The Parable of Freedom
A man comes to a master to ask how much man is independent and free. Is he free, or is there a limitation? Is there something like fate, kismet, destiny, a God who makes a limitation beyond which you cannot be free?
The mystic answered in his way — not logically but existentially. He said, “Stand up.”
The man must have felt this was a stupid kind of answer, “I am asking a simple question, and he is asking me to stand up.” But he said, “Let us see what happens.” He stood. And the mystic said, “Now, raise one of your legs.”
By this time, the man must have been thinking he had come to a madman; what has this to do with freedom, independence? But now that he has come. There must have been a crowd of disciples, and the mystic was so respected; not to follow him would be disrespectful, and there was no harm. So he lifted one of his legs from the earth, so one foot was in the air, and he was standing on one foot.
And then the master said, “That’s perfectly good. Just one thing more. Now take the other foot up also.”
“That is impossible!” the man said, “You are asking something impossible. I have taken my right foot up. Now I cannot take my left foot up.”
The master said, “But if you were free. In the beginning, you could have taken the left foot up. There was no binding order. You were completely free to choose whether to take the left foot up or the right foot up. I had not said anything about it; you just decided. You took the right foot up.
In your very decision, you made it impossible for the left foot to be lifted. Don’t bother about fate, kismet, God. Just think of simple things.”
The parable of Freedom is a story about free will, choice, and determinism. Is there some grand plan to the universe guiding our every move in a subtle yet, deliberate way? While it may be comforting to think that there is some semblance of divine order, the arguably better question is: does it matter? Many times, people will question their choices and if it is the right thing to do and for the religious, whether their actions are by a deity’s plan for them.
Ironically, the man in the story cannot see his answer right from the start, as even asking whether we have free will, is a free act. Like many of us, he seeks some higher meaning in the answers, and in doing so, deludes himself from a simple truth. There are even some parallels in this story with the parable of the ego that we spoke about in a previous video, in that the man expects and is attached to a logical answer…and when he doesn’t get one, believes he has failed in his mission.
While the mystic initially appears mad -at least, to the man in question, it’s only because he is operating at a different level of awareness than the man can understand. Like the old maxim…No genius could exist without a touch of madness. By looking at everything separately, as single, unconnected events -the moving of the arm and leg, rather than the act of moving an only part of a more significant body, the man cannot see the bigger picture. He can’t comprehend the wisdom of what he is being taught.
Perhaps the lesson in this parable is not to get obsessed with the little/single things and always consider an event contextually, as part of a greater whole. Free Will seems like a natural part of life; we can still make decisions for ourselves. How those decisions will affect the future, though, is always up in the air, and we won’t know until the time comes. Maybe we too focus too much on the specifics of life, rather than taking a simple philosophy of “whatever happens will be,” and it is our own decisions and ideas that make something definite or not.
If you wish to look at it from a fated perspective, perhaps you could say that the man was always going to lift his one foot, and never the other one. But does it matter? If fate exists it is merely the final destination. The man would always end up with at least 1 foot in the air…the choices we make change the path we walk to get there, but if you spend life wondering about your final destination, you might forget to live for the simple things in life and forget even the journey itself….