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Freedom from choices—the highest freedom || (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
20 min
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Questioner (Q): You said that when there are options, choices, there can be no freedom. Earlier I used to think that I am free if I have choices, but Vedanta says that freedom can be only in choicelessness.

Acharya Prashant (AP): And isn’t there great joy in being choiceless? You don’t have to struggle; you don’t have to be torn; you don’t have to keep brooding over this and that. Life becomes so easy. “There might be a thousand things, but I do not see them. I see only the one thing that is Truth, that is related to my identity of being Truthful. I see just that.” It makes life so easy.

Once you do not have the pull of a thousand choices acting upon you, think of the liberation you get. Else everything in the world is an opportunity, and nothing in the world suffices. Now, where does that put you? Everything is an opportunity, and no choice is good enough to be the final one—where does that put you? A rolling stone wandering from here to there—and wandering in frustration, in angst, because whatever you have done has not been good enough. Why has it not been good enough? Not because the choice was wrong but because the choice existed .

If you want to be sure of something being good for you, being right for you, just see whether there are competing choices. One mark of the real thing is that it affords no competition; you would have nothing else in mind. People may come and threaten you, somebody may come and lure you; you will say, “No, but this is the one way I know. I know not in the sense of habit but in the sense of realization. You are offering me a thousand diverse roads to travel; I don’t even see them. They exist only for the ones who are tempted by them; I don’t even see them.”

Remember, even knowledge is not objective. If you have knowledge of something, it is because that thing first of all meant something to you; otherwise, you won’t even have knowledge. And knowledge can be such a burden, no? You know of so many things and they are all going around in the head.

“I don’t even know. Why don’t I know? Because I don’t need to know. The deal is done. Why do I need to have so many options? Not that I am the proverbial frog in the well; just that I know very, very clearly.” The frog in the well has no choices out of ignorance, and spiritual choicelessness is out of total realization.

“I have known, and I have reached a finality; therefore, I am not considering options at all.” And that is the summit of life; that is where you want to reach; that is freedom from experiences. Otherwise, one will remain a sucker for experiences all his life. “I want to do this, next I want to do that, next I want to do that, this, this, this, this, this…”

Does the liberated man not do diverse and various things? He does, but he does not do them to satiate himself. He does everything being satiated, not wanting to be satiated. You get the difference? “Contentment I already have. Now, with my contentment I want to go there, reach there, attain this, discover that.”

What is the difference, then? The difference is, if you are going to a place to attain contentment, then success and failure will weigh too heavily on you because just too much is at stake. You need to succeed; contentment is at stake. So much is at stake; contentment is everything: “I need to succeed.” And if you need to succeed, you cannot play the game in freedom. When you are desperate for success, then you are frozen.

Whereas, when you are already content and then you want to achieve something, then you are actually taking it just like a game. And when you are taking it just like a game, there is so much joy, so much agility, so much maneuverability. There are just so many degrees of freedom that you get—why? Because now you are not afraid of failure. “I am not afraid of failure because I have already succeeded. I am entering the game and I am already a winner. I am a winner even before the game starts. Now I will play with abandon. Now there would be a certain freedom from botheration; I would be carefree.”

And those who are too careful in life, they will know the importance of the word ‘carefree’. How many of you are bogged down by care in your life? A lot of us, right? We will give our right hands to be carefree. Care is thought, care is concern; care is just too much weight on the top floor (pointing at the head) . What happens to any structure that is top-heavy? Would you want to ride a top-heavy car? We live very top-heavy lives, no? The center of gravity is almost here (pointing at the head) . When you are already contented, then the center of gravity is where it should be, not here but here (moves his hand from the head to the chest) .

Many young people here, and the youth especially relishes choices. If you are being forced into doing something, then it’s an improvement to have choices. You are being forced into marriage; your parents have seen a man for you and they are saying, “Go, wed this one. No choice! This one is final.” In such a situation it is alright to ask for choice. But how about a situation where you have some forty-one boyfriends all at once? Are you related to even one of them? Is there any love anywhere?

Now you know what choicelessness means. Choices are good to have only when you are being forced into one loveless channel. When somebody is exercising his tyranny upon you and saying, “No, your will, your opinion doesn’t matter, do what I say,” in such a situation it is a better thing, an improvement to have choices.

But then, you, the youth of today, are hardly subjected to such behavior by circumstances or your family. I don’t suppose today’s parents chase their kids with an ultimatum of one final choice; parents don’t do that. They hardly make decisions for their kids today, at least not in the urban areas. Instead, the malaise has appended itself: we have started believing that diversity in choices is a symbol or counter of our empowerment. We feel that the more choices we have, the more empowered we are. The truth is just the opposite.

Let choices exist externally. When they exist just outside of you, they are not even choices; they are just things. Internally, there should be not choices but clarity, and where there is clarity, you do not see too many things; you see just the one thing.

Therefore, a measure of your mental health is, do you keep weighing options? Do too many things keep going around in your head? Are you frequently indecisive about what to pick? One mark of the realized man is, his decisions come in a flash, once he has all the data that is. If decisions require data, obviously he will take time to gather the data. Once the facts are in front of him, the decision does not take time; he does not need to appoint an inner committee to ponder. He will ask for data, and the data is there, and he says, “This (makes a gesture indicating picking an option) , done” because he is not being internally ruled by competing desires. If he is desirous, he is desirous of just the Truth. He does not have multiple desires in ten different directions.

Remember, each of the choices that appeal to you correspond to a particular desire within you. Let’s say I like him, him, and him (pointing at various listeners in the audience) , and he is saying, “Well, it’s my birthday today, let’s spend the evening together”; the other one is saying, “I’m down today, come and console me”; the third one is saying, “I got some fantastic things, there is this special bundle of books. Come, let’s read together.” They are all related to me through competing desires. There is the desire within me to be a big brother to someone, there is a desire within me to be knowledgeable, there is a desire within me to have fun, and none of these three desires are desire for the Truth.

I am fragmented within, and the thousand parts within me become the thousand choices outside of me. Now, what happens? The desire for fun says, “There is the birthday party. Go there!” So, this choice becomes appealing. Do you see why this choice matters to me? Because I have a particular desire that corresponds to this choice; I have the desire for fun. I have the desire to gain knowledge, so this fellow who says, “Come, let’s read together” becomes significant to me. And I have the desire to be moralistic, to be big-brotherly, to have the upper hand in the emotional sense, so this option, this choice becomes meaningful to me. He is saying, “Oh, I am down. Please come, your company will lift my mood,” and it’s a great opportunity to prove that I can be a good counselor, that I know emotion-management better than this chap.

A thousand things are important to us because we are a thousand people inside; we are not one. And being a thousand inside, having a crowd within is such a pain, is it not? You are nowhere. None of those thousand is you actually, and each of those thousand has a certain inclination: one of them wants dosa, the other one wants to travel to Mars. Now, how do these two become compatible? One is always crying, “Dosa! Dosa with spicy sambar!” The next one is thinking of cryogenic engines. Now, how does the cryogenic engine find any relationship with sambar?

One within you is a political animal deeply interested in politics; one within you is a gardener; one loves verses and bhajans from saints. Now, how is it possible that you cultivate both at the same time, political cunningness and saintly innocence? But we manage to do that, don’t we? When you are first sitting here, and it’s the fifth day today, and in between a lot of us would have found time to exercise our political imagination—so many things are happening in politics every day—and we go back having read the Upanishads and see what the prime minister is doing and how he is being encircled by the opposition and such things. How do we manage to have these two concurrently?

I am not saying one of them has to be dropped; I am saying all the relationships that we have with the world must come from a single center. Your political opinion has to have a consonance with your Upanishadic knowledge; else you are making them sit in two different rooms in your psyche and this fragmentation will not let you breathe; you will be sitting here thinking of something else.

With one choice your energy is concentrated. And when your mind has so many options to feast on, all your energy is squandered on the feast. The ego is happy, and life is sad. The ego is happy that, you know, “I have this, I have that; I am so very well networked. If something bad happens to me, I have so many people to seek help from. I am a professional networker. Every day I wish happy birthday to at least three people. So, if something bad happens to me, help can potentially come from so many places.”

The thing is, when you are in such a situation, it’s already a bad thing happening to you. You are preparing for something bad happening to you by having this network of choices, but having this network of choices is already a bad thing happening to you. I do not know whether any of those contacts would be of help in the time of need—they might be, they might not be, I don’t know—but what I know for sure is that such a mind cannot be at peace, a mind that is rushing after security through diversity.

The rules of the inner world are very different from that of the outer world. In the outer world you say, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Hedge your bets. Diversify your portfolio”; that’s what you say in the outer world. In the inner world it’s just the opposite: there should be one and the one and the one, and you have to be absolutely invested in it, hundred percent investment in just the one. Inside, if you diversify your portfolio, you are ruined.

Put all your inner capital into Truth incorporated. Externally, you will then have all the freedom to invest at whatever place you like, and then you will always also have the guts to invest in outrageous ventures because you will not be afraid of loss. And when you are investing in outrageous ventures, miracles can happen. You may also lose whatever you have invested, but then you are not afraid of losing. You are not even dying to get miracles. It’s just that it is now seriously good fun. You can play. Think of it.

Winning and losing come much later. The tragedy is that most of us cannot even play. Our problem is not that we lose so much; our problem is that we do not even play. What’s worse, losing or not even playing? When you prepare so much to play, you cannot play. When you have the apparatus put meticulously in preparation of the play, to secure the play, then you cannot play; then all that you are doing is the arrangement.

“I am arranging, and I am arranging with such precision. All my energy has gone into the arrangement; the real thing never happens. I have the security agencies in place, forty thousand fire extinguishers I have brought here; everything I have done to prepare for the party. I have informed the police, there is all the security and the bandobast, five different agencies are videographing the event, I went around and commissioned twenty different caterers—so much choice! Twenty different caterers I commissioned, I really spent a lot of time on it. I spent my entire life commissioning the security agencies, the photographer, the videographer, the caterer, the event manager. I forgot one little thing—the party.”

Everything has been neatly arranged for the party. And in making so many arrangements…

“I wanted to have backups, you know. If plan A fails, B has to be there, then C, then D. After Z, there is ZA, ZB, ZC…”

So, all those backups and choices and options, they all have to be in place. When you care for it so much, then that’s the only thing that you care for, and then care is what you live for; party is gone. Everything is in place—except the party. Forty thousand fire extinguishers—and no fire! One thousand security guards, but with nothing precious enough to secure. Hurts, no?

You build a mansion and it is fiercely guarded. The only little problem is that in the mansion there is nothing worthy of being secured or guarded. So, the guards are all top-class—we will call them commandos. It’s just that it’s a void inside. What are you securing?

“But no, I have made all the arrangements, you see. Even if an intruder breaches the first ring of security, then there is a second ring, and then there is this, then there is this, and then there is this automated alarm that goes off and para-commandos from Jupiter land straightaway!”

So, layers, buffers, backups, options—all defending nothing. Nothing at all. Like a jewelry case being used to deliver trash. It had layers of packaging!

That’s the thing with choices. You have so many choices but the chooser is in such a bad state. What do you want to care more for, the choices or the chooser? Care for the chooser. The choices will fall in place. Who is the chooser? We are the chooser.

Care for who you are within. All choices are to you . All choices are for you . You change, and the choices that are visible to you will change. So many things that used to present themselves will no more present themselves; you will just forget that choice. If something does not appeal to you, would you still call it a choice? It’s not even an option; it’s just a thing now because it doesn’t appeal. Why doesn’t it appeal anymore? Because I am no more the one who I was.

Care for the chooser. With the chooser remaining the same, having a plethora of choices is just self-deception. If you remain the same, none of your choices are going to help you. And we cultivate so many choices in the hope that at least one of them will be of some help. None of those choices will help you because you are looking in the wrong direction, you are looking at things. You have to look at the chooser, at yourself.

Q: I am new to spirituality and I don’t know how I should proceed. I have started courses at my college which I am not very certain about. I feel that there was no clarity in choosing those courses, but now I am stuck with them. You have said that our real identity is atṛpta caitanya , unfulfilled consciousness. How to understand this statement correctly in my situation?

AP: That’s what we are—the thirsty, desperate consciousness. When you say, “What should I do?” you have to ask, “What do I want? What is it that will be good for me? What must I want?” And the thing that is worthy of being wanted is the thing to do.

So, what do you want? Rather, what is worthy of being wanted? Put efforts towards identifying it. What is it that is not false, or at least not as false as the other things in life? Identify what is the least false of all, and for the while go with it. And then keep thinking, keep watching, keep observing, and you will come upon something that is even more true; then go for that. That’s the way of life: keep rejecting what is the lowest about you.

It’s like this. Put everything in your life in a descending order of value. See what all is present in your life—what is present in your life? Whatever you think of, whatever is in your mind, that is said to be in your life, even if it is not physically there. So, let’s say there are a hundred things in your life. Begin with the bottom five. See that you are associated with them for no good reason. See that you are cultivating false hopes from those things. Those things in themselves might not be bad at all. Remember, we said that dropping the false is not about dropping that particular object, or at least not despising that particular object. Even if you have to let go of that object, you let go of that object admitting that it was your fault to have associated with that object in the first place.

So, identify the bottom five, let go of them, and that will give you the strength to do the same with the next five, and also that will create vacancy for five or ten better things to arrive in life. This is the way of continuous progress—continuous, incremental, never-ending. Always keep space for correction. It doesn’t matter how you chose the course you are doing. Forget the past. Today, ask yourself, “What is it that I want from life? Will I get it through this? Maybe there are things I won’t get through this, maybe there are certain important things I will definitely get through this.”

So, know fully well who you are. You are a discontented consciousness. Be it the choice of a garment, or the choice of an academic course, the choice of a car to ride, the choice of a question to ask—all these things should be governed by who you are.

I am dissatisfied, I want to be satisfied. The jacket that I will wear should come from that perspective. It should not be a random decision, because all that I want is satisfaction—satisfaction not of the flimsy kind, but satisfaction of my consciousness. So, whether I am choosing a camera to buy, or a chair to buy, or choosing a place to visit, the criteria will remain the same and one—what is the criteria? Will it bring contentment to my consciousness?

So, on this criteria evaluate the choice of your academic course. All else is secondary.

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