Existentialism is the popular name of a philosophical focus on human freedom, personal responsibility, and the importance of the individual’s need to make choices. Sartre’s book “Being and Nothingness” (1943) is considered to be one of the best philosophical work of the 20th century. Sartre’s central thesis is that humans are essentially free, free to choose (though Not free Not to choose) and free to negate the given features of the world. Sartre’s driving belief was in human freedom, the ability to choose not only a course of action but also what one would become. If man is truly free, the world, whether material or social, can place no constraints on him, not even to the extent of determining what would or would not be good reasons for following a given course of action.
Man is born free:
The Christian idea of freedom is based in the concept of man as the image of God. The Holy Bible, The Old Testament, The First Book of Moses, Genesis, Chapter 1, verse 26 reads: Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;”
Man is a person because God is a person. The real sign of God as personal being is freedom. When God created man according to His image, He also gave over to him this mark of nobility i.e., freedom.
Freedom is based upon Knowledge:
German philosopher, Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) viewed the whole of human history as a vast dialectical movement toward the realization of freedom. All of history is the progress of mind or spirit along a logically necessary path that leads to freedom. Human beings are manifestations of this universal mind, although at first they do not realize this. Freedom can not be achieved until human beings do realize it, and so feel at home in the universe. Hence, Hagel claimed that freedom is based on knowledge.
The Radical Freedom of “Being and Nothingness”
Sartre focused on the opposition between objective things and human consciousness. Human consciousness is a non-thing as its reality consists in standing back from things and taking a point of view on them. Because consciousness is a non-thing (Sartre’s “neant” literally means “nothingness”), it does not have any of the causal involvements that things have with other things. This means that consciousness and thus humans themselves are essentially free. Ironically, the freedom of human consciousness is experienced by humans as a burden. “Man is condemned to be free”.
The existentialist emphasis on the ultimacy of human freedom continues to represent an essential ingredient of philosophical thinking.
Indian tradition and Human Freedom:
Who or what is the subject who lives because of the functions of trillions of cells that comprise the human organism? How to describe the identity of this individual who is truly a multicellular organism? While describing man’s identity, Indian Tradition points out the problem of Subjective-Objective dualism. The man who is born is the Subject and the man who is unborn is the Object. Indian thinkers propose that man is an embodied soul; the physical body experiences birth, growth, old age, sickness, and death while the soul is eternal, it is unborn and it never dies. Man as a subjective individual exists as a physical being, mental being, social being, moral being, and a spiritual being. The subjective reality of man’s physical or material existence is conditioned by his physical, mental, social, moral, and spiritual well-being. Man can seek to exist with a total sense of freedom in his thoughts but the thoughts exist while they are supported by a material being with a physical body and mind. The fact that the man is born binds him into a state of conditioned existence and the experience of freedom is a subjective experience.
In the epic poem of RAMAYANA, which describes the life journey of Prince Ramachandra of Ayodhya Kingdom, the Book of Ayodhya Kanda, chapters X IV to X VIII describe the anguish of King Dasaratha, the ruler of Ayodhya Kingdom. King Dasaratha was the father of Prince Ramachandra. He was in extreme agony as he had failed to act to express his natural affection to his son. The Emperor was tied down by the traditions of SATYA(Truth) and DHARMA(Right Conduct), was totally helpless and could not display any sense of freedom. King Dasaratha was a moral being and this identity of a moral being would not allow him the freedom to act as a social being and express love and affection to his son. King Dasaratha had ordered his son to live in a forest and then urged his son to disobey his order to fulfil his duty to show his sense of filial affection. Prince Ramachandra claimed that He was not free to act in disobedience of His father’s command and stated that He can not make any choice other than that of choosing a life in exile. Man who is experiencing the subjective reality of conditioned existence has no real freedom.
This inexplicable and unexpected act that resulted in the banishment of Prince Ramachandra is described as a work of ‘FATE’. In Sanskrit literature, “DAIVAM” means fate. It conveys the sense of belief in God as the ‘PRIME CAUSE’. Since God is in control, man is not free to act as he pleases. Since man is tied down, he is born in shackles without freedom. The goal of man is to seek “RELEASE” which is described as “MUKTI” and the purpose of human life is described as “LIBERATION” which is named as “MOKSHA”.
ESSENCE AND EXISTENCE:
Man describes as to who he is, his nature, and his essence, with the help of his thoughts, his intellect, his knowledge, his feelings, his sense of self-pride or self-ego, and his social status and social position. However, this essence is not the basis for man’s existence in nature. Man can not sustain his biological existence because of his essence. Man is not an independent entity. Man leads a dependent existence. The reality of man’s existence is a conditioned experience. Without this reality of conditioned state of existence, man can not describe his essence. Existence precedes essence. Existence is the prerequisite for essence to manifest. The essence is manifested by the being, the material body with mind, thoughts, intellect, knowledge, feelings, and self-pride or self-ego. This material being need to exist, and the state or condition of this physical existence is biologically manifested as alertness, wakefulness, awareness, and consciousness. Consciousness or Nothingness is the prerequisite for essence, and for the physical existence of the material Being. When consciousness departs, the essence also gets dissolved. If man enjoys a sense of freedom and expresses it as his essence, this freedom is subject to the reality of conditioned subjective existence. Man, and his essence is displayed if it is accompanied by Nothingness, the biological function called the capacity for consciousness. The contents of consciousness describe the nature of man’s essence. The contents of consciousness are known only when man has the capacity for consciousness. The anatomical structure that performs the function to provide the ability or the capacity for consciousness is in the Reticular Formation of the Brain Stem. Man is aware of his essence when the functions of his Brain Stem exist. Brain Stem functions in an autonomous manner and man is not truly free to govern the functions of his Brain Stem which is the prerequisite for his physical and mental being to maintain its living functions, the state and the condition called Living.
The Objective Reality of Man’s Existence:
Indian Tradition suggests that the mind and body which represent the material human person is in reality an illusion named as ‘MAYA’. The real identity of man is described by an eternal and unchanging reality that is unborn and hence is not subject to birth or death.