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Listener 1: Sir what is the meaning of Slavery?
AP: Obviously, if you are following just the commands, the dictates, of somebody else then it is slavery; slavery in the sense that obviously you have no freedom. Somebody else is on top of you, pushing you, guiding you, compelling you or luring you, to be in a certain way, to act in a certain way, then we can obviously see that is slavery. But it is important to see what looks like opposite of this is not really freedom.
If I say that following others is slavery, then mind quickly wants to conclude that following oneself is freedom. No, following oneself is slavery even deeper, because what we call as oneself is usually just an aggregate of the influences of others, influences of others that have been internalized. Influences so ancient, so common and so pervasive that one doesn’t call them influences anymore, one calls them as one’s individuality. One says that – this is me, and now because the effect of others upon you gets your own support, so it becomes very difficult to treat.
The prisoner has started believing that the jail’s cell is his own beautiful house. It would be quite difficult to get him out of there. There are two ways one is dominated and commanded, one is through explicit maneuver, gross influence and direct impact. A fellow stands with a gun in front of another fellow and says, “Do as I say, and if you don’t then you’ll lose your life.” Because the event is quite gross, so it is visible event to the gross sensors. The eyes can easily detect that somebody is being enslaved. There can be no doubt about it because of the explicit nature of the event.
But when the same thing happens a little subtlely, then the eyes fail to detect. The teacher, the newspaper, the internet, the priest, the friends, the family, the parents, the ideologies, the entire decades spent in education, they all sneak inside the mind, not at gunpoint but as well wishers. They say, “we are coming close to you because we love you.” And in the garb of coming close they gain entry into the inner-most depths of the mind and colonize them, occupy them.
You do not deny them entry, you do not resist because you are probably young, gullible and innocent. One lets them in, one buys their pretext that they are well wishers, and they come in and they color the mind with all that they stand for- with their influence, with their dirt, and because now the event is happening not from outside but from inside, so the event instead of having resistance from you, has your active cooperation.
You voice the opinions of those who have conditioned you and say, “These are my personal opinions”, and if somebody contradicts those opinions then you feel bad, don’t you? And you also feel some kind of a necessity to defend what we stand for. If I belong to a particular set or ideology or religion, I may stand for free thought, rational enquiry but somewhere deep within I feel an urge to stand for, to promote and justify my own religion; my own religion using the tools of free inquiry and rational thought.
So, that which is deeply within becomes the centre of all effort. All efforts emanates from there and all efforts emanates to protect that center. One speaks as somebody and in order to protect that somebody, two things parallely. A devoted Hindu one speaks as the Hindu and wants to ensure that the supremacy of the Hindu is unquestioned or a committed communist or a committed consumerist or anybody – a mother, a husband, an American, a German, a liberal, a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian, all of that goes into the mind and becomes one’s primary identity. One feels as if one is that. Who am I? I am that.
Now, this is the deepest slavery because here, as we had just said – the slave has accepted and internalized the slavery, the slave has grown an interest in continuing the slavery. To the first one, who was being assaulted with the gun, who was been told to follow somebody else’s wishes at gunpoint- if you go and offer help then your help would be accepted, and the fellow would be grateful that you came to rescue him. He would say that I was in trouble, somebody was trying to possess me, take control of me then you came and you liberated me, thank you so much.
To the second one if you go and offer help then you would be assaulted, because now help would be in the nature of liberating him from the strangle hold of his ideologies, of his assumptions, of his self created and self imposed identities. To this person when you say that- you are enslaved by all these and you need to get rid of all these then you’ll be taken as an enemy, and mind you, not an ordinary enemy, you would be met with the deepest hostility. Forget about gratitude, you would receive the most severe resistance and condemnation. He would recoil. So deep is this slavery.
And it is here that the word compassion becomes meaningful, because in the first case- the liberator gets gratitude. He offers help and gets gratitude. In the second case- he gets pats, he gets bullets, he gets the cross. But still if the liberator is determined to help, then it is pure compassion. One is not even indifferent to the helper, one is actively hostile to the helper, and still the helper says that- I must help, it is my deepest responsibility, my dharm to help.
We all are usually quite particular about avoiding the first kind of slavery- the influence of others. I request you to be much more particular about avoiding the second kind of slavery- the influence of others internalized and hence the tyranny of the ‘I’. This ‘I’ is not you, this is a false ‘I’. This ‘I’ is ‘I’ only in name. This ‘I’ is actually- influences. Do not be too touchy about this ‘I’. Do not guard it. It is not you.
So if this ‘I’ is shown to be false or challenged or dissolved then do not feel bad. There is this story, I do not know whether it is factual or a myth but it is quite an educative small thing. It says that the cuckoo (a bird) is so smart that it goes and lays its eggs in the crow’s nest. And the crow is either so blissful or ignorant or innocent that it fails to differentiate between the eggs of the crow and that of the cuckoo. Now the crow is assuming the cuckoo’s eggs to be her own, and taking care of them, and taking ownership of them, and feeling possessive about them, and investing energy. Same is the case is with this ‘I’. It is not yours.
These ideologies, beliefs, assumptions, world views, they belong to the cuckoo, and the cuckoo was quite clever and cunning actually. All of us have been taken in. Let us know what is not us, and what is not us deserves not to be named as ‘I’. There is no need to search for the real ‘I’. Just know that is false. Know the false ‘I’. The real ‘I’ need not be searched.
Freedom is to be free of both- firstly others and secondly and more importantly yourself. To be free of others and to be a slave of oneself is no freedom at all. Freedom is really about being free of oneself, not taking oneself too seriously, being attentive so that one knows that one is acting out of conditioning, being observant so that one knows how the mind is susceptible, how it absorbs influences, how it is hungry to quickly believe in the world and relate in an unfulfilled way, and loving so that one does not feel a terrible need to relate with the world.
When you are really in a deep relationship, in a loving relationship with the Truth then all the falseness that wants to encroach upon you from the outside does not find quick acceptance within you.
Freedom is – to be surrendered to the Truth. When you are surrendered to the truth then you are free of the world and also free of yourself.
Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session. Edited for clarity.
Watch the session: Acharya Prashant: How to move to freedom from slavery?
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