Disclaimer: This article is not meant to be a lesson in the history of India.
Having said that and as we are all aware, every year, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday is religiously celebrated on October 2nd in the Indian sub-continent. It is one of the three official National Holidays of India, and is observed in all of its states and union territories unlike our other numerous Holidays that depend on which state one lives in. The other two are Independence Day (15th August) and Republic Day (26th January). The popular themes that revolve around these three are, as we know, those that glorify peace, non-violence, unity and the efforts made for freedom in India’s struggle and victory against colonialism.
For many of us, however, these ‘Holidays’ have become just that: Holidays.
A day when we can sleep in without feeling guilty or responsible, visit with friends and relatives, catch up on pending chores, pursue dormant passions, or if you are like me, laze with a book in one hand and a mug of coffee in the other. These holidays have, interestingly, given us the opportunity to live out our free-days in complete freedom. What a privilege.
As people of the world’s largest democracy, we Indians, for the most part experience freedom every day, often going through the motions semi-consciously. As I think about my family, my country, my people and myself, I think about how being free and living in freedom have become crucial to our existence. How our freedom fighters, our first national leaders and heroes, Gandhiji, and others, gave completely of themselves, sacrificing their lives and shedding their blood with a long-and-far-sighted vision for the future of our country. What a dream.
Watching the news, however, always depresses me. Listening to life-stories of hurting or angry people saddens me. The tyranny of some over others, the condescending attitudes of individuals, the bullying nature of countries, hatred among family members, the fears of being violated or killed that many across the world live in day after day deeply disturb me. My over-imaginative mind constantly places me in the shoes of the oppressed and my heightened sense of justice enrages me from within, helplessly. Often, I would rather not know. What lost freedom.
Since I was a child, I have been told and have over the years personally concluded that I am a bit of a free spirit. In other words, I value freedom and dislike living in fear of any sort. I know that I am not the only one who feels this way. People around the world are regularly crying for freedom: children, teenagers, women, men, young adults, workers, home-makers, parents, refugees, the persecuted, the poor, the rich, the in-betweens, et al.
A few days ago I had the privilege of sitting at the feet (well almost, front row seat) of His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet to hear his wisdom on peace, love and being free to think and consider what is best in all circumstances. He empowered us to embrace the freedom we possess (physical, political, financial, religious or emotional) and rise above our bondages to touch the lives of others. The simple and straightforward manner in which he encouraged us to feel free to use our brains at all times and in all matters before concluding on anything hit me like a ton of bricks. Ideologies and spiritual teachings across faiths instruct followers to pursue and experience freedom of the mind, freedom from materialism and freedom from negative thoughts.
One thought written by the Apostle Paul in the Scriptures, which gripped me, was that it is for freedom that I have been set free. I have spent much time pondering on this strange phrase and on how I must understand, embrace and live in freedom. I have come to believe the following:
Freedom destroys my fears. Gandhiji aptly said, “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” Knowing that I am free to do my best and yet make mistakes destroys the fear of failure or the fear of what people might think and say about me. Freedom helps me truly live. It takes my attention away from my weaknesses, inabilities and low self esteem and instead focuses me on what I can do. To experience simple fearlessness in everyday living is exhilarating.
Freedom empowers me to make difficult but good choices. Making individual decisions in a highly community-oriented country as ours without hurting one or the other has always been difficult. The focus of living in freedom helps me to redirect my thoughts to consider what the best decision would be in any situation. Freedom to choose either way takes me back to my convictions and beliefs and helps me draw strength from them to choose wisely. Yet again, I find wisdom in the words of Gandhiji, “A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.”
Freedom helps me love. And finally, I suppose we would all agree that it is easier to love the ones who love us and to do good to those who care for us. I believe that living in Freedom can change things and stir up new emotions of love, compassion and care even for those whom we consider undeserving. Freedom also allows me to choose whom to love and how much. Beautifully, Gandhiji writes, “It is easy enough to be friendly to one’s friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.” I find that when my own spirit is free within me, I can love others unconditionally. No strings attached. No unspoken return-gift policy. No expectations.
To freedom. Gandhi Jayanti Mubarak.