Vanity thought #1526. Mind games – quest for freedom

The other day I overheard a conversation on a topic of mobile phones and it made me pause and think. It was between nominally Buddhists, in a sense these people appreciate the Buddhist approach to dealing with mind, and I thought I could have said something Kṛṣṇa conscious without touching their sensitivities. As usual, I thought too slowly and missed my chance, and that’s why I’m typing it up here, where I have all the time in the world.

The argument was about watching a recorded movie on TV. I was brought up in an old fashioned way where I wouldn’t bother to stand up if a lady leaves the dinner table but would appreciate someone else doing so. You can’t just leave someone’s company without saying goodbyes and you can’t ignore someone’s leaving either.

Usually we think that with guys it would be easy but no, if someone goes to the bathroom or a kitchen you can always hit pause, you don’t want to miss a shared moment together, be it a game or a movie. I don’t think groups of women ever watch anything, they’d rather drink wine and chat, they can’t sit in silence, so I don’t know how it goes with them. Couples are expected to enjoy everything together so not hitting pause could be considered as very uncaring and a sign that relationship has no future. That’s the prelude, or rather how I expect the situation to develop.

In that case one of the partners desperately wanted to check something on her phone, just couldn’t keep her hands off of it. Hitting the pause every time someone wants to check their facebook feedsis obviously not an option and the other party was getting visibly frustrated. It’s not really a time together when the other person has one eye on his phone and barely listens. These days, however, it’s a norm, and I don’t know how people manage it. Are they that selfish? Do they not appreciate company anymore? So I was curious how it would end. The person with the phone offered an explanation.

“This has been a long day, I haven’t had a chance to catch up on the news and relax. Movie is a movie but this is time to sit back and have fun, there shouldn’t be any rules, we are not children to follow the rules, if I want to look at my phone I will do so, why do I have to follow the rule that movies must be watched together with undivided attention? Even if there’s such a rule, now is not the time to follow it, I’m too tired, I want some freedom now, not rules,” and so on in this vein.

That was an unexpected take on the situation for me – rules and freedom. It wasn’t a question of commitment to the relationship, it wasn’t a question of movie being not very interesting, though these two factors played a role, too, it was a question of following the rules and time to relax, the “me” time where no rules apply. Apparently the understanding is that everyone deserves a “me” time, which is different from the other time, and is free from obligations.

I didn’t know it was a thing in Buddhism but modern Buddhism is as flexible as Hinduism, I guess, all you need is your own justification and then freedom of religion takes over, people are free to believe whatever they want. From Kṛṣṇa conscious perspective, however, it’s not how we should deal with our mind.

We do need to control the mind, that much is clear, but we also know that mind doesn’t need to be forced against its will but rather given a proper engagement so that if can develop a better taste. Forcing the mind is a good tapasya but it’s tinged with jñāna, tinged with false renunciation. Mind is like a spring this way, you keep pushing it and it will snap or bounce back in full force at every small oversight in control. That’s why we do not recommend life long brahmacarya or unnecessary fasts and offer gṛhastha life and weakly feasts instead. For every desire there’s a Vedic way to connect it to Kṛṣṇa. This is ABC, really.

Still, we are not pure devotees and so we need to control our minds forcefully from time to time. We have plenty of rules, we follow some, can’t be bothered about others, but if we want to improve our sādhana we don’t normally have to think too much, we will never have a lack of rules to follow. It requires a little intelligence and guidance from our superiors but selecting rules is usually not a problem.

Should we allow for downtime, though? Should we allow for “me” time when we can relax and let our mind enjoy little pleasures like instagram? Sometimes it IS relaxing, it takes our mind off things we have to deal with the rest of the day. That’s why people like movies and TV and the internet and now their phones. Don’t we deserve this freedom for a few minutes, maybe an hour?

I don’t think so. What happens here is that “freedom” gets misunderstood. We think we are free when we can do whatever we want but this makes us slaves to our minds. Real freedom is when we get our mind under absolute control. There’s even “realer” freedom on the spiritual platform but let’s leave that aside for the moment. For us freedom means control the mind, not going along with it.

This is a fundamental point that most people aren’t even aware about. Real freedom is freedom from desires, not freedom to do whatever, because this “whatever” is not our choice but is forced on us by the environment and it brings binding results, some are good, some are bad, but we have to experience them all and get further addicted in the process.

This reminds me of a book on the nature of freedom I started a long time ago but never finished. It had a great premise but the first few chapters didn’t live up to my expectations, maybe it gets better later on. The point I was hoping to get elaborated there is this idea of freedom as absence of control, as relinquishing control. Choice is not freedom, it’s slavery, and not only because making choices is hard but because we have to follow our choices to the end. See how freedom to choose immediately becomes “have to follow”, and we thought rules is our problem.

No, rules should not affect us, they are external, and they do not bring karma to us but to whoever set the rules. Of course we share in the results, too, but they are still not binding, as explained in Bhagavad Gīta. If we follow the Vedic rules set out by Kṛṣṇa they will quickly lead to liberation and to pure bhakti, if we follow rules of the state they’ll earn us some legal recognition, if we follow rules of business it will bring money, if we follow rules of family life it will bring love, safety, and comfort. Rules bring results, and usually good ones, but, more importantly, they free us from attachments. They develop the taste for the underlying process instead, which for us is serving Kṛṣṇa and for karmīs it could be dedication to career or family.

What we do becomes unimportant and we relish in what we do it FOR instead. This leads to transcending not only the mind but the modes of nature, too, and from there it’s just as short way to pure devotion.

Following our own mind, on the contrary, develops attachments to externalities, to what and how, which we begin to like and dislike, and next time the mind puts up lots of conditions – it won’t do this, it would rather to that but only if that other thing is present, but not that another thing that it didn’t like last time. Caught up in this duality of love and hate we can’t even enjoy our “leisure” anymore because we get agitated by things other people said on the internet and we feel the need to put them straight. In the long run Facebook makes people miserable, it’s been proven statistically, even though it could be for different reasons.

I think I need to “sleep on it”, as they say, it’s a big subject and I didn’t even think of an appropriate Buddhist angle on it yet. I don’t think I have solid śāstric support for it either, but it rings true anyway.

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