Independence & Freedom

swamiBy Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

I love America’s 4th of July celebration!  Certainly the events are fun, but it’s the principle underlying it that is most meaningful to me — Independence Day.  When the American colonies declared their independence from Britain, what were they claiming?  What was their motivation?  What could bring together so many leaders, who lived so far apart (based on travel times in the 1700’s) and had such different lifestyles?

Money.  Their primary complaint was “taxation without representation.”  There were other things they didn’t like, but money underlay most of their complaints.  Is that what freedom is about, the freedom to spend your money on what you want?

The average American lifestyle seems to prove out this theory.  If actions speak louder than words, what are most people doing?  Shopping.  Now we not only have Black Friday but Amazon Prime Day is vying with it for prominence.  It’s about how much you can get, not about how much you can give.  It’s about how much you own, not about how much you care.  It’s about how much you depend on things for happiness, or depend on other people for your happiness.  It’s about dependency — not about independence.

Declaration-of-IndependenceYet the philosophy underlying America’s founding documents is very elevated.  The first two paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence include these phrases:

When in the course of human events…

…to assume among the powers of the earth…

…the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God…

We hold these truths to be self-evident…

…all men are created equal…

…they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…

…[including] Life, Liberty…

You may have noticed that I didn’t complete the last phrase with “and the pursuit of Happiness.”  That’s because the pursuit of happiness is not an elevated activity.  Elevated means uplifted, and most people pursuing happiness are not pursuing uplifting things.  In addition, the Founding Fathers couldn’t conceive of liberty for everyone; minorities, including women, were not meant to be included, not until constitutional amendments were enacted for each.

So their motivations were crass, they were exclusionistic and opportunistic, not to mention greedy and prejudiced, but they cited a high philosophy.  Most of them were well educated, which meant they knew Greek, Latin and Hebrew, and read the classics as well as the Bible in its original language.



moksha – liberation

Their studies usually included Plato and Aristotle, as well as other philosophers, giving them elevated principles, whether or not they were able to apply them to everyone at the time.  But they didn’t study Sanskrit.  They had never heard that they would find freedom inside, by finding God within.  They didn’t seek liberation, only independence.


As a child, I was inspired by the early settlers who immigrated so they could practice their religion, like the Pilgrims in Massachusetts.  The settlers who appeared to be looking for wealth didn’t inspire me, so I paid little attention to the history of Jamestown.  I loved the frontiersmen, who seemed to be seeking freedom from the tyranny of society.  The Founding Fathers spoke of higher principles, the most elevated I’d found in any of my first twelve years of formal education.  Yet I wanted more.

Buddha’s teaching that life is suffering was instantly understandable to me, but the path offered by Buddhism sounded just as restrictive and painful as what society offered me.  Only yoga gave me a way out, which turned out to be a way in.  It was Muktananda that made the difference for me, giving me Shaktipat.  That gift showed me a possibility that I’d never heard of before – truly the promise of liberation.  True freedom!

  • Freedom from the tyranny of my own limited sense of self, to experience my own Divinity.
  • Freedom from locking down my heart into conditional love, to experience Divine Love for all.
  • Freedom from depending on others to give me a sense of self-worth, by experiencing the depth and vastness within.
  • Freedom from being defined by others’ expectations and needs, and freedom to meet both, but for a different reason and from a deeper inner reservoir.

fireworksYoga promises freedom, not independence.  I still pay taxes.  I vote in elections.  I’m a good citizen, participating in the benefits that our society offers and contributing to them.  I’m not a rebel anymore, because I’ve found my Self.  I don’t need to create a sense of self by matching what others do or by rebelling against that.  I am me.  Free.

And I still love the 4th of July!  It holds the hint of the promise of freedom.  For a yogi’s “pursuit of happiness” is the inner exploration of her own Divinity.  Do more yoga.  Discover your Self.

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