The parrots came across the river, zigzagging, screeching, telling the whole world they were coming. They were bright green, with red beaks, and there were several in that tamarind tree. They would come out in the morning, go down the river and sometimes would come back screeching, but more often they remained away all day and only returned in the late afternoon, having stolen the grain from the fields and whatever fruit they could find. You saw them for a few seconds among the tamarind leaves, and then they would disappear. You couldn’t really follow them among the tiny green leaves of the tree. They had a hole in the trunk and there they lived, male and female, and they seemed to be so happy, screeching their joy as they flew out. In the evening and early morning the sun made a path – golden in the morning and silver in the evening – across the river. No wonder men worship rivers; it is better than worshipping images with all the rituals and beliefs. The river was alive, deep and full, always in movement; and the little pools beside the bank were always stagnant.
Each human being isolates himself in the little pool, and there decays; he never enters into the full current of the river. Somehow that river, made so filthy by human beings higher up, was clean in the middle, blue-green and deep. It was a splendid river, especially in the early morning before the sun came up; it was so still, motionless, of the colour of molten silver. And, as the sun came up over the trees, it became golden, and then turned again into a silvery path; and the water came alive.
In that room overlooking the river it was cool, almost cold, for it was early winter. A man, sitting opposite with his wife, was young, and she was younger still. We sat on the carpet placed on a rather cold, hard floor. They weren’t interested in looking at the river, and when it was pointed out to them – its width, its beauty, and the green bank on the other side – they acknowledged it with a polite gesture. They had come some distance, from the north by bus and train, and were eager to talk about the things they had in mind; the river was something they could look at later when they had time.
He said: ‘Man can never be free; he is tied to his family, to his children, to his job. Until he dies he has responsibilities. Unless, of course,’ he added, ‘he becomes a sannyasi, a monk.’
He saw the necessity of being free, yet he felt it was something he could not achieve in this competitive, brutal world. His wife listened to him with a rather surprised look, pleased to find that her man could be serious and could express himself quite well in English. It gave her a sense of possessive pride. He was totally unaware of this as she was sitting a little behind him.
‘Can one be free, ever?’ he asked. ‘Some political writers and theorists, like the Communists, say that freedom is something bourgeois, unattainable and unreal, while the democratic world talks a great deal about freedom. So do the capitalists, and, of course, every religion preaches it and promises it, though they see to it that man is made a prisoner of their particular beliefs and ideologies – denying their promises by their acts. I’ve come to find out, not merely intellectually, if man, if I, can really be free in this world. I’m taking a holiday from my job to come here; for two days I am free from my work – from the routine of the office and the usual life of the little town where I live. If I had more money I’d be freer and be able to go where I like and do what I want to do, perhaps paint, or travel. But that is impossible as my salary is limited and I have responsibilities; I am a prisoner to my responsibilities.’
His wife couldn’t make out all this but she pricked up her ears at the word ‘responsibilities’. She may have been wondering whether he wanted to leave home and wander the face of the earth.
‘These responsibilities,’ he went on, ‘prevent me from being free both outwardly and inwardly. I can understand that man cannot be completely free from the world of the post office, the market, the office and so on, and I’m not seeking freedom there. What I have come to find out is if it is at all possible to be free inwardly.’
The pigeons on the veranda were cooing, fluttering about, and the parrots screeched across the window and the sun shone on their bright green wings.
What is freedom? Is it an idea, or a feeling that thought breeds because it is caught in a series of problems, anxieties, and so on? Is freedom a result, a reward, a thing that lies at the end of a process? Is it freedom when you free yourself from anger? Or is it being able to do what you want to do? Is it freedom when you find responsibility a burden and push it aside? Is it freedom when you resist, or when you yield? Can thought give this freedom, can any action give it?
‘I’m afraid you will have to go a little bit slower.’
Is freedom the opposite of slavery? Is it freedom when, being in a prison and knowing you are in prison and being aware of all the restraints of the prison, you imagine freedom?
Can imagination ever give freedom or is it a fancy of thought? What we actually know, and what actually is, is bondage – not only to outward things, to the house, to the family, to the job – but also inwardly, to traditions, to habits, to the pleasure of domination and possession, to fear, to achievement and to so many other things. When success brings great pleasure one never talks about freedom from it, or thinks about it. We talk of freedom only when there is pain. We are bound to all these things, both inwardly and outwardly, and this bondage is what is. And the resistance to what is, is what we call freedom. One resists, or escapes from, or tries to suppress what is, hoping thereby to come to some form of freedom. We know inwardly only two things – bondage and resistance; and resistance creates the bondage.
‘Sorry, I don’t understand at all.’
When you resist anger or hatred, what has actually taken place? You build a wall against hatred, but it is still there; the wall merely hides it from you. Or you determine not to be angry, but this determination is part of the anger, and the very resistance strengthens the anger. You can see it in yourself if you observe this fact. When you resist, control, suppress, or try to transcend – which are all the same thing for they are all acts of the will – you have thickened the wall of resistance, and so you become more and more enslaved, narrow, petty. And it is from this pettiness, this narrowness, that you want to be free, and that very want is the reaction which is going to create another barrier, more pettiness. So we move from one resistance, one barrier, to another – sometimes giving to the wall of resistance a different colouring, a different quality, or some word of nobility. But resistance is bondage, and bondage is pain.
‘Does this mean that, outwardly, one should let anybody kick one around as they will, and that, inwardly, one’s anger, etc, should be given free rein?’
It seems that you have not listened to what has been said. When it is a matter of pleasure you don’t mind the kick of it, the feeling of delight; but when that kick becomes painful, then you resist. You want to be free from the pain and yet hold on to the pleasure. The holding on to the pleasure is the resistance.
It is natural to respond; if you do not respond physically to the prick of a pin it means you are numbed. Inwardly, too, if you do not respond, something is wrong. But the way in which you respond and the nature of the response is important, not the response itself. When somebody flatters you, you respond, and you respond when somebody insults you. Both are resistances – one of pleasure and the other of pain. The one you keep and the other you either disregard or wish to retaliate against. But both are resistances. Both the keeping and the rejecting are a form of resistance; and freedom is not resistance.
‘Is it possible for me to respond without the resistance of either pleasure or pain?’
What do you think, sir? What do you feel? Are you putting the question to me or to yourself? If an outsider, an outside agency, answers that question for you, then you rely on it, then that reliance becomes the authority, which is a resistance. Then again you want to be free of that authority! So how can you ask this question of another?
‘You might point it out to me, and if I then see it, authority is not involved, is it?’
But we have pointed out to you what actually is. See what actually is, without responding to it with pleasure or with pain. Freedom is seeing. Seeing is freedom. You can see only in freedom.
‘This seeing may be an act of freedom, but what effect has it on my bondage which is the what is, which is the thing seen?’
When you say the seeing may be an act of freedom, it is a supposition, so your seeing is also a supposition. Then you don’t actually see what is.
‘I don’t know sir. I see my mother-in-law bullying me; does she stop it because I see it?’
See the action of your mother-in-law, and see your responses, without the further responses of pleasure and pain. See it in freedom. Your action may then be to ignore what she says completely, or to walk out. But the walking out or the disregarding her is not a resistance. This choiceless awareness is freedom. The action from that freedom cannot be predicted, systematized, or put into the framework of social morality. This choiceless awareness is non-political, it does not belong to any ‘ism; it is not the product of thought.