Light on Individual Liberty
Within the sphere of his own mind man has all power, but in the sphere of other minds and outside things, his power is limited. He can command his own mind, but he cannot command the minds of others. He can choose what he shall think, but he cannot choose what others shall think. He cannot control the weather as he wills, but he can control his mind, and decide what his mental attitude toward the weather shall be.
A man can reform the dominion of his own mind, but he cannot reform the outer world because the outer world is composed of other minds having the same freedom of choice as himself. A pure being cannot cleanse the heart of one less pure, but by his life of purity and by elucidating his experience in the attainment of purity, he can, as a teacher, act as a guide to others, and so enable them more readily and rapidly to purify themselves. But even then those others have the power to decide whether they shall accept or reject such guidance, so complete is man's choice. It is because of this dual truth-that man has no power in the realm of others' minds and yet has all power over his own mind, that he cannot avoid the consequences of his own thoughts and acts. Man is altogether powerless to alter or avert consequences, but he is altogether powerful in his choice of causative thought. Having chosen his thoughts, he must accept their full consequences. Having acted, he cannot escape the full results of his act.
Law reigns universally and there is perfect individual liberty. A man can do as he likes, but all other men can also do as they like. A man has power to steal, but others have the power to protect themselves against the thief. Having sent out his thought, having acted his purpose, a man's power over that thought and purpose is at an end. The consequences are certain and cannot be escaped, and they will be of the nature of the thought and act which produced them-painful or blessed.
Seeing that a man can think and do as he chooses, and that all others have the like liberty, a man has to learn, sooner or later, to reckon with other minds, and until he does this he will be ceaselessly involved in suffering. To think and act apart from the consideration of others is both an abuse and an infringement of liberty. Such thoughts and acts are annulled and brought to naught by the harmonizing Principle of Liberty itself, and such annulling and bringing to naught is felt by the individual as suffering.
When the mind, rising above ignorance, recognizes the magnitude of its power within its own sphere and ceases to antagonize itself against others, it harmonizes itself to those other minds. Having acknowledged their freedom of choice, it has then realized spiritual plenitude and the cessation of suffering.
Selfishness, egotism, and despotism are, from the spiritual standpoint, transferable terms; they are one and the same thing. Every selfish thought or act is a manifestation of egotism, is an effort of despotism, and it is met with suffering and defeat. It is annulled because the Law of Liberty cannot, in the smallest particular, be annulled.
If selfishness could conquer, Liberty would be nonexistent, but selfishness fails of all results but pain, because Liberty is supreme. An act of selfishness contains two elements of egotism: namely (1) the denial of liberty of others and (2) the assertion of one's own liberty beyond its legitimate sphere. It thereby destroys itself. Despotism is death.
Man is not the creature of selfishness; he is the maker of it. It is an indication of his power-his power to disobey even the law of his being. Selfishness is power without wisdom; it is energy wrongly directed. A man is selfish because he is ignorant of his nature and power as a mental being. Such ignorance and selfishness entail suffering, and by repeated suffering and age-long experience he at last arrives at knowledge and the legitimate exercise of his power. The truly enlightened man cannot be selfish: he cannot accuse others of selfishness, or try to coerce them into being unselfish.
The selfish man is eager to bend others to his own way and will, believing it to be the only right way for all. He thereby ignorantly wastes himself in trying to check in others the power which he freely exercises himself, namely-the power to choose their own way and exercise their own will. By so doing, he places himself in direct antagonism with the like tendencies and freedom of other minds, and brings into operation the instruments of his own suffering. Hence, the ceaseless interplay of conflicting forces; the unending fires of passion; the turmoil, strife, and woe. Selfishness is misapplied power.
The unselfish man is he who, ceasing from all personal interference, abandons the "I" as the source of judgment. Having recognized his unlimited freedom through the abandonment of all egotism even in thought, he refrains from encroachment upon the boundless freedom of others. He realizes the legitimacy of their choice and their right to the free employment of their power.
However others may choose to act toward such a man, it can never cause him any trouble or suffering, because he is perfectly willing that they should so choose to act, and he harbors no wish that they should act in any other way. He realizes that his sole duty, as well as his entire power, lies in acting rightly toward them, and that he is in no way concerned with their actions toward him that is both their choice and their business. To the unselfish man, therefore, malice, envy, backbiting, jealousy, accusation, condemnation, and persecution have passed away. Having ceased to practice these things, he is not disturbed when they are hurled at him. Thus liberation from sin is liberation from suffering. The selfless man is free; he has made the servitude of sin impossible; he has broken every bond.