Thursday, 21 January 2010


Am going to start where I left off yesterday: at Freedom. The idea of freedom has existed since time immemorial. Freedom from subservience to the forces of nature, freedom from hunger, freedom from slavery... Freedom. The most commonplace understanding of this ideal that drives much of civilization can be stated thus:
The ability to act as I want, unhindered and unencumbered. 

In interpreting this notion of freedom, we make the implicit assumption that constraints, compulsions and hindrances come only from other, external sources and not from ourselves. So what the above notion of freedom translates to is essentially this: the ability to act in a particular, pre-determined manner in spite of the external situation. It is driven by personal likes and dislikes and prejudice. What it also means is that if actions are pre-determined then so are the consequences. Where then is the freedom? Sure, I've done what I wanted to but is that really freedom? If one looks at this notion of freedom from another angle, isn't it nothing but bondage of a different kind?

Here's a simple example to illustrate what I mean (and it's something that's happened to me so I know what it feels like :) ). Let's say I have guests at home for dinner and there's this show on TV that I really really want to watch. In fact I've been waiting for weeks for it to go on air. The TV in my house is in the dining room where everyone is sitting down to dinner at the exact time of the show. Now, my insisting on watching the show would result in either everyone having to keep quiet during dinner or my not being able to hear anything properly. The former will leave the guests disgruntled and the latter will leave me irritated and feeling a little cheated out of watching the show properly. The first situation (that of the guests shutting up) would fit part with the notion of freedom stated above. After all, I did manage to do exactly as I wanted. I even managed to manipulate the external situation to suit me. Yeay!

However, here's what someone not involved in the situation might think of the situation: Isn't wanting to watch TV so badly just another kind of dependence? Maybe I'd actually enjoy myself more if I sat with the guests without grudging the fact that I am not watching TV. I could always catch a re-run later. But this is a possibility that would never occur to me if I were so completely hell bent on watching the show.

While the example I've given is rather trivial, the point is simply this: true freedom lies in having the mental and emotional flexibility to act in a manner best suited to the situation. It lies in taking each factor into account in proportion to its importance to the decision taken. There are situations in which emotions and personal preferences have a large bearing. There they need to be accounted for. In others, where it is immaterial, personal prejudices need to be set aside. For example, at the work place, I might not like someone but I should be willing to work with them if they are the best suited person for the job at hand. At the same time I can choose not to associate with them personally outside the work space.

Krishna, that most pragmatic of gods, explains this to Arjuna in the Gita when Arjuna hesitates to fight the war against his cousins and puts down his weapons. Throughout the Mahabharata, Krishna himself demonstrates this principle. He does what he must to ensure the victory of Dharma; of good over evil. Being utterly involved in the situation he still displays the ability to strategise objectively, detach himself and do what he must.

This notion of freedom however, requires two other things - acceptance of the present moment and responsibility. That's for tomorrow and day after though.

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