In the material sense choice is accepted as a good thing, one must always have choice, that’s what separates us from the dictatorships. In dictatorships people cannot choose their leaders and, consequently, their lives become so bad that they can’t choose what they read, watch, wear, and even eat. The state strips them off their choices and controls every aspect of their lives. Choice and personal freedom are the first things that impress these people if they ever make it to the free and democratic societies.
On a personal level we need choice to properly enjoy ourselves. Our tastes are different so we need a variety of sense objects and if we can’t choose what we want our senses remain unsatisfied. The easiest way to experience this unhappiness is when our favorite brands are our of stock or when our favorite TV shows are in the midseason and we have no choice but to watch reruns or inferior shows we don’t like.
The whole market economy is then built around satisfying our choices. They don’t want to leave people unhappy and unfulfilled in their sense gratification, they strive to fulfill every our desire and, generally, we can rely on markets and democracy to do their jobs.
Another kind of unhappiness results from us not knowing what we really want in the first place. That’s the angst of the teenage years when people are simply not ready to enjoy their destinies. They have too much stuff interfering and demanding their attention and it all looks very attractive and overwhelming. There are also restrictions on what they can actually enjoy so lots of their temptations can’t be fulfilled and it frustrates them to no end, often leading to a deeply philosophical view of life.
Fortunately or unfortunately it doesn’t last very long, novelty wears off, the avalanche of temptations stops, they try enough things not to ask for them anymore, and they are left with a manageable amount of choices that they can actually take. Philosophy then takes a back seat to sense enjoyment.
This, btw, is another proof that karma and jñāna are two sides of the same coin – when one is happy in his sense gratification he becomes karmī and when bad karma comes along he becomes jñānī. Jñāna is theoretically better because it leads to realization that the world is full of suffering and we need a radical solution, not scratching the itches which brings only a temporary relief before coming back even stronger. So it’s good for teenagers to become philosophers but it’s usually not enough to take them all the way and they find balance between karma and jñana in becoming “mature and responsible” adults.
In Kali yuga becoming mature and responsible is nowhere near enough to save one from hell, however. It’s these “mature and responsible” people who start devastating wars or commit despicable acts of terror in the name of a higher cause (like spreading democracy or Islam). They build slaughterhouses and choose atheism over religion, they gamble and drink, and they become slaves to their sexual desire. The fact that they do it in moderation, as opposed to alcoholics or compulsive gamblers, does not save them from their sinful reactions, they just get slightly less of them and go through a slightly better version of hellish life.
Back to the topic of choice – it’s not markets and democracy that provide it but our karma. The purpose of the material world is largely to fulfill desires of the living entities trapped inside it. Whatever we want, the universe provides. It doesn’t happen instantaneously and we have to work hard to get desired results and at any given moment everyone is at a different stage in the circle of karma. Some people’s desires are about to be fulfilled and others destiny is not yet manifest.
From the perspective of the first group they have choice but it only means their karma is just about to bring results, they fully earned it already. From the perspective of the second group they are still not clear what they want and what they are going to enjoy in the future. The fruit of their karma is only ripening and they can’t predict its taste yet.
To them it looks like they do not have the opportunities to enjoy the world in the same way as the first group does. They know possibilities exists but they can’t access them. It might manifest as a lack of money or some other physical limitation like being born in a wrong country where they can see good life in the movies but can’t experience it where they live. Do they have a choice? Yes, the “free world” would tell them – set your goals, work hard, be smart, and you can immigrate to America or Europe, or you can move to California, or you can get into that prestigious college, of you can get that coveted job.
If you think about it, it’s not really a matter of choice, though. They just say the obvious thing that people in those positions have a greater range of sense gratification but there’s no choice in how to get there. You have to work hard as prescribed by the authorities and you have to satisfy the authorities to earn your promotion or earn sufficient funds to make your move. It’s not a matter of choice, it’s a matter of surrender and service, which are quite the opposite of what people have in mind when they speak about choices.
Once your karma is earned in full and becomes ready to fructify your desires come very close to their fulfillment which to you looks like a “choice”. I mean to qualify as a choice in this sense you have to have a very short time between realizing what you want and getting the result and results have to be pleasant. If there’s no immediacy and by the time you get to enjoy your fruits you forget that you wanted them the illusion of choice disappears.
If you open your fridge and realize you don’t want to eat anything that’s in there you don’t think about it as a “choice” anymore and you’d rather want something else from the supermarket. At this point the availability of “choice” depends on whether you have money and time or a car to get you there. Maybe you’d have to wait for the weekend to make a trip to the farmer’s market or to some specialty store. Maybe you’ll have to wait for your paycheck, maybe you’ll have to wait for a promotion to be able to afford things that you want.
In the meantime the current content of your fridge is the reflection of the state of your desires at some point in the past. Everything that’s in there was once desirable and was chosen over a myriad of other supermarket options. When you were picking these things off the shelf you thought you were exercising your choice but because there was a time lapse between this choice and actual sense gratification it didn’t work out as expected.
What I’m saying is that “choice” is an illusion, a mental image that appears when we look at the world from a conditioned entity perspective. The law of karma does not allow for choices and there’s no randomness in the universe to provide any possibility of a choice. We are not the controllers here but rather controlled so we don’t make choices, only the Lord does because He can tweak the universe to suit His will at any moment.
And if the counter argument is that we can choose our desires then that is also an illusion. Our senses become attracted to sense objects automatically and the control we can exercise in directing our desires is done by another material element, intelligence, which is shaped by external factors like society, educational system, and previous experiences. Contrary to our illusion we’ve been trained like Pavlov’s dogs to make certain choices and are totally predictable in our behavior in front of that supermarket shell – whether it’s avoiding sugar, carbs, fat, gluten etc.
Our relationships with the Lord are a slightly different matter and I don’t want to start discussing the role of choice there today, time to wrap it up.