human evolution but in the first step of our existence. This is a beautiful and intriguing statement placing freedom in an innate quality of direct perception. That is perhaps why he felt that for anyone who would seek truth it is essential to be sensitive to beauty and to have a deep feeling for life, for the universe about us instead of spending our lives cultivating the intellect. As the intellect is inherently limited, in the pursuit of security we divide the land as yours and mine and lose our humanity fighting over it instead of living happily together on this our beautiful earth.[1] The intellect, which is the function of thought, is conditioned and not the way out. Sensitivity, however, is not conditioned. It is because we have lost the feeling of beauty that we are fighting each other over labels. In this battle we lose the quality of mind which can see things immediately and with affection. Such a sensitive mind is free and knows truth, beauty and love.[2]

K begins his inquiry into the question of freedom with a series of negations. Thus he states that it is not a reaction, i.e. the projection of a desirable goal which is the opposite of what is. This implies the exercise of will to bridge the time gap between what is and what should be. But the will is the product of conditioned thought and therefore itself not free. Freedom is also not from something or the outcome of motive or choice. None of these movements are the kind of total freedom he has in mind. This quality of total freedom, or the quest to discover it, springs from what he calls ‘the feeling of otherness’, of something that is beyond the sphere of thinking, desire and will. This quality of freedom is not something that can be posited and pursued as an idea, for it is beyond idea and, in that sense, beyond consciousness. Therefore it must be approached negatively, by finding out what it is not. This movement of negative inquiry requires a quality of choiceless awareness in which the observer, which is the past, is inactive. This is the quality of pure awareness that can perceive the actuality of what we are without the projections of time. The very perception of what is without the observer is the emptying of consciousness of the past and therefore the freedom from conditioning that we need to bring about a totally new world, morality and culture based on beauty, truth and love. For K this is the only revolution.

Take care, amigos, and let’s be aware of the innate sensitivity that is beauty, love and freedom,


[1] Although somewhat grim, here is an animation about this:
[2] Etymologically, freedom, from Germanic frijaz, Indoeuropean prijos, Sanskrit prijás, from pri, means love.

Photos by J. Gómez Rodríguez: 1. Sunset, Het Bovenwater, Lelystad; 2. Evening, Hollandse Hout, Lelystad.
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