We think that we are torn by choices and that we can make rational, guru and śāstra based decisions about our spiritual life. We can decide which service to take, whether to become preachers or pūjārīs, whether to marry or stay celibate, whether to stay loyal to ISKCON or seek spiritual advice elsewhere. One can open any book about Śrīla Prabhupāda’s life and find countless examples of such freedom where he as a guru gave this freedom to decide to his disciples, and he even occasionally allowed them to override his advice on these matters. Even atheists observe that making choices is the foundation of our lives, that our choices define us.
We also know that we are simply tossed around by waves raised by the modes of nature and possess only an illusion of free will. To that we say that only devotional service brings freedom and so devotees can make free choices while everybody else can’t.
Earlier this week I’ve argued that even the heads of our society, the sannyāsīs, are not as free to choose how to lead their devotional lives, that they are forced to accept roles of kings and renounce renunciation by the demands of our preaching mission. I won’t go as far as to cynically claim that they took the roles of leaders because that’s what they actually wanted, to rule and control, renunciation rhetoric notwithstanding. There could be some truth in this claim but we’d rather not think of our best devotees in such an unflattering way.
If freedom of our heads is doubtful, what is the freedom of our tails, the “hoi polloi” torn between urges to eat and steal glances at our female population? None whatsoever, rhetorically speaking. It’s all just karma and illusion.
Our managers are trained to engage us according to our nature, to put right people in the right places. Where is our freedom in that? We can only voice reactions to their decision, which are actually reactions of our minds. They don’t even need to be verbal as pleasure or disagreement can be expressed perfectly by bleating, grunting, or mooing. “Oh, he doesn’t like that,” the manager can see right away and give us some other engagement.
Of course we can also take initiative and offer suggestions about what we really want and what engagements agree with our nature, but is there freedom in that? We don’t get to decide what our nature is and what feels good to our minds. Sometimes we might not be very clear about what we want but that’s not freedom, it’s just confusion caused by contradictory urges, which we still can’t control.
Even when talking to our authorities we aren’t free in our expression, we must follow the protocol and there are limits to what we can admit in public, including things we don’t admit even to ourselves. Sometimes we are truly sincere but quite often both sides know that there are certain things better left unsaid no matter the sincerity, and most of the time it’s a negotiation, meaning one hopes to get a better value out of the agreement than the other side suspects, that both sides come with hidden motives they don’t disclose on purpose so as not to be taken advantage of.
Skillful negotiators know it very well – how to find a weak spot and gain leverage, whether it’s a secret one would make big concessions to keep or whether it’s an irresistible attachment he’d give an arm and a leg to maintain. Our ISKCON managers can be master manipulators this way, too.
The easiest way to control your men is by exposing them to women. Once they are sold on the prospect of interacting with females they’d take whatever position that would keep them closer to that alien species. When they come to complain about this or that later on you can always bring “but you wanted to be here” card and remind them that their women are still attainable. They’d do anything for that hope of association and would go away with “I suppose you are right, this service is what I really want” admission of defeat.
Who thinks these poor sods have any freedom? Let THEM think that, but the bosses know better.
Devotees who are already in relationships are a lost cause in terms of seeking freedom. They must work to maintain their families and children, money is an external object to them, they must get it from someone else and that someone will always dictate what needs to be done in exchange. Our “freedom” here is only to seek a more benevolent dictator but even then our choices and abilities to approach them are limited. Regardless, family is practically a life long commitment and commitment means loss of freedom even in the conventional sense. We must work, there’s no choice.
And then there’s this self-fulfillment cause. We must find ourselves and live to our full potential. Who told us we need that? Why do we accept this mantra unchallenged? People can offer an easy explanation why self-fulfillment is necessary – “you must find yourself because..” Wait a minute, as soon as “because” gets involved you have forfeited your freedom, your actions become conditional on whatever comes after that “because”.
At the end all this self-fulfillment business comes to seeking pleasure, it just feels better to live this way, and we are pleasure seeking entities by our constitution, it’s just what we do and there’s no freedom in that. We can’t deny our nature, we’ll always seek pleasure no matter what.
And so we will act to find that pleasure in all circumstances, as men we would seek women, as women we would seek men, and there’s a much greater gradation to how we want to control the world, whether we want to build stuff, control what other people think, or destroy stuff built by someone else that yet another else decides to be illegal. Some of this is available in ISKCON, some cravings can be successfully substituted, but if one has a calling to be a butcher or a fisherman then there’s nothing we can do about that.
Spiritually speaking, that’s not who we are, those are just false identities that have taken over our lives and dictate our wants and needs. We might fulfill them, we might not, spiritually speaking it makes no difference. Self-fulfillment is a long term project, what we haven’t finished in one life will be continued in the next, and we have such a variety of desires that some of them will remain unsatisfied.
In fact, we are caught in this endless, externally imposed dissatisfaction loop as there’s a big delay between forming the desire and it bringing karmic results. Quite often we don’t even want the fulfillment anymore when our karma finally fructifies. Well, that’s because we’ve already been overwhelmed by new desires that contradict our earlier ones and this brings us pain. “That’s not what I wanted” and “I never wanted that” are our go to excuses, which are simply our short memory and pathological lying to ourselves.
The whole thing stinks to high heaven and the message from our ācāryas, from Prahlāda Mahārāja to Bhagavad Gīta to Śrīla Prabhupāda, is simple – endeavoring for happiness in the material world is unnecessary, it will come on its own just as distress comes uninvited in due time. We don’t have to make any efforts to find it, it will find us. Intelligent people take to chanting of the holy name instead because this endeavor is the most profitable in every respect. It might not always feel this way in the beginning, but neither do decades of training to achieve success in any other field. It’s always a sacrifice, for everybody, we just have to pray to the Lord that He keeps us interested, keeps us going. In my experience He always delivers.