Before we talk about freedom it’s good to know how do we get bound. What binds us? Because if we do not know that we are bound we won’t even have to bother about freedom. Who wants freedom? The one who is bound. Are we really bound? If so, who is interested in binding us? Somebody out there? Or, you yourself? If so, how do you bind yourself? These are some of the questions we have to ask of ourselves and find the answer. The fact is that nobody is interested in binding us, nobody can block us if we do not allow ourselves to get bound. It is completely in our hands.

There is a saying in South India, “Mangalam (auspiciousness) that comes to us is according to our mind.” It’s not that somebody brings you mangalam. Your own mind brings you mangalam. And because it is the mind that makes you, you are the product of your own thinking. So, you can as well say that you are creating bondage and freedom by yourself. That’s what we repeat every day when we chant this part of the Tryambakam mantra: bandhanan mrityor mukshiya mamritat. We are asking to be set free, liberated from the bondage of the fear of death.

When we have the capacity to bind ourselves, we also have the capacity to liberate ourselves. You don’t need a liberator. And, in a sense, nobody else can liberate you. Even if somebody comes to liberate you, like a spiritual preceptor, you are the one to accept those ideas, apply them, and liberate yourself. If others can have the capacity to liberate people, the world would have been very different. The world has seen many great liberators: Krishna, Rama, Shankara, Buddha, Jesus, Moses, Mohammad. They all came to liberate us. And we are still looking for somebody else. That itself shows that we have not gotten that liberation from somebody else. They couldn’t have liberated us.

If you feel that you are liberated, you accepted their ideas—their teachings—and applied them in your life and then freed yourself. Because freely you bound yourself, freely you liberate yourself.

Now then, how do we bind ourselves? What do you call “bondage?” What is the sign of being bound? When you are attached to something. Attachment means something that glues you to something. To attach to something you need a glue. We don’t seem to use glue to liberate us. What do we glue ourselves to? Wants, attachments, desires. So, your feeling of I want this to happen for me so that I can be happy causes you to be bound to that thing or person to make you happy. But even that thought originates from another problem. The thought of wanting to be happy and wanting somebody or something to bring you the happiness is caused by some other problem: the primordial sin. What is that? Forgetting that you are happy. You forgot that you are happy and you don’t know where your happiness is so you run around looking for it. Sometimes you seem to get it but it doesn’t last long. And, you are afraid of losing it. So the little, little happiness that you seem to get by acquiring things or acquiring friends, acquiring power, acquiring positions doesn’t seem to last long. And, it comes with the fear of losing.

If happiness comes to you from somewhere, then it comes with the fear of losing it. You don’t want to lose it. Why? Because you want to be happy and you know without that you cannot be happy, so you don’t want to lose it. And you don’t even let anybody look at you. The moment somebody looks at, Oh, are they going to take it away from me? The fear of losing comes. That means you are bound. When you don’t want to lose things, when you want to hold onto things, you are bound. You are holding onto things and then you say, “I am bound by this or that.” The more you hold the more you are bound

The Bhagavad Gita talks about a true devotee who will be very dear to God. Krishna says, “Who is my most cherished, beloved devotee? The one who possesses nothing.” Not the one who builds big shrines, performs abhishekams and pujas (worship rituals) or prints a lot of holy books and distributes them freely. Anybody can do that. But the most dearest devotee of mine is the one who possesses nothing. The one who has that equanimity. And you cannot have that equanimity without having a detached life. Selfishness means you are immediately bound—even a little selfishness.

If you honestly feel that you have renounced everything and you are not running after anything you become a receiver of the entire cosmic transmission. You have everything, at the same time you don’t have anything. You appear to be bound by everything but you are totally free. So one has to consciously continuously watch for the reaction of the mind. Don’t allow even a tinge of selfishness to come in. And selfishness is what you call ego: the I, me. mine. It is your own ego that binds you. Nobody else binds you. Even if the whole world wants to come and bind you, they cannot if you lead a completely selfless life.

By Sri Swami Satchidananda