On India's Independence day, here is my attempt write about real freedom and to demystify the philosophy on Maya, self etc.
Imagine the brain as a computer (crude, but simple to explain) with all its CPU and buses; the sensory organs being the peripherals. One important difference is, there is an experiencer - that is you. When inputs come from the senses, the brain processes the inputs and there is an experience.
Now add the complexity of memory. Memory evolved with humans and it has been a pretty useful one, just like the computer's memory. It is able to remember more, information gathered over generations is stored better resulting in more complex ideas and innovations. With its evolution, the memory managed to get a higher priority over the inputs from the senses. In computer terminology, we can say that the bus between the memory and the CPU has higher capacity than the other buses.
The experiencer explained in the first paragraph is more and more dependent on the memory. In fact, the experiencer identifies himself / herself with the memory acquired. So, people have macro identities with their nationality, religion, caste and micro identities like name, education and profession. These are nothing more than assertions in the memory. This is what we mean when we say "I". My understanding is - the eastern philosophy refers this as "Maya" - a bunch of abstract thoughts and the lack of real experience. Almost all our thoughts and actions are influenced by these identities. There is definitely better life if we have lesser influence of these identities. Imagine a world without so many divisions!
What does it mean to be free?
When a child looks at a thing, there is just an experience of seeing. The mind doesn't intervene in the interpretation of what is being seen. To understand this better, listen to Bharathi's "காக்கைச் சிறகினிலே".
Can you be really Free?
From ancient times, people have been attempting to get rid of the influence of this identity and be free. The interesting part is, the mind gets stronger with every serious attempt to reduce its importance. For example, if a prophet or a saint finds a way and disseminates his experience, it soon adds to the assertions and forms a cult or a religion with rituals. It is impossible to create a student as enlightened as the master for the simple reason that their physical brains are different.
With the current knowledge and technology, it is almost impossible to permanently set aside the dominance of the memory, for this is a physiological condition. Some have the physiological condition where they are able to see memory as just another source of information and are able to dissociate the experiencer from the memory.
I see the modern Gurus having this condition. Please see this as no more a specialty than what an athlete has - an extraordinary physiological condition. Good poets are another group who go through the experience without the disturbance of the mind. At times, when this is not possible, alcohol or narcotics help.
Powerful inputs from other senses sometimes can help in reducing the importance of the memory and in turn the identity - like the vision of a favorite deity, smell of a few flowers, sound of conch, bells and chanting. Another crude parallel - as the aroma of your favorite food triggers the secretion of saliva, bile juice etc.
As the brain and in turn the mind evolved to its current state, it is also possible that the brain evolves further to be free. With improved understanding of the functioning of the brain, more interaction between the scientists and leaders and coming together of the various cultures, I think it will be possible for normal humans to be free. The process would be more of a physiological evolution than a religious one.