Freedom in the Hindu Culture
Over the past three years in America we have been bombarded with the word freedom as a call to action or a word to persuade us to follow a specific view. Although our society was born on freedom as an idea, its meaning has been used in many ways. Hinduism is also a religion and a culture that places a lot of meaning on freedom but they give a different meaning to it. From learning about Hindu culture in this class their focus on it follows suit as does our version. While our “freedom” is an idea that can be used in many different ways the Hindu “Freedom” is a more pure idea as it seems the rest of the culture is. In the Eastern culture freedom comes along with a level or state that you have reached in your life.
To understand the meaning of freedom you also have to understand its relation to words like Samsara, Avidya, Maya and Moksha. These are all part of the journey towards the Hindu concept of freedom. Samsara is important in defining freedom in Hindu terms because it is what you want freedom from. Samsara is the continuous cycle of life that takes place in the material world. It is thought of as a negative because it keeps us from moving on and up spiritually.
Maya is a concept in Hinduism that relates to man disillusioning himself. The idea is that there is no such thing as an individual existence. When a person is trying to better their standing or wealth they are disillusioning themselves. In the Eastern culture you do not work harder to better yourself you work harder to better the world as a whole through your actions in life. This brings you closer to unity with the “Divine.”
Avidya is similar to Maya. It is when the man is disillusioning himself that Avidya describes. When he denies his true “Self ” and moves farther away from knowledge he is not taking care of his soul. Avidya is a product of the soul as well as a part of the soul. A person can always move away from this and make his soul healthy again by seeking truth and trying to reach the higher levels of spirituality.
In the final stage of life we see Moksha come into play. After freeing yourself from material ties in the third stage of life you move on to the fourth and last. This stage is called north and is a withdrawal from the world around you. Freedom comes from this isolation of yourself from the world around you and the responsibility that comes with it.
The ultimate goal in Hinduism is Realization (of self) and I think that when this is reached so is freedom. It would be the ultimate freedom in Hindu terms. With Brahman we also attain Moksha which is Hindu for liberation or freedom. Reaching Moksha means you have broken the life cycle that takes place in the physical world. The ultimate aim of human life is Moksha, liberation from sorrow and desire and realization of the union of the spirit and a higher level of existence; the ultimate freedom.
Freedom comes from within yourself, in the Hindu culture you live your life looking for freedom. This goes back to the idea that you cannot have freedom without options. The options that are given to people everyday are what brings a person closer or farther from freedom. This is along the same lines as Karma. Karma is your scoreboard that measures how positive or negative your energy is. The better it is the better off you will be after this life.
Even though your body may be active on the outside on the inside you can be inactive and not connected to the material world. For example, you can be in a bustling, noisy crowded environment but in your mind not be exposed to any of the outside world through any of your senses.
Freedom is more spiritual than it is in the West. For example the Hindu version of a priest is in pursuit of freedom. The Sadhus do this by choosing to remove themselves from the material things in life. Our priests similarly take a vow of poverty but with a different logic behind it.
Another part of freedom is the sovereignty that is so important to self which gives freedom of thought a very important place in their society. You can even see this in the deliberate non uniformity of their religious customs.
Hindus also believe in freedom on another level. In Western Cultures there is fate which is predetermined and inflexible. The thought of Eastern cultures is that you can always improve their version of fate, which is Karma. You have the freedom to change your path by acting as a better person. This again goes back to the idea that having options go hand in hand with freedom and the journey towards it. Freedom is not necessarily just being able to walk where you please or going to bed when you want. It is like many other ideas in Eastern beliefs. Freedom is in your mind; being free of your material desires and other emotions.
Hinduism is known for its universal view and its readiness to recognize and celebrate various practices, customs and beliefs. This general acceptance of all things and beliefs is what has set Hinduism apart from other religions over the years. It has also ensured its survival for years to come. How can somebody create an opposing viewpoint when it is likely that their beliefs would be accepted by Hinduism as well? It reminds me of the old saying about how the rigid tree will crack and fall under pressure from the wind but the tree that sways and bends will stay standing. Hinduism will sway with the changes that time brings.
According to one Hindu belief a human has three parts. We see a similar idea in Western culture when we talk about “mind, body and soul.” There is the physical body, then the “subtle body” which is like our mind; and part below that, called the causal body, this would be our soul. It is where our true nature can be found. Like in our culture, the physical body is left behind and we pass on to the next life in mind and soul. We would probably say our “spirit” has moved on.
As you can see, freedom in Hindu culture is defined differently then the way we define it. While in America it is just another word in the East it is a journey and a part of the destination of life. Along the journey you will encounter distractions that will bring you down the road towards Maya and Avidya. These things are a result of the concept of Samsara; which is the cycle of life and death. In the end though, all people should be striving towards Moksha. This is part of the ultimate goal in life of being free of the material world.