One of the most important things in life, perhaps the most important, is freedom. This word has been greatly misused by tyrannical as well as democratic governments, and religions everywhere in the world have abused it. Personal freedom and independence do not exist, except perhaps in the scientific world. It does not exist in the business world or in the religious structures which man has organised through fear and belief; it does not exist in governments or in any field of human activity. But man has consistently asserted that he is free and complained that it is environment that enslaves him. Freedom, which is independence to think for oneself clearly and not to act according to the dictates of society or one’s own personal inclinations, is very difficult, but without freedom one cannot possibly discover or live a life which is totally different from the misery which we all know every day.
Freedom is not merely freedom from something, but is freedom in itself. This does not mean freedom to do whatever one likes, so one has to understand not merely verbally but factually what that word implies. We are not trying to define what freedom is; each one would interpret it according to his own fancy, inclination or upbringing, and some would even deny that there is such a thing at all. Freedom is to be found not by seeking it, but rather by understanding what it is that imprisons the mind. When these prison walls are broken, then there is freedom naturally, and one does not have to seek it. So what is important is not how to achieve freedom or to ask what freedom is, but rather to ask why the mind-which is the product of time and environment and has had so many experiences of misery and conflict-is not free.
What is important is to inquire into why the mind still remains so heavily conditioned after so many millions of years. This is the prison in which it lives. The mind is conditioned by society with its cultures, laws, religious sanctions, economic pressures and so on. The mind is, after all, the result of the past, and this past is tradition. It lives in this tradition with all its strife, wars and agonies. One must ask if it can be free from its own conditioning. Some have said that it must always remain conditioned and can never be free, and others have said this freedom from conditioning can never be found here but only in some future heaven, or at the end of some long sacrifice, discipline, programme of further conformity to a pattern of so-called religious practice. Without freedom from conditioning, humanity will always remain a prisoner and life will remain a battlefield.
The first thing to understand in this inquiry is the nature of authority. In any community, law and the policeman are necessary, but we have also introduced a policeman into the inner world of thought and feeling. In this world, obedience has been instilled by tradition, experience and habit-obedience to one’s parents, to society, to the priest. But obedience is born of fear, fear of going wrong, of acting independently, of not being secure, of not being part of the community, of standing alone, of making a mistake. So it is fear that breeds authority; one wants to live in a respected, accepted way which society has established. It is this very fear that has conditioned the mind; it is fear that has built the society to which the mind has become a slave. The mind has created this society through its fear, greed, ambition, envy and so on.
A discipline which comes naturally, without any conformity, is the simple observation of all these fears, anxieties, and envies; to see your own fears, your own ambitions as you see a tree. This very seeing is that discipline. The word discipline means learning, not conformity, suppression or obedience. Learning the nature and the structure of conditioning brings order; not the order of society which is disorder.
So, seeing what the world is, with its wars, hatred, strife, confusions, is to see yourself as you are. And to see yourself as you are is to see the world which you have created from what you are. In this seeing is freedom. To see a danger is to avoid it. To see the danger of this heavy conditioning of man is to avoid all conditioning. What is important in all this is to see not only with the intellect but also with the actual eye.