Freedom Through Yoga

On the occasion of International Yoga Day, let us all give up our quest for worldly freedom and instead seek freedom of the soul within, says OSWALD PEREIRA

All my life I have chased a dream. It is not a dream of fame or wealth. It’s a dream of freedom. But freedom for me has been ever so elusive. For, in order to survive in this world, I realised, one has to follow certain rules and norms at home, at the workplace, in society, in the country. Freedom is never absolute or unlimited; it is always limited and restricted.

Unlimited or unrestricted freedom could result in chaos. On the other hand, too many limitations and restrictions on freedom could spell doom for humankind ― and bondage of the body, mind and soul.

We are all born free. As Swami Vivekananda said, “Freedom is the nature of the soul; it is its birthright.” Freedom is described lyrically in Andy Williams’ song, Born Free:

Born free, as free as the wind blows
As free as the grass grows
Born free to follow your heart

Live free and beauty surrounds you
The world still astounds you
Each time you look at a star

Stay free, where no walls divide you
You’re free as the roaring tide
So there’s no need to hide

Born free, and life is worth living
But only worth living
‘Cause you’re born free

You’re free as the roaring tide
So there’s no need to hide

In my pursuit of freedom, in my career, I rejected a corporate job and opted for journalism, where you are freer to express yourself than in a company. I had a great time as a reporter in the Mumbai edition of The Times of India, doing investigative stories. But after eight years of working there, I realised that as important as personal and professional freedom was financial security. So I emplaned for the Gulf to earn four times my salary in India.

I worked there for four years and became financially secure. But there was no freedom of the press there and you couldn’t write a single negative word, especially on the government. So I returned to India to a presumably free press, singing the patriotic Bollywood song, Apani aazaadi ko ham haragiz mitaa sakate nahi. Sar kataa sakate hai lekin sar jhukaa sakate nahi. Loosely translated it means, I definitely cannot kill my freedom. I am willing to cut my head, but will not bow down.

In the Gulf, Muscat in Oman, to be precise, I had differences with the newspaper owner, a soft-spoken gentle Arab, whose main business was wholesale livestock trading. He never lost his cool and would keep coaxing me with his pet phrase, “You see, Baba.” Once when I got into trouble with the secret Omani police for taking photographs, in a prohibited area, unknowingly, he bailed me out by deputing his son to stand surety for me.

Back in India, in Delhi, after my first difference with the head of the business bureau of a leading magazine, I was asked to leave by the business editor. My fault was raising the issue of promotions and transparency at an annual meeting which was meant to be the forum for such professional issues. The editor-in-chief, while agreeing to my exit gave me the most preposterous explanation. He said, and I quote him here, verbatim: “I know you are right and the business editor is wrong. But you are a special correspondent and he is the business editor. I can easily get a replacement for a special correspondent, but it’s difficult to get a business editor.”

In private my colleagues ― some of whom are now prominent journalists and some who have since retired from top positions ― took my side, assailing the editor-in-chief for his injustice and cowardice. The editor-in-chief, who used to appear on TV pontificating on fair play, justice, freedom and so on, has since passed away. God bless his soul.

The incident shattered my dream of freedom and reinforced my belief that the concept is an illusion. This is, of course, my personal opinion and there must be quite a few who enjoy true freedom.

It is also my personal opinion that people’s rights and freedoms have eroded over the years. We are less free now than we were some decades ago. Dissent and protests are not taken kindly by the powers-that-be. People of all ages and professions ― from young adults to octogenarians, from students to scholars, from ordinary citizens to poets, cartoonists, writers and priests ― seem to be paying the price for trying to express their freedom. 

What is the solution? Should we forget freedom forever?

Over three years ago, I found the answer to my quest for freedom. It was the path shown by the great Yogi Paramhansa Yogananda. He said, “Long accustomed to living in the body, we have forgotten what real freedom means….It is vital to every man that he discover his soul and know his immortal nature. Yoga shows the way.”

He elaborated, “Yoga, divine union with God, is the only sure way to overcome bondage to delusion. Jesus Christ and the masters of India taught that this freedom comes from controlling the life force flowing out to the senses and directing it inward to concentrate the consciousness in communion with the consummate bliss of God.”

On the occasion of International Yoga Day, let us all give up our quest for worldly freedom and instead seek freedom of the soul within.

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