(An edited version of this article was published in the June 2018 issue of Vedanta Kesari, the monthly magazine published from Ramakrishna Math, Chennai.)
The whole development of humanity and of individual human beings is a journey of breaking free.
Matter is governed by the laws of physics. The movement of matter can be determined by the physical laws within certain limits, which are also physical laws. However, no law of physics can predict the trajectory of a house fly or even a simple bacteria. Life starts when it breaks free from the laws of physics.
Nature puts a number of physical restrictions and mankind overcomes each of them. Man beats the cold by clothing and heating. Man beats the heat by air conditioning. Man beats other predators by weapons. Man beats distances by transportation. Man stops hunting for food by growing his own. Man fights disease by advances in medicine. All the technological development of man is breaking free from external nature.
Animal life is governed by survival and competition. Human life is governed by sacrifice and cooperation. Strong bullies the weak in animal kingdom. The strong protects the weak in human kingdom. Darwin’s laws don’t apply to real human societies.
Inner life is also governed by the laws of biology – the instinct to eat, survive, sleep and procreate. Man is different from animals when he extends or defies these. It is man alone who decides when to wake up, when to sleep, when to eat, what to eat, whom to live with, how to live, how many children to have, etc. Every biological necessity is refined or broken. From food, we have created elaborate cuisine. From sound, we have created music. From vision, we have created beautiful art. From smell, we have created fragrance. From forests, we have created gardens. From movement, we have created dance, tourism and pilgrimage. From partnership, we have created family. From herds, we have created societies. We defy nature too. Nature says, “You are hungry, eat.” Man says, “Today is Ekadasi. I am fasting.” Nature says, “Don’t do that. You will die.” Man says, “I will die for my love and my ideal.” Nature says, “You are sleepy. Sleep.” Man says, “Tonight is Shivaratri. I am on vigil.” Nature says, “Procreate.” Man says, “I am a monk.” It is by breaking the rules of biology that we become human beings. All cultural development of man is refining or breaking free from internal biological nature.
Nature gives me success and says, “Rejoice.” I say, “Many people helped me.” I kneel down with gratitude and share my success. Nature gives me failure and says, “Kneel down and cry.” I stand up and say, “I gave my best. I will try again.” Nature takes away what I deserve and says, “Shout in anger.” I says, “No problem. You have the right to be stupid.” Nature takes away a dear one and says, “Weep.” I say, “Everyone dies one day. I served him well. I wish him well in the hereafter too.” Nature gives bounty to my neighbour and says, “Be jealous.” I say, “He deserves it. Good for him.” All spiritual progress is breaking free from psychological defects like anger, jealousy, greed, arrogance, fear, sorrow, etc.
The progress does not stop there.
The most fundamental rules of individuality, time, space and causation are also to be broken. Nature says, “You are finite.” I say, “I am not an individual. I am pure Consciousness. The whole Universe exists in Me. I am infinite. It is you, Oh Nature, which is finite. I am not limited by you. You exist in me as a small fragment of My Existence.” Nature says, “You will die.” I say, “I am unchangeable. Oh Nature, it is you that changes with Me as the background. I don’t die. It is you that is dying and is reborn every moment. I am beyond time. Time exists in Me.” Nature says, “You are governed by cause and effect.” I say, “When I am the unchangeable, which is the cause and which is the effect? Oh Nature, it is you who is governed by the law of cause and effect. Not Me.” This ultimate breaking free from Nature is Moksha or Nirvana.
The whole of progress from matter to life, to mind, to humanity, culminating in divinity is a series of breaking free from Nature.
Swami Vivekananda says, “Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this Divinity within, by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy – by one, or more, or all of these – and be free. This is the whole of religion.” (Complete Works, Vol I, page 257)
Read the lecture by Swami Vivekananda titled “What is Religion” (Complete Works, Vol I, page 333-343), which covers almost all the discussion above in his words. You can read it online here: http://www.vivekananda.net/BooksBySwami/CompleteWorks/CV1/Lectures/3_WhatIsReligion.html