Imagine a world where as a child pops into the world crying, a book is delivered from the sky next to the child. This book contains all of the child’s future with minute details of every outcome of every situation the child would ever encounter till death. People can choose to open the book or to burn it (& even that is actually documented in the book itself!). Would you prefer such a world to the world you live in? More importantly, would you open the book or burn it? Why would someone want to play a match, or fight a battle knowing that they’d lose or die? Well, the people in this hypothetical world’ve tried to reverse or alter the future, but the universe has it’s way and no one has been able to change it. The book is always right!
If you think such a world would be boring, especially if everyone chooses to read the book, here’s the kicker. The people of this world have over time come to believe that outcomes of all situations are pointless & futile. What really matters is the intent and feeling with which the person lives through the situation or in other words, performs the actions. The goal is to maximize your happiness points earned, while living your life. The key to doing that while being certain of highs and lows, is to always stay happy in the highs AND the lows, regardless of the outcome and regardless of whether you know it or not. Mastering that art, is mastering the art of living.
In the scenario above, there is no choice and no unpredictability for the ones who choose to read their future-book. For the ones who choose not to read it, there is unpredictability but still is no choice (or at least no real choice, given that they know the outcome is predetermined, even though they do not know what it is). This is essentially what the Gita says as well (okay, a sort of distorted version of what the Gita says). The actions that one performs would obviously lead to some outcomes, but there is no value being attached to the outcomes, because the outcomes are just hogwash (Maya). What matters It says, is the quality of action performed to achieve the outcome. The action that maximizes happiness points is action that is self-less, desireless, free from any attachment and performed without any expectation of fruits or results. For such action, Gita can justify any outcome – from killing of your own siblings to robbing a bank. However, reaching the intellectual and spiritual state of being able to perform such action or Nishkam Karma, takes years of practice.
The theme of this post isn’t Nishkam Karma. What I wanted to allude to in the above was the fundamental problem of choice that seems to be at the epicenter of all the sadness in life. I’m not referring to the more practical ‘Paradox of Choice’ type problem with the overabundance of choice that I discussed years ago, but rather with the very nature of choice itself. When we choose, we decide and the biases in our decision making (both intellectual and emotional) come into play. Not only that, our ego kicks in (which as we’ve seen before isn’t a good sign). Based on our desires, this ego sets selfish expectations on the outcomes and assigns a higher value to the choice we finally make, over ones we do not. All of this is a perfect recipe for sadness and far far away from the ‘Pure action’ as described above.
In ‘Life of Pi’ (the movie that somehow triggered this whole fantasy-crusade BTW), Piscine as a teenager loses all passion and interest and what brings it back and gives his life meaning and purpose is Anandi (the love that he chose to pursue). However, he soon looses Anandi and his own family and most of his ability to choose. Circumstances force him to be stuck in a boat in the middle of the Atlantic with a tiger that he initially wanted to drown and later kill. He evolves to love the tiger more than anything else and the tiger alone gives meaning and purpose to his life and that love for the tiger becomes the reason for his survival as a castaway. So even though we may be preprogrammed to lie and force ourselves into loving the one(s) we choose, we also have the ability to find love/meaning/purpose in the most difficult of people/events/situations forced upon us, where we may not have an iota of choice. Some may call it compromising with whatever is available and being unambitious, but for others it may mean finding happiness in satisfaction with whatever is available. For ultimately, it isn’t the outcome that matters but the happiness points you earn While reaching the outcome that does.