Vanity thought #756. Born in the wrong place

Having nothing better to do with my life I want to explore implications of “free to choose your next body” interpretation of how free will works.

So let’s say you have lived your life and then, just before dying, you happened to see a black man and you had a crazy idea. Boom, you are born as an African-American. Apart from that you also carry all your other interests from the previous life. How would that work out?

Let’s say you diligently go through the education system and grow up as an ordinary man, just that you are not white, and, as a black man, people don’t treat you quite the same. Police are a bit more suspicious, and so are some white neighbors, and in other neighborhoods you aren’t as welcome as you’d like. “What is all this?” you wonder. “I don’t deserve any of that.”

If the freedom of choice idea is true than you are right – you didn’t deserve any of that, this baggage that comes with the color of your skin isn’t yours, but since that’s what you thought at the end of your previous life you have got to experience it now, no escape.

Some would argue that it works both ways and you can leverage “white man’s guilt” to your advantage. Maybe it would make you life easier – but you didn’t deserve that either, right?

What if you were born as a Muslim? Some people would immediately assume you are a terrorist at heart. In India some would resent your very being for all the cruel stuff your ancestors did to Hindu worshipers five-six hundred years ago. How is it your fault now, however?

My point is that I just don’t see how your next life can be totally disconnected from your current one, just on the strength of a freaky mental image that flashed through your mind at the moment of death and you liked it. Was it your free will acting up? I highly doubt it.

As we are all born into some sort of society we carry that society’s karma on our shoulders. That’s a fact of life. Buddhists don’t believe in group karma but in everyday life it’s simply undeniable. A lot of your rights and opportunities are defined by your citizenship, for example. Or by your gender, or by your race. It’s not a matter of choice and so it shouldn’t be a consequence of free will either.

Speaking of gender – what to do with all those confused individuals who cannot determine their sexuality? Are they examples of free will gone bad – after years of preparing yourself for next life in a male body you are suddenly inserted into a female one.

Is “free will” a sound explanation of how you can wind up in a body that doesn’t suit your internal perception of yourself? Could be, but most likely it’s all nonsense and you were destined to suffer from indecision – male-female, actor-accountant, brahmachari-grihastha and so on.

Many people make such choices early on but there are some who are just in a perpetual state of flux, being torn between choices about this or about that. Maybe that’s their karma – inability to decide or inability to fit somewhere, the feeling that they don’t belong.

I realize that the examples above do not necessarily follow from “free to choose your next body” and so proving them wrong does not prove that the proposition is wrong, too, but they are interesting options to explore in themselves.

As far as our free choices go, I’d like to quote this verse spoken by Narada Muni in Srimad Bhagavatam (SB 4.29.65):

Therefore, my dear King, the living entity, who has a subtle mental covering, develops all kinds of thoughts and images because of his previous body. Take this from me as certain. There is no possibility of concocting anything mentally without having perceived it in the previous body.

We don’t get to choose our previous lives, so where would the freedom to imagine things that will determine our next life come from? Narada Muni is extra persistent here – there’s no possibility of such freedom.

One could argue that even if we have only two choices the freedom to choose is still ours. Okay, that’s the next level of understanding what “freedom” means, as in “you can choose any color you like as long as it’s black.”

I’ll talk about it later.

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