Two Kinds of Liberty and Ultimate Liberation

I remember once being at lunch with a friend, many years ago, and mentioning regarding freedom, that there is freedom from and freedom to. I'd heard it from a teacher, and although I wasn't clearly remembering what was meant, I thought it might be important or interesting. She immediately shot back that they are the same because you can’t have any freedom from unless you have freedom to... something like that. I don't remember exactly what my friend said, but I also knew at a gut level, they weren't seeing what was meant by it really (she was also in what she felt was a very bad living situation at the time, and did not at all feel free! So I let the whole topic go...).

Not only can we make a valid distinction, but, more importantly, we have, at a deep level within us all, true freedom, at the very core of who or what we are. At that deep level, whether it is "freedom from" or "freedom to", doesn't matter. We are freedom.  If you can see it.

Freedom To And Freedom From

Let's look at it – the supposed two kinds of freedom. What is meant by freedom from versus freedom to?

If one looks at it in a certain way, in the world, yes it’s true. Let's say you feel like a victim of a person you are living with in a house, and you feel stuck, extremely angry, frustrated, and don't see a way out. As a person, an object, subject to outside forces, I may not be feel free TO do something unless I am free FROM some person or situation, and I may not be free FROM some person or situation unless I am free TO do something, it would seem. I may not feel free psychologically, completely bound by intense fears of an abusive person; and/or I may not be free to leave an oppressive or restrictive husband or wife unless I am free to be independent financially.

At a more general worldly level, if I am living under a repressive political regime, I may not be free TO criticize the regime and be free FROM legal repercussions from the government or actions the secret police, or free to cross the border without being free from being stopped and detained.

That is the logic of people, of politics, of objects, of separation: of being earthbound, "in bondage". Any brain, any human head can see that. And, there are always ways for a human mind to argue for being a victim, or being bound by something, or in spiritual bondage, if it wants.

Positive and Negative Liberties

Even legally or politically, there are ways to see a distinction between being free from and being free to – discussions are framed in terms of positive or negative liberty.

In social democratic philosophies (one form of socialism) or progressive political theories, there can be more of an emphasis on what is called "positive liberty” or “freedom to act”.

In conservative or classical liberal thought, being free from – referred to as "negative liberty" – is emphasized more.

Here's a summary, from a scholarly friend:

Being Free From: This is often referred to as "negative liberty" or "freedom from interference". It emphasizes the absence of constraints or interference from others, including the government. For example, freedom from oppression, freedom from censorship, and freedom from arbitrary arrest are all about ensuring that an individual is not subject to unwanted external influences or coercion. This concept is central in classical liberal thought, where the emphasis is on limiting the power of the state and others over the individual.

Being Free To: This is known as "positive liberty" or "freedom to act". It focuses on having the power and resources to fulfill one's own potential or to take specific actions. This perspective of freedom involves enabling conditions – such as access to education, healthcare, and economic opportunity – that allow individuals to pursue their goals and live as they choose. Positive liberty is often emphasized in social democratic or progressive political theories, which advocate for a role of the state in providing the conditions necessary for individuals to achieve their potential.

With government policies for example, these concepts can be used to frame discussions about rights and, a debate about freedom of speech might involve arguments about freedom from government censorship (negative liberty) versus the freedom to express one's opinions without fear of social or economic repercussions (positive liberty).
– Shawn Merrill, PhD.

Freedom Of Speech is Moot If We Are All Dead?

For example, if one were to emphasize freedom to act, positive liberty, in a political or social context, you might claim for instance, that unless one (or one’s children) has the freedom to live, and not die from climate change (global warming) consequences, then we need to do whatever we need to do, in order to achieve that end, such as restrict certain freedoms, and either enact laws to restrict private companies or individuals from emitting carbon, or even (as some have suggested) coerce individuals to not vote in certain ways that imperil our future and the positive right to freedom (in the form of physical living and acting in the future). This is seen as more fundamental than what is seen as a more abstract negative liberty or freedom from interference, such as in freedom of speech or freedom from government interference, which may more or less be taken for granted. In other words, freedom of speech is moot if we are all dead. (I see this as a fear-based philosophy, based in imagination and emotion. It’s childish. A half truth).

Give Me Freedom of Speech or Give Me Death?

An example of an emphasis on "negative liberty" or "freedom from interference” would be as follows: An individual running a company that restores classic cars that run on petrol and do not use modern any emission-control features. They would see this is their freedom and right to build and use the cars they want and enjoy them, and run a capitalist enterprise and engage in free trade with others, and be free from oppressive and restrictive government or state interference, and run their business as they see fit under the circumstances, and where people are free to buy (or not) their products and services. If other individuals do not want to buy or use polluting cars, that is also their freedom. And all are free to express their opinion, whether one agrees or not. A more extreme example would be feeling one is free to yell racist slogans on a street corner, or be free to drive an all-terrain vehicle over a fragile, endangered ecosystem, in the name of “Freedom”. One may fight for one's country and die for it, in the name of preserving these inalienable rights and freedoms to be part of a free country, governed by certain principles. (I see destructive behavior justified by "freedom" also as childish, but more based on anger – though there may be a deep fear under the anger. It’s also a partial or limited truth, just like it is to say there's no freedom if you're dead).

All of this makes for interesting debates, and fuel for social noise, friction, and media, but is not what is being pointing to here.

External and Internal Freedom

All if this is externals – external freedoms.  What is meant, what is being pointed to in these writings and in teachings of so-called spiritual liberation, is liberation from bondage period, not just external freedoms (though those will follow: you have to get the causality right). It is not just psychological freedom (as psychologists sometimes talk about), but freedom from psychology, period. Psychology appears in you. You are not that psychology. It does not control the real You. You are Free. Freedom itSelf/ Ultimate freedom is what we are, full stop. Our nature. It is natural. As free as the birds and the wind. Free. Free is free.

We are not even talking about “free will”, since that too is a concept: you have to have a will to have free will, and there has to be something with a will, something to hold it.

External freedom will follow from internal freedom, in a sense. One's actions will change, are an expression of where it's coming from, what it's based in. If the basis is fear it will be different, and manifest in a different way, than if it's based in truth, love or beauty, as universal qualities of Freedom full-stop.

The Last Question

The freedom being pointed to in these kinds of teachings is the kind revealed by “What am I?” question of Self inquiry. Why? Because it’s the last question, or the ultimate question as it were: the direction all spiritual practices or inquiry lead. In other words, if you answer that question, what am I, or what is the Self, you are done. Fini. There is no where else to “go” as it were.

Who wants freedom? You see, even asking that in the politico-economic-legal or scientific-philosophical framework, like we briefly discussed above, will lead to the same place. Unless one frees oneself, or shackles are shed by themselves, out of Grace so to speak, there can not be an experience of this kind of liberty or liberation, as there are the assumptions that one is an object, a thing, a noun, a separate entity, and there are others and things out there that are going to impact this here object, and we are in fear and need to protect and defend.

It may be true on a material level, under some circumstances, but it’s not true spiritually, or ultimately.

It’s all impersonal. All of it. The entire universe, and the entirety or existence and reality, There are no personal entities, no actual separate entities in existence.

As far as function however, in this dream, yes we have to account for apparent entities, and function accordingly, as how we want the game to go.

The overall Field can change, and change swiftly, In an instant.


Further Notes

As soon as you set up duality, you have a no-win situation: either pole you take it implies the opposite. So if you emphasize the freedom from then you automatically have an issue with the freedom to, and vice versa.

So, as soon as you claim well, I have the freedom to blast off dynamite in my yard, then someone may then react that they have the free to not hear that.

Who's freedom is more important? They will always be the potential for conflict at that level of apparent persons, bodies, properties, boundaries, defined countries, political bodies, and on and on.

One could say that their freedom to express an opinion and vote against changes to law about carbon emissions, which one thinks are based on uncertain scientific claims, is trumped by the future potential freedom of my children to not be drowned by the rising waters from climate change. But is it absolutely true?

Or my defensible space of being free from fires and free to kill everything that threatens my property trumps the environmental freedom of Gaia and plants and the beauty of nature. But is it absolutely true?

Or one could argue that a freedom to not wear a mask is more fundamental than someone else's unfounded fear of getting a disease. Or one could say my freedom of keeping My body and my loved ones and my community safe trumps your abstract idea of freedom not founded in science. But is it absolutely true?

Or I could claim that my freedom of expression about one tribe of people, on one side of a war, defending themselves from “terrorist” acts in the past and in the future trumps the freedom of those who claim the other side, is being “oppressed”, and has to be defended by calling out the “terrorists”that are oppressing them. But is it absolutely true?

You can start to see that as long as one stays at the level of rhetoric, and separate entities, of bodies, then none of these debates will ever be resolved. There will always be war. They will go on and on forever, around and around, up-and-down, with one side seeming to rise up or win out for a short time, and each side in different forms. Victims and victimizers, etc.

They’re both true and they’re both false.

At one level, there’s a grain of truth to both sides, and often and functionally speaking there can be ways to resolve it, so there’s a relative amount of functioning and resolution. Or at minimum, one can muddle through. You get the machine working well enough to at least get you to the store ... kind of like in certain democracies: the least bad system.

However, at the ultimate level we are pointing to none of this matters, and all of it is irrelevant. Yet paradoxically, it can help resolve these situations. "Be of the world but not in it" so to speak. And actually can be resolved quite easily. It’s much more difficult to point to or talk about, however

What you really are is more than just actions and reactions like one sees outwardly in the animals. I remember one teacher, saying “you’re only freedom is to not react”. There’s a truth to that.

You have to see the whole to see the truth. And you have to see from the whole to see the truth.

So how do you see the whole and how do you see from the whole?

In my experience, it’s by being convinced, or by a kind of trust. You can even see it as it plays out ,as one lives according to glimpses of truth - seeing more universally.

There comes to be more of a emphasis, more of a "leaning into" what’s real, after seeing what’s not real. Namely, the mind, the personal mind. A fiction, a dream, a story, an imagination...

Yes, you can point to one or talk about Being with a capital "b", but it then becomes just another abstraction or an object or something to seek, for the mind.

You’re actually have to see the mind from something that’s not the mind. See the patterns. See the operation. See the action. See the myopia. See the smallness of a thought or a focus or an interest, or a distraction or a phenomenon. Ironically, paradoxically, also then you see the beauty and the truth, and experience the love.

And seeing what you’re not, you’re being what you are. You already are that.

That’s how to change the world, really. Not just re-arranging the deck chairs. But clearing the deck. Totally. Even, or especially, if it’s not your goal to change the world. No agenda – for the world, for others. No Pol Pots or Hitlers, please.

An Energy Field?

You can be in a crowd of miserable people and access via an "incantation" the joy and love within. And the whole field changes and lightens up the apparent people around you. The other characters in the dream change, because it’s coming from the dreamer and not the dreamt.

I can’t tell you what the incantation or prayer or seeing is, as a specific or final form though because not only is there no form or finality to it, but it all depends on seeing from that “perspective” so to speak -
The perspective-less perspective – which is something that you have to see for yourself. No one can give you what you absolutely have to find for yourself. One can only convey signpost pointers and a rough field guide.

There can be a seeing that everything is actually perfect the way it is right now, that there is nothing to be fixed per se. But again it depends on what “level” one is talking from and to.

However, and paradoxically, knowing that, one’s life becomes better, and others lives become better too, as it “manifests“...

But of course people are not interested in the truth with a capital “T”. They can’t possibly be, as seemingly separate entities, it destroys or calls into questions all that is dear the them, cherished, as characters in the dream. Or it seems to.

Yet nothing is lost, and all shall be added unto you. Not in the future, Now.

Causality does not flow from the social and political to ultimate liberation, but from the other way, from the causeless to the causal.

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Eric Platt


  1. oliver on January 27, 2024 at 1:23 pm

    It’s humorous and comical to think that people believe they are separate entities. That a bundle of words and concepts has any living quality. There is a profound freedom to just being, just witnessing just seeing. Staying with the five senses, for me they are the portal to the absolute. The eternal. The body is functioning in a mechanical way and the cycle of birth and death carries on, life living on live, perpetually. For me the spiritual circus is like a game of whack-a-mole. You smash one illusion and another one pops up, hence the need for vigilance. Thoughts arise, we latch on to them and we go down the rabbit hole making a big story out of nothing. To get to the truth we can keep destroying the illusions. What is wrong with right now if I don’t think about it is the best self enquiry I’ve found for this.Then there is the other method, a total act of grace where the illusion is seen through in one fail swoop. Either way I have found that even with the act of grace the illusion still comes back, Sri NIsgadartta emphasised the need for continued vigilance until all illusions are shattered. I believe that all addictions are caused by the one shared addition, the addiction of self. This obsession over this character. The story the narrative, left unquestioned or unchallenged and it can be an incredible destructive illusion!

    • Eric Platt on January 28, 2024 at 9:18 am

      Hi Oliver –

      Yes, worldly life is a great comedy-tragedy. Shakespeare knew it.

      You said “the five senses, for me they are the portal to the absolute.” Yes it’s wonderful and beautiful how that can occur (and as far as “paths” I understand it’s more a Zen thing, to go through the perception, than an Advaita path: the “outward path” versus the “inward path”, so to speak. Then people will argue over that of course!… while all roads lead to Home).
      As it happens, by serendipity, I made a video yesterday that developed along those lines (started as just notes for friends):

      It’s a frequent “meditation” or “experience” here. I sometimes wonder how it could be conveyed, such as to friends who are struggling, perhaps, with their (personal) version of spirituality they think is the right one, or the “good” teacher versus the “bad” teacher or students, or teaching, or sets of practices, the ones to defend from perceived attack. When it would be so simple to just look, see, hear, smell, taste – with “emptiness” that is “fullness”, Total Mystery behind it all … Be Here Now as the old book title said, hahahaha…. that we need books to tell us that is pretty funny in itself. Our dogs and kids don’t seem to need to read a book to Be, or to play, be joyful.

      And then there are the friends taking Ayahuasca 150 times (so far) in “ceremonies” in order to clean the residues of “filth” they perceive are there… in order to release what’s in the way of abundance and enlightenment …OK maybe they find some health benefits, such as from a smoking addiction… but why is it so endless, so serious (an such a requirement for everyone to do this in their view), and for whom? – who or what is at the core of all this cleansing? That is what remains hidden for them. Apparently. God bless the innocence (Let’s pray this method fails for them soon. Completely. So they are open) … All the while awareness is openly and freely available. No requirements necessary.

      • oli on January 28, 2024 at 2:55 pm

        I practice spontaneous qi gong and I meditate and I eat a modest diet. None of this is for spiritual reasons (although it started out that way. Now It just appear sane and sensible to care for this body and enjoy this wonderful world. My brother took his life so I know how dark and sinister it can get for some people. It’s a shame that the phantom self can cause that much despair. It causes one hell of a mess when everything is normally fine.

        • Eric Platt on February 1, 2024 at 9:13 am

          Hi Oliver – A similar thing goes on here: I do what I’ve called a “spontaneous yoga”, which is simply a combination of yoga postures or movements learned in various classes, and I do it because it helps with the mild migraines that pop up sometimes, and generally makes me feel better and more relaxed. I also do a kind of spontaneous “meditation” when the bodymind is too wound up, and just sit and “do nothing” so to speak. I have no idea how it works or what I would tell someone to do – if it is a kind of alignment with Nature, or a placebo effect (which no one understands, really) or what, and the brain can’t figure it out, and the selfing mechanism just throws its hands up because it makes no sense – but it works and feels good, and saves me a trip to the pharmacy –  so who am “I” to argue, hahaha.

          One way to picture the phantom self is a kind of fake add-one or extension as it were, the natural bodily survival mechanism, but in a psychological way. I happened to write about it this morning:

          There comes to be a kind of psychological survival on beyond the physical navigating-time-and-space survival that becomes problematic, since it’s an apparent entity — what Zen folks call the “ego”, but is not really owned by anyone (that would imply two egos) — it’s a completely fictitious entity, like a dream within a dream. It’s like a mind-made phantom, built of a mind that is not really a separate entity, but just functioning. So the “energies” are wasted by this extra operating system, the artificial seeking-towards and running-away, out of that closed-loop “system”.

          One of the motivations of this whole exploration is that I could somehow help friends or relatives or strangers (that are deep in the shit), by pointing them beyond that selfing mechanism that causes so much suffering and misery and destruction. Occasionally it seems to help them (then there is an going back or up and down cycle, but overall better generally). I don’t know if it’s possible to have any say in this – I mean, it’s not “me” – or if I’m just whistling in the dark, but I do enjoy exploring and talking about it. And my life has gotten much better over the years. I am grateful to all the teachers I’ve met, even if they never really did anything and were all dream characters! Grateful to life haha – L’chaim.

          The open question is, what “causes” the openness that this all depends on? A recognition seems to requires an openness. How do you or I produce openness, or what produces it? Again, “it’s all just happening” as the “neo-Advaita” folks are fond of saying.

          It just seems to happen by itself. And is noticed after-the-fact. It’s not something you can really imagine or intellectually manufacture or create through some practice or activity, such as Satsang, meditation, self-inquiry teachers or teachings. I don’t know. The “I” doesn’t know… just goes along for the ride. 🙂

          There isn’t any arriving at where you never left. Never *really* left…

  2. Bob Bobbings on January 27, 2024 at 4:58 pm

    “It’s humorous and comical to think that people believe they are separate entities.”

    Yet this is so clearly a supercilious comment poking fun at people you believe to be inferior to you (or think you will get community brownie points by pantomiming). It’s no different in tone/feel/emotion from a million petty snarks on youtube re politics or celebrities. Or in primary schools for that matter. Why on earth would you feel the need to emit such an obvious ego-splat if you were so free of ego (as opposed to being intellectually or culturally committed to a bunch of nondually-correct views).

    I make no claims to any form of liberation by the way. I am utterly imprisoned by ego (a pretty inhospitable one at that), so need not fake not being a person. I am totally a person irritated by internet social performativeness!

    • Eric Platt on January 28, 2024 at 9:26 am

      Whose ego, “Bob”? Who has the “obvious” chip on their shoulder here? That *is* funny, actually.
      Petty is as petty does.
      Thanks for the performance.
      Exit stage right.
      Or stage left, as the case may be. 🙂

      • Bob Bobbings on January 28, 2024 at 1:10 pm

        I don’t disclaim ego. I make that point in the very post you’re replying to. Reading comprehension difficulties?

        • Eric Platt on February 6, 2024 at 5:27 pm

          So the “I” has an ego? A thought has a thought? A thought cannot think. There is no evidence of a separate entity, especially one to have an “ego”.

          This whatever it is, chooses a dream of separation, claims it, and suffers the consequences. Nothing wrong with that.

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