Questioner: Sir, youngsters often rebel against rules and regulations in the name of freedom of choice, or freedom of expression. The list of complaints is long, and all have one bottomline: ‘My life, my rules’. What do ancient wisdom and Vedanta say on this issue?
Acharya Prashant: You see, when you say choice, you are referring to the options that you have in the external world, right? Whether you want to have pizza or paratha (Indian flatbread), whether you want to follow this religion or that faith, whether you want to go with that person or this person, whether you want to keep your hair long or short—that is the kind of freedom of choice we usually refer to. We say, “I am a free person, so I must have the right to do as I please. So, I will decide what I want to say, I will decide where I want to stay, I will decide what I want to read, I will decide what I want to eat.” That is the philosophy, the premise on which the entire argument is built. But let’s look at it a little deeply for a moment.
Who is making the choice? Is the chooser really free? Who is the choice-making agency? Can we look at that agency? Can we look at that point from where the choice comes? Is the decision-maker really free to make the choice? What does it mean to be really free? It means to be free of, unencumbered of prejudices, past, ideologies, ignorance, all kinds of things that call themselves knowledge. When you are free of these, when you have a clear eyesight that is not burdened by anything, that is not blocked by anything, only then can you have free choice.
Unfortunately, we tend to focus a lot on the aspect of choice and too little on the central issue of the chooser. Is the chooser free? If the chooser is not free, then freedom of choice is just a feel-good kind of self-delusion, no? The chooser is enslaved—and how is he enslaved? He is enslaved in a very, very anonymous way. You don’t even know who your internal masters are; you don’t even know how deeply you are conditioned. And that probably, and unfortunately, is the situation of most of mankind. We don’t even know how many unknown and faceless and anonymous masters we are carrying within.
Now, carrying all these masters within, carrying all the bondages of enslavement within, we cry for freedom in the external world. Now, such a freedom should be there to be taken, no issues with that; it’s just that it becomes quite a sham. It is just a façade, a big farce. An enslaved one talks of freedom in the external world—internally enslaved and externally wanting all the freedoms. Your masters are sitting within.
There was an age when people were controlled from the outside. There used to be monarchy, there used to be the church, the religious authorities, and so much more that would weigh upon us, try to control our lives in so many ways possible. That was one age. Now much of that is gone; much of that kind of a system has been dismantled, though its relics still remain, but they too will soon be dispatched to history. Now what we have today is tyranny of the internal: the tyrant is no more sitting outside, the tyrant is sitting within. It is a part of our ego, it is controlling us from inside. And if the tyrant is sitting within, and if we want freedom, then the real battle has to be internal rather than external.
In no way I am saying that we don’t need any external changes, but the focus must shift to the inner direction now; that is the demand of the time. And believe me, if you are internally free, then externally all your choices and actions will anyway be free; nobody will be able to suppress you anyhow anyway. It won’t be possible.
So, the much more important thing and the much more topical thing today is internal freedom, freedom of the chooser, and that comes largely through spiritual means. So, one will have to turn towards spirituality if one really wants freedom of choice. Spirituality will give you freedom of the chooser, and with that freedom, rest assured, all your choices in the external world will not lack in freedom.
And if you don’t have freedom of choice, rather the freedom of the chooser, then even if you have freedom of choice in the world, that freedom will be of no avail. You will be just feeling as if you are free to choose; you would actually not be free to choose. Some tyrant sitting inside you would be controlling all your choices, enslaving you from within. Not a pretty situation.
But then, the alternative for actual and complete freedom is available. Let’s take it.