Freedom and the Evolution of the Soul
The purpose of this article is to explain why individual freedom is essential to the success of the soul’s embodiment on earth. Without the opportunity to make free will decisions here in time and space, the creative potential of mankind (as an individual, as society, and as a species) will be restrained. This restraint on the potential of mankind can have adverse consequences on the soul’s evolution in spirit and in matter.
Mankind has a special role on earth: that of a creative thinker and builder able to use free will to change the environment and himself within a wide range of of human activity. From observation, it seems that almost all people have a spark of goodness deep within their character. If this is true, then human beings have a tremendous potential to improve the quality of life on earth through the expression of their unique and best character. Remarkably, this good side of human nature is supported at the species level by the genetic traits of empathy and altruism, both of which have evolved to increase the chances of survival of the species through strengthened social cooperation.
Because human beings have free will and an ability to use that free will to make individual moral choices, it seems apparent that God does not predetermine an individual’s decisions in life. Rather, it is more likely that God has given individuals, through the character of their souls, an innate standard of correct and proper behavior. Interestingly, that standard not only assists in human decision-making (especially in a moral sense) but also serves as a model for creative action. For example, a soul’s character of honor and integrity can be used to help individuals make proper moral choices as well as inspire creative expression or a professional career path.
All things in the physical universe appear to be evolving and changing over time, according to specific cycles controlling their existence. Two of the most important drivers for the evolution of mankind are karma and reincarnation. Karma refers to the laws of moral cause and effect, which teaches the person in embodiment the proper way to use free will through lessons learned from experiencing the consequences of his or her actions. Reincarnation, or the rebirth of the soul on earth to learn the lessons of karma, provides the soul with ample opportunity to master the use of free will in physical dimensions. Over time, individuals gradually become aware of their special virtues and the unique contributions they can make to improve life. It is this knowledge and a desire to act with excellence and goodwill that generate within the person’s consciousness a strong sense of who and what they are as an extension of their soul which resides in spiritual dimensions. When individuals are in that state of consciousness, they are aligned with their soul and are in fact their true selves. However, one’s true self is not static. It can change over time as the embodied person gains in understanding and experience.
This process of becoming the true self requires the freedom to use one’s free will. Without a high degree of personal freedom, the individual may lack the opportunity and experience necessary to learn to make correct decisions in the religious, social, political, and personal spheres of life in time and space. For example, if the dogma of religion is too rigid and intolerant, if society is too repressive in its range of permissible activities, if politics is too controlled by narcissistic leaders or ideological rules, if one’s personal life is too closely monitored and judged by moral police — then the individual’s free will is too restricted and the needed lessons of life cannot easily be learned. As a result of this lack of knowledge and experience, the individual may make more mistakes, his or her negative karma may pile up, and the person may be locked into a seemingly endless cycle of embodiments on earth.
That is why, in most cases, a high degree of personal freedom ought to characterize modern society and its various institutions. It is only through the exercise of personal free will that individuals and mankind as a whole can realize their highest potential — individually and collectively, materially and spiritually. However, history and observation teach us that too much freedom given to imperfect human beings can also be detrimental. Finding the right balance between freedom and constraint, free will and responsibility, are essential goals that ought to be embraced by both individuals and society.
Life on earth is challenging to the soul, because while the soul has its spiritual objectives, embodied people are constantly drawn to practical matters of how to live and survive in an environment which is both rich in opportunity and filled with uncertainties. The spiritual side of mankind always exists; however, its finer attributes can often be overlooked by the bare bones necessities of daily life. It is true that man does not live by bread alone, but to live a man does require bread.
In the search for adequate bread to feed the people, many different political, economic, and social organizations have been created by man. Some have deliberately focused on the spiritual side of humanity; others have focused on the material needs of mankind; and others have sought to devise ways to balance the spiritual and material dimensions of human society. In almost all of the various approaches, however, there have been two basic styles of organization: those emphasizing an autocratic decision-making process and those emphasizing individual freedom of choice in as many areas as possible. The first style assumes that enlightened leadership best serves the needs of the people; the second assumes that individuals know what is best for themselves.
In terms of enlightened leadership, there are numerous examples throughout history where outstanding leaders have lifted their societies rapidly and efficiently to high levels of achievement. On the other hand, there are many examples of mediocre or despotic leaders who have exploited or mislead their people down a path to ruin. Even outstanding autocratic cultures have shown a basic weakness in that successor leaders often cannot duplicate the capabilities that were demonstrated by their illustrious ancestors.
The second style of organization is based on the assumption that individuals know what is best for themselves and that collectively the public ought to be involved at a high level in decision-making within the society or organization of which they are part. Like the autocratic style described in the above paragraph, there are examples of outstanding success of the individual freedom model and examples of failure as well. In general, success in freedom models depends on being able to reach a high degree of consensus among the people, especially in times of crisis. Failures of this model seem mostly related to polarization among the people, refusal of large groups within society to follow the laws established to ensure the smooth functioning of a democracy, extreme personal freedom with no constraint or sense of social responsibility, and absence of fair and effective means to determine laws and group leadership.
Historically, it has been common for societies to gravitate towards more authoritarian types of leadership, if only because it is a pragmatic solution to address immediate challenges. Governance through a personal freedom model has often been thought to be a lesser desired approach, because of the weaknesses mentioned in the previous paragraph. Still, freedom models have been identified by many political philosophers as an ideal towards which to strive, with various types of government systems being proposed, such as republics and democracies. In modern times, there are complex, functional examples of both autocratic and freedom-based societies, such as found in the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America. These competitive models clearly reflect the strengths and weaknesses of the two styles of governance, with the PRC severely curtailing individual freedom in the name of efficient leadership and the U.S. recognizing a wide range of personal freedoms while sacrificing the ability to easily achieve consensus in society.
These two approaches to social organization are reflected in many other spheres of human life: the maturation process of a person from infancy to adulthood, educational systems that utilize instructor-led classes to independent research to write a dissertation, religions that focus on a guru-chela relationship to those that leave the spiritual aspirant to his or her own devices in meditation or service, careers that are team-oriented to those that maximize independence. From these and many other examples, we could conclude that human beings probably need both autocratic guidance and freedom of choice — depending upon many complex factors.
From the perspective of the soul, whose embodiments on earth are intended to learn the proper use of free will, both guidance from others as well as the freedom to make free will decisions are essential. For those of us living in free societies, the question is: How can we best use our freedom to make proper decisions?
The simplest answer is that human beings ought to make decisions based on the character of their soul. The character of the soul is a gift from God and appears to be a unique aspect of God’s own divine goodness. The uniqueness of the soul’s character is what gives us our sense of individuality. As long as we are making decisions based on our current understanding of what our highest virtue or best character is, we are deliberately trying to align ourselves with the character of our soul. For example, if I think my highest virtue is honor and integrity, then when I make decisions guided by those qualities, my outer human consciousness gradually reflects more of my soul consciousness. This process of integrating one’s outer and higher consciousness enables one to become the true self, which means that the human being is able to more constructively move through life by balancing their karma and fulfilling their dharma or mission in life. Doing so, contributes to achieving the purpose of one’s soul being embodied on earth in the first place. Hence, properly using freedom and free will is helping to advance the evolution of one’s soul.
Yet, how does a human being come to know his or her best character, highest virtue, inner quality, or character of their soul? This is an important question in terms of spiritual health, because it is critical that people actually know what their standard of behavior ought to be personally, professionally, and socially in a free society.
I do not believe there is a single answer to this question, because people are so unique with different characteristics, experience, karma, dharma, circumstances in life, and level of development in a material and spiritual sense. It therefore seems that the path of knowing one’s best character, highest virtue, inner quality, and character of the soul is usually highly individualized. However, people generally discover their true selves through spiritual teachings such as found in religions, through life’s experiences, or through deep reflection on who they truly are.
Regardless of how it is done, finding one’s highest virtue provides an individual in a free society with a standard of behavior for almost all occasions, as well as a source of inspiration on which to draw for creative expression. Living life based on the moral guidance and creative expression of one’s highest virtue aligns one’s free will choices with the need of the soul to learn the proper use of free will in time and space. Learning how to do so advances the evolution of the soul to better enable it to fulfill its purposes as envisioned by the Creator. Hence, freedom and free will play essential roles in the evolution of the soul, and all social institutions ought to support these human conditions to the greatest extent possible.