The other day I saw a typical scene from some TV drama. A man asked a woman to move in with him and in response she gave him a lecture on human nature and modern concept of liberty. He didn’t know what to say, he was trapped with no way out.
The debate about free will usually centers on the ability to make our own decisions but the unspoken assumption is that we want to ACT on those decisions. Without the power to implement our desires free will has no practical use and would be of no interest to anybody.
What we actually want is freedom to enjoy, we want to select our preferred modes of enjoyment and we want to experience it. At most we can make a concession that we should work for it but make no mistake, freedom for us means the ability to get what we want, not an abstract philosophical exercise.
When one starts on the path of self-realization, though, one also starts to see this freedom as an illusion. It’s all just the work of the material energy. The illusion forces us to want certain things and it compels us to work towards them. Yes, freedom is there in a sense that the material nature fulfills our desires, but it’s never as easy as we want. To achieve anything substantial one has to work very very hard for very very long. Deviations and distractions are punished, success is elusive, and it never lasts.
Never mind, we think, at least it works, and so we roll up our sleeves and get to work. Eventually we earn our karma and get to enjoy, and in the meantime we sustain ourselves by developing further and further fantasies for us to work for. Since the fruits of one’s labor in Kali Yuga never live up to expectations we adapt by living on expectations themselves. One can never have a dream house or a dream car for long, a new project must replace the just completed one and people define themselves not so much by what they achieved but by the scale of their dreams.
It’s how the usual small talk goes – you state what you do and if anyone still interested you describe your future plans. You cannot not have plans, it’s abnormal and unacceptable and deeply antisocial. In case you are wooing a girl, it’s your plans that what matters, they should inspire her to dedicate her life to you fulfilling them. If she sees no future in you she won’t stay, as simple as that, unless you are a sugar daddy. Even in that case, come to think of it, your future plan is to spend your fortune on satisfying her desires so plans still matter.
Once you start on the path of self-realization, however, you lose interest in all that. You do not have plans, you leave it up to the Lord and your guru. Sometimes they engage you, often times they just don’t have anything suitable at the moment. The promises made to us at the initiation do not include “constant engagement in doing awesome things”, only that at the end of our lives we would go back to Kṛṣṇa.
As we chant and do all other things in our daily service we have less and less time for making plans and after a while we can’t be bothered anymore. After reaching a certain age the drive is simply not there, the body does not cooperate, it becomes inert and general boredom settles in. The more knowledge we acquire the less interest we have in “chewing the chewed”. Eventually the sex drive disappears, too.
Until that happens, however, we realize that desires are our enemy, they are anarthas that need to be uprooted or otherwise dealt with. The more desires we have the more worried we become, the farther away we drift from the Lord. Freedom looks different to us then.
It’s not about the ability to fulfill our dreams anymore but rather about freedom from having dreams. We do not want to be slaves to our desires, we know that they distract our mind and eventually make us work for them and so who cares if they are ever going to be fulfilled, we’d rather abstain from the whole troublesome affair altogether.
Buddhists nailed it down perfectly – desires are the enemy of self-realization and freedom means freedom from desires.
In Kṛṣṇa consciousness, however, we’d rather have our desires dovetailed with Kṛṣṇa’s, we know that we can’t become completely inert and spiritually dead, but as far as our material inspirations are concerned the basic premise still holds – desires for sense enjoyment makes us into slaves.
That’s why I talked about fighting anarthas earlier – they are desires without any value that need to be forgotten. Positive engagement in Lord’s service should go in parallel, or rather in inverse proportion – the less anarthas we have the more opportunities for service.
This is why I saw that man from the TV as being hopelessly trapped. He was schooled. The woman said all the right things about his unfortunate position and his degraded nature. She knew very well that as slaves to sex men cannot last in monogamous relationships (in modern society anyway). She knew that despite his interest in having exclusive relationship the moment would come when he’d wanted something else sexually. She tested him right there and then and he himself saw that he still feels attraction to other women around him. It was his nature and his habits that were unsurmountable.
There was another good point, too – people are selfish. One moment they might dedicate their lives to their partners but just a short while later they’d desire their own space and comfort instead, and if there are any conflicts they just split. It happens to everybody and modern institution of marriage is simply not the same as was intended by God when He set down varṇāśrama rules for us to follow.
That woman knew that there was no escape and the moment a man falls for female charms he is done for. He has no choice but follow his desire and even when he sees clearly that it can’t be fulfilled he can’t give it up either. Inside my head I screamed “RUN” at him but I could see from the actor’s face that he just didn’t have the guts. No one does, even the devotees.
Our only hope is that Kṛṣṇa mercifully withdraws His illusion and frees us from this slavery. On our own we do not stand a chance either. Buddhists may try but in the end they will fail, too, because desires are the function of the soul, they will always be there, they will always come back.
In this sense we are slaves to our own nature, not only to the illusion. This leads me to an interesting realization – we can’t be slaves to ourselves, or at least there should be nothing wrong with it because it is OUR nature, we can’t escape it. Our only problem is that we are not with Kṛṣṇa yet and so the same nature that should be the source of unlimited bliss becomes the sours of endless struggle and suffering.
I guess what I’m trying to convince myself here is that we should give up all hopes in making the illusion work and honestly and sincerely beg Kṛṣṇa to take us back. There’s no other way and there could be no compromises.