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Our Common Journey Toward Freedom*


Anna Lemkow**


Whoso has not escaped from will, no will hath he.

Rumi, Divani Shamsi Tabriz, XIII

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty.

2 Corinthians, 3: 17

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

Galatians, 6: 7

Life is a harmony of opposite tensions.


But he who is not true to himself will not see the truth.


order is lord of all, and disorder only a name for that part of the order which gives us pain.

T.H. Huxley



The wish of human beings to be free, both as individuals and as citizens, is universal and fervent; but, ironically, we seem to be given to limiting and even destroying our own freedom, the very thing we most prize. Furthermore, while we may know what we want freedom from, we are unclear as to what we want freedom for. There is also the pressing question today as to what freedom or sell-determination of individual societies can represent in an interdependent world system. The ultimate problem would seem to be an inadequate comprehension as to what, in truth, freedom is.

Yet there exists a rich legacy of wisdom on the true nature and meaning of freedom, found notably in world scriptures and in enduring observations on freedom by philosophers and scientists of the highest rank and of widely different times and places. Recall that the world religions are centrally concerned with the means for attaining freedomcalled by such terms as liberation, redemption, moksha, satori, and nirvana.

What these traditions say is as true today as ever. Moreover, they converge on a number of propositions:

  1. An individual must win freedom of will by self-effort.
  2. Freedom is inseparable from necessity or inner order.
  3. Freedom always involves a sense of unity with others beyond differences.
  4. Freedom is inseparable from truthor, put the other way around, truth serves to make us free.


We tend to think of freedom as dependent on circumstantial or external factors, but these propositions point us inward, suggesting rather that freedom is a state of consciousness and that it depends on ourselves. Indeed it is something to be won, something to be attained commensurately with becoming more truthful, or more attuned to and aligned with the abiding inner, metaphysical, or moral order or law.

Socio-political and economic freedom or liberty, in turn, would depend (at least in the longer term) on the predominant level of consciousness of the citizenry.

What is suggested, in other words, is that a human being is not perfectly free to begin with, but is potentially capable of self-transformation in the direction of fuller freedom. This is the premise of the various religious traditions and Western psychology alike. Each world religion prescribes a Way or Path to self-liberation, consisting of a set of psycho-spiritual or ethical teachings or laws. It is, moreover, significant that while each religion couches its teachings in its own particular language, the religions cohere with each other in their prescriptions and proscriptions: common teachings include the need for personal detachment or disinterestedness, the immeasurable worth of every human being, the unity of all life, the brotherhood of humanity, compassion, nonviolence, and the capacity of each person to attain to a far higher state of life (mental, moral, and spiritual) than the present one.

The problem concerning inner freedom may be briefly stated. On the one hand, each of us is self-aware and seemingly able to act according to our own dictates. On the other hand, we feel bound and limited by our own character. We feel ourselves to be both free and not free. That is the paradoxical and universal human condition.


The present paper will inquire into freedom from a non-dualistic, more particularly, a theosophical approach. Unlike the Aristotelian either/or view, the theosophical philosophy does not see freedom as opposed to inner law or necessity, but as inseparable from, and indeed dependent for its very realization on the ever-operative inner law.[1]

Now, we are not only limited by our own character, but are inextricably woven into the whole web of life. Yet here again there is an ambiguity: on the one hand, nothing exists outside the life chain; on the other hand, every life form, even a minute living cell, displays a kind of mind of its own. That is to say, every life form is vitally dependent on its environment, yet sell-organizing, indeed, autopoietic (self-producing).

Planet Earth is of course embedded in the larger scheme of things. If we place freedom in the broader context of the whole universe, what do we find? We can characterize our universe thus: our universe, together with everything that exists within it, is one, interdependent, self-organizing, self-evolving whole. This is not only an esoteric view of the universe; it is also the perception now of many scientists and other thinkers.

It follows that the very nature of our universe makes freedom possible but quintessentially paradoxical. At all levels, entities are both self-organizing and interdependent.

We come to see that, paradoxically, autonomy depends on relationship! Relationship is then a crucial factor in probing the nature of freedom. And inasmuch as all relationships are subject to order of some kind, inquiring into natural freedom and human freedom, in particular, requires probing order.


Theosophy proposes that all existence is grounded in and subject to boundless and impartible orderan order that just is, and that cannot be circumvented. It is noteworthy that religious teachings concur with this notion if only by implication. In particular, the Hindu-Buddhist doctrine of karma presupposes an illimitable order that somehow registers and interrelates all our acts, and even our intentions. A parallel Christian teaching is that an individual reaps as he or she sows; this, too, implies an abiding spiritual order. Perhaps one can say that all moral and ethical principles in reality subsume inner order.

I might at this point note that my non-dualistic stance diverges from the position of those (many) academic philosophers today who discount the value of metaphysics. I maintain, on the contrary, that metaphysics is an indispensable component of philosophical thought.[2] My position also differs from that of those post-modern deconstructionists and other schools of thought who frown on relationship as inimical to freedom. How they can maintain such a view given our universe of infinite connections, I do not know.


Now we experience and observe different types or kinds of order. The postulated illimitable order must subsume all of these; it must encompass and interrelate them and any other possible kinds of order; it must hold within itself all existing and future possibilitiesone may understand why esoteric philosophers sometimes refer to it as the plenum void.

One of the types of observed order is mechanical or linear order, as exemplified by a machine. Newtonian physics is based on this kind of order.[3] It is, however, inapplicable at the subatomic level, where, according to quantum physics, subatomic particles can change into each other and also intercommunicate instantly across time-space.

Organic or biological order displays yet another type of dynamicsan irreversible process wherein things grow within each other.

Psychological order is yet another type. Reason or logic, the chief mode notably of philosophers, is still another type of order. Beyond reason lie the intuitive and the spiritual modes. These do not entail or depend on logic but are immediate ways of knowing.

The different types of order correspond, we see, to our disciplines for their investigation, including physics, biology, psychology, philosophy, and religion. As I have elsewhere attempted to demonstrate,[4] these different avenues to understanding are in principle mutually harmonious and complementary. This again is only consistent with the postulate of an impartible ultimate order.


Another related proposition of non-dualismit is implied in its very nameis the unity of dualities, or pairs of opposites, for example spirit and matter, universal and particular, good and evil, light and dark, young and old. Theosophy holds that the pairs of opposites which pervade life exist in terms of each otherthat each pair of opposites are mutually defining and mutually necessary poles of being. More than that, it makes clear that their interaction and integration are the indispensable means whereby anything constructive and creative can happen.

To give a few examples of the creative meeting of opposites: electricity is produced through the union of positive and negative electrons; individual plants, animals, and humans issue from the conjoining of male and female poles of germ cells; a new ideology is produced from two existing or older ideologies.

We ourselves are a polarityboth particular and universalparticular in our mix of gifts, limitations, dispositions, etc.; universal as members of the human species and of the larger manifested Cosmos. Our universality must account for the possibility of experiencing unity with beings or entities beyond all differences. Most of us have had experiences of empathy and unity from time to timewith another person, with a landscape, with works of art, with a crystal, a flower, an animal. In William Blakes phrase, we may see the world in a grain of sand.

In such experiences one discovers, I believe, a paradoxical thing: the more that I, a particular, unique being, can identify with other beings, the greater will be my fulfillment and self-realization. It is fulfilling to realize, for instance, that I am a human being first and foremost, not only a woman. It is similarly satisfying to be able to transcend the religion of my birthto perceive that it is but one of the worlds remarkable spiritual traditions which complement each other and which together point beyond themselves to the transcendent, ineffable Truth.[5]

It will be obvious that this perspective has far-reaching implications for our present interdependent but sorely divided and conflicted human society. (We will later glance at some of these implications.)

The human estate, as H.P. Blavatsky, co-founder of the Theosophical Society, made clear, confers upon us, through manas (mind), the possibility of uniting heaven and earthor the infinite and the finite.

More generally, as she further remarked, both poles of every duality are but aspects of One Reality in which they are synthesized.


We saw that freedom of will is something to be attained by self-effort or self-evolution. Put the other way around, the fuller meaning of freedom emerges in the evolutionary context.

Let us then examine, if only briefly, what is meant by evolution as such. It will be interesting to compare the theosophical view of evolution with that of leading-edge science.

Blavatskys masterwork, The Secret Doctrine, first published in 1888, is in one sense an immense meditation on evolution. Blavatsky saw evolution not as a mechanical or merely physical process, but as an unfoldment from within without. For her, the evolution of matter is preceded by the involution of consciousness into matter, a process described as involution/evolution. In her system, involution means the movement from unity to diversity; evolution is the realization of unity in the midst of diversity (Sellon and Weber, 1992, p. 322).

Blavatsky saw evolution as a journey in consciousness in which all beings co-participatean eons-long journey toward a higher life, toward ever deeper realization of unity.

It is interesting that science is coming to a view which resembles Blavatskys in many respects, and that this newer theory draws upon and appeals to many scientific disciplines (see Jantsch, 1980).

According to this newer, still unconventional theory, evolution is an overall dynamic process that embraces cosmic, biological, and social systems. More particularly, the process continuously generates these systems or wholes which form a dynamic continuum of ever-more inclusive and capable wholes, describable as an interactive and interpenetrating hierarchy of levels of organization. As systems theorist Ervin Laszlo states, The process begins with hadrons, leptons, and quarks; continues with atoms, molecules, and cells; and it extends under suitable conditions (such as those on earth) all the way to organisms, ecologies, and societies (Laszlo, 1987, p. 27).

This remarkable continuum described by science reminds one of Saint Pauls words: we are all members of one another.

In terms of this theory, evolution is a co-participatory, co-creative, open-ended process with an overall (or transcendent) direction toward the formation of wholes of ever-greater complexity of organization and higher functional ability.


We should understand how a new whole comes about. What is involved is a new integration of existing diverse entities. Differentiation is followed by a new integration at the next level of the continuum. As Arthur Koestler once put it, differentiation followed by integration is a process of attaining a new kind of unity by a detour through diversity. To give a few examples: cells specialize (enormously), and then become integrated into a tissue; organisms or creatures combine to form a population; diverse populations form an ecosystem (and, we are learning, because of environmental problems, that biodiversity is vital for a thriving ecology); the ecosystems comprise the biosphere; and Planet Earths biosphere is so unified that it has been compared to a single cell.

What is of primary interest to us, naturally, is the leading tip of this remarkable continuumnamely, human beings and human society. We ask ourselves: could not human society form itself into a new whole? Could it not evolve to the next, more inclusive, more integrated level of consciousness? Why should the evolutionary process that has taken billions of years to reach its present juncture, terminate at this point when human beings and human society, at least on this planet, are so far from what we can imagine them becoming?

The fact is that human society has already converged into a very complex new whole. That is to say, the polities of the world have been drawn into a world system whose myriad elements and processes interact such that human societies are interdependent materially, ecologically, socially, morallya situation wherein everything affects everything else and makes us all mutually responsible.

This planet-wide interdependence to a degree never before experienced is, to my mind, a momentous karmic/evolutionary development. It is karmic in that it was brought about by ourselves (at least by human agency) and in that it now deeply challenges us in a way that may well result in an evolution of consciousness. It is karmic in the way it interrelates all the dimensions of our life, including physical, psychological, and moral dimensions. It is karmic in the fact that it devolves on relationship.

That is to say, the global problems we face, such as environmental decline, elitism, poverty, hunger, racism, militarism, violence, fragility of economies, and so forth, are due to shortcomings in relationshipthat between industry and the environment, between government and the governed, between rich and poor, between the industrialized North and the less-developed South, among ethnic groups, among races, among political factions. The relationships are defective in that they infringe the principle of wholeness. We can infringe wholeness all we like, but owing to the unbreakable inner order, we cannot infringe it without adverse results.[6]

At present we are intensively interdependent but sorely disuniteddivided over numerous old and new issues of race, color, creed, and ideology. This represents a profound dilemmaa life-threatening planetary dilemma. As many thoughtful observers have said, it could only be resolved by a fundamental change of consciousness on the part at least of a critical number of us.

As we have seen, life is through and through interdependent. No entity, no group, no society can be an island unto itself. Each must balance its natural wish for self-determination with its equally natural dependence on and shared practical and other concerns with its neighbors and indeed the whole planetary community.[7]

Political and economic freedom and democracy are no less inseparable from inner order or necessity than is individual freedom of will. Nor is a free market the be-all and end-all of freedom. It is a practical but amoral instrument. It demands a framework of appropriate civil institutions and laws.


In this connection, what has been transpiring in the different parts of the erstwhile Soviet bloc, including Russia itself, is instructive. Upon their liberation from Communism, the citizenry discovered that freedom can be abused. They had known that they wanted freedom from totalitarianism, but on the heels of tyrannys overthrow the question arose: what is freedom for?

Many of those citizens, not unlike many of us here in America, confuse freedom with egocentricity. They, like we, tend to be far more self-involved than concerned with the common good. But as we have seen, evolution is an ongoing process; we have the potential for self-transformation (that this is a real possibility is evident in the example of historys sages, saints, and saviors).

The late philosopher of Integralism, Haridas Chaudhuri (1974), compared egocentric and cosmocentric individuality. He said that the former is the product of ignorance and therefore is in a sense unreal, whereas the latter is marked by a sense of spiritual kinship with the entire universe, a feeling of responsibility for the entire living creation, a sense of dedication to cosmic welfare. The cosmocentric individual responds to the world in its wholeness by virtue of an inner realization of the wholeness of Being.


One need only summon to mind the enormous diversity displayed in every domainin

nature (in flora, fauna, human physiognomies, skin colors, shapes, etc.), in culture, in the arts, in theories of science and philosophy, in religious traditionsto see that diversity is a pervasive fact of existence. As we have seen, alternate diversification and integration are inherent in the evolutionary process, a process that has evidently been ongoing from the beginning of time. Human history shows that the intermingling of blood, cultures, languages, and traditions has been continual. This cross-fertilization has been an enriching process, and of course it is totally irreversible. If anything, this process is accelerating now by virtue of greater human mobility and mass communications. It is a fact that innumerable individuals today are born of mixed parentagethat even the members of a single family may differ in their skin color.

The American experience is instructive. Our culture, arts, science, and skills of every kind are continually infused by contributions of gifted individuals of every racial and ethnic provenanceblacks, Caucasians, Latinos, Asians. Diversity is in fact our strength. Yet in America, too, we witness a high incidence of polarization over issues of race, sex, abortion, religion, politics, economics.

But I believe that people are coming to see increasingly (again, mass communications are a force in broadening and deepening peoples perspective) that polarization over any issue is futile, foolish, and destructive. As this paper argues, from the viewpoint of wholeness, truth is expressed through the unity of opposites, not through extremes.

Scientist-philosopher Ravi Ravindra, discussing karma, points out that the more important causes of human bondage are not external but within ourselvesthat we are prisoners of our habits, fears, prejudices, sell-importance. He says that when viewed from the perspective of a whole person, the Law of Karma can indicate to a person willing to undertake the discipline involved in the cleansing of his perceptions what the knots are in his life which compel him to act the way he does, even against the will and understanding of his right mind, and how to resolve and overcome these (Ravindra, 1991, p. 347). The law of karma, he says, is: as one is one acts; and as one acts so one becomes (p. 346).

Another illuminating expositor of freedom was the late Lama Anagarika Govinda, who wrote that expressing freedom is expressing ones true nature, and that ones true nature is all-embracing and universal. For Govinda, the epitome of freedom is an awakening to our universalityto our own true all-embracing nature. He writes, No individual exists in its own nature, independent of all other factors of life Since no first beginning of any individual or of any inner or outer phenomena can be found, it means that each of them has the totality of the universe at its base. Or, if we want to express this from the standpoint of time, we could say that each of these phenomena, and especially every individual, has an infinite past and is, therefore, based on an infinity of relations, which do not and cannot exclude anything that ever existed or is liable to come into existence. All individuals have, therefore, the whole universe as their common ground, and this universality becomes conscious in the experience of enlightenment, in which the individual awakens into his own true all-embracing nature (Govinda, 1976, p. 10). Is this not a superb elucidation of what is meant by universality?

And to round out this brief survey, we might further recall Blavatskys uniquely encompassing vision of the nature, meaning, and ultimate goal of our long evolutionary journey. A succinct but superbly faithful statement of it is found in a paper (unpublished) by theosophical scholar Emily B. Sellon: The involution/evolution spiral is, it is said, from unconscious perfection (undifferentiated oneness) to conscious imperfection (the struggle for self-hood and self-expression) to conscious perfection (a state of fully aware oneness, as exemplified by the Buddha or the Christ). Thus it is only through the experience of the limitation of finiteness, of embodied life, and the conquest of this limitation, that consciousness can free itself from the illusion of the separateness of self and world, mind and body, and thus win enlightenment.


Lest we lose faith in human prospects as we daily learn of humanitys sell-defeating ways, its apparent inability to master racial and ethnic prejudice, and its failure so far to stop barbarities and murder, it is well to realize that this is only a part of the whole picture. For there is also evidence to suggest that societal consciousness continues to evolve despite, or perhaps in very response to the distressing decline and atomization we observe.

Here, in broad terms, are some of the positive and interrelated developments I see:

Widespread recognition that we create our own world, and with that, a growing sense of responsibility.
A lively grassroots movement for social change.
The fact that many members of the political, social, economic, and related professions are hard at work elucidating for themselves and the rest of us the meaning of human well-being.
The remarkable emergence of the idea, ideal, or principle of wholeness in most if not all modern disciplines. (I have elsewhere documented this significant phenomenon.[8])
The present electronic era which, synchronously with these other factors, promotes the convergence of ideas and knowledge on all levels of life.
The gradual emergence of a new planetary ethos containing the idea of the world as one community. We may expect to see, in this connection, the further evolution of the United Nations (which is still a young organization, and one which mirrors the world); it will become a more effective instrument for attending to humanitys global problems (and the preservation of its commons, such as the atmosphere) that are beyond the means of individual nation-states.
The extraordinary development of international law in the past half-century as related to the foregoing point. Introducing more lawfulness at the international level to supplant the present anarchy is consonant with the new planetary ethos.
Closely related, too, the widespread aspiration for democracywhich is an aspiration for self-mastery.
Increasing attention to human rights. The first international conference on human rights in twenty-five years was held recently in Vienna. Human rights are a concern at the very crossroads of the present-day discussion about democracy, development, culture, and religion.
The holding of world conferences with broad and inclusive participation for the purpose of addressing vital and universal human concerns (such as the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit, held in Brazil in 1992; the previously mentioned Human Rights Conference in Vienna, and the Parliament of the Worlds Religions in Chicago, both held in 1993).
A broadening of the concept of cognition. According to one recent book (Varela, Thompson, and Rosch, 1993), Intelligence shifts from being the capacity to solve a problem to the capacity to enter into a shared world of significance (p. 207).
Above all, perhaps, the fact that many of us have outgrown our religious parochialism and cultural provincialism and are also developing a sense of unity beyond differences of color, sex, and ethnicity.

Combined, these developments signal, I submit, a new impulse toward a broader, more unitive, and truer vision.

I am reminded of a prophecy of the theosophist Dane Rudhyar. He wrote in 1977 that the 500-year period which began around 1900 will be driven by a search to discover a new means for planetary integration. It will resonate to vibrations of harmonization, to vibrations of the union of opposites, and of the love that synchronizes polarities at all levels. To succeed it must avert and turn back further the disastrous and self-destructive atomization and self-involvement, which could only culminate in utter unrelatedness and indifference (statements he made some years before the advent of the depravity of ethnic cleansing).

Rudhyar noted that up to now, people have mainly clustered together on the basis of common cultural roots, a common language and tradition, a rootedness in the collective pastthat is, on the basis of sameness. By contrast, the emergent type of society will operate at a higher level of consciousness and inclusiveness. Its members will envision and will help shape a more harmonious human society, entailing a new, more transcendent way of interrelating.

By the evidence, a new evolutionary phase has indeed begun. Our greatest fulfillment will surely lie in attuning to and fostering it.

To conclude, the gist of the theosophical understanding of freedom is this: Knowingly or not, all of us are embarked on a common journey in consciousness whose goal is our full awakening to our unity with everyone and everything beyond all differences. And since it is a common journey, none of us can be truly free until all of us are free.

*** *** ***


Bibliographical References

-          Blavatsky, H.P. 1888 (1979). The Secret Doctrine. 3 vols. Madras, Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House.

-          Chaudhuri, Haridas. 1974. Being, Evolution, & Immortality. Wheaton, Illinois: Theosophical Publishing House. A Quest Book.

-          Govinda, Lama Anagarika. 1976. Creative Meditation and Multi-Dimensional Consciousness. Wheaton, Illinois: Theosophical Publishing House. A Quest Book.

-          Jantsch, Erich. 1980. The Self-Organizing Universe. Elmsford, New York: Pergamon Press.

-          Laszlo, Ervin. 1987. Evolution: The Grand Synthesis. Boston & London: Shambhala: New Science Library.

-          Lemkow, Anna F. 1990. The Wholeness Principle: Dynamics of Unity Within Science, Religion, and Society. Wheaton, Illinois: The Theosophical Publishing House. A Quest Book.

-          Midgley, Mary, 1993. Cant We Make Moral Judgments? New York: St. Martins Press Inc.

-          Ravindra, Ravi (ed.). 1991. Science and Spirit. New York: Paragon House. An ICUS Book.

-          Rudhyar, Dane. 1977. Culture, Crisis, and Creativity. Wheaton, Illinois: Theosophical Publishing House. A Quest Book.

-          Sellon, Emily B., and Rene Weber. 1992. Theosophy and The Theosophical Society, in Modern Esoteric Spirituality. Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman (eds.). New York: Crossroads.

-          Varela, Francisco J., Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch. 1993. The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

* THE QUEST, Spring 1994.

** Anna F. Lemkow is author of The Wholeness Principle: Dynamics of Unity Within Science, Religion, and Society (Quest Books, 1990). She formerly worked in the U.N. Secretariat in the field of socio-economic development. She enjoys exploring integrative approaches to science, religion, and world affairs.

[1] The Aristotelian controversy of freedom versus determinism has, as we know, remained unresolved for centuries and, to my mind, it is irresolvable because it fails to comprehend the inseparability of freedom and law.

[2] As philosopher Mary Midgley states (Midgley, 1993, pp. 169-170), metaphysics is a necessary condition of all extended thought. To have a metaphysics is to have a conceptual structure of ones world picture, a general map of how the world is and how it can possibly be. Metaphysical doctrines include obviously necessary things like views about causal necessity about the reality of physical objects and the possibility of knowledge, about the proper way to think about mind and matter, time and space, andof most interest to most of usviews about human nature and human destiny. They are the most general presuppositions of our thought, without which it would remain a hopelessly shapeless collection of scraps.

[3] Mechanistic determinism, we should note, raised a new complication in the long-standing freedom-determinism problem of Western philosophy, but physics itself later refuted mechanism as a world model. However, Western philosophy, in struggling with the paradoxical human condition of seeming to be both free and conditioned, continues to employ Aristotelian or either/or logic, and therefore remains unable to resolve this controversy. Only if it is understood that freedom cannot be attained except by obeying order can it be resolved. By the same token, it is futile to look for an escape hatch from determinism by recurring to chance, as some thinkers tried to do with the advent of quantum physics. For this again misses the point that freedom cannot exist without order.

[4] Notably, in my book The Wholeness Principle.

[5] This position is substantiated in The Wholeness Principle, chapters 11-16.

[6] Therefore, all our disorders are, paradoxically, meaningful expressions of order! That is the burden not only of karma but also of the most ancient book of Chinese wisdom, the I Ching. Interestingly enough, this insight has surfaced in a new way in chaos theory.

[7] The imperatives of sharing one small planet have already impacted on the world scene in a major wayincluding the establishment of the United Nations nearly five decades ago, and the existence today of some 20,000 other international organizations of which some 18,000 are nongovernmental. In 1909 the total number of international organizations was 176.

[8] In The Wholeness Principle.



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