Individuality exists in ultimate liberation

(The following article was posted in the “Meditations” column of the Hindustan Times, one of India’s largest english language daily newspapers, on 31 March 2003.) TINY FISH swim against the waves while mighty elephants topple in the same current. A green parrot disappears into a distant grove but maintains its unseen individuality. Evaporation creates millions of tonnes of water floating aloft as cloud cover, those billowing swabs releasing sheets of rain to glide back to the sea as rivers only to evaporate once again as floating puffs of vapour. But within the apparently homogeneous sea live many aquatics. These creatures never rise into the air; and their uniqueness is undisturbed. Their singularity persists despite the comings and goings of water; their medium for nourishment and movement. Each marine creature’s uniqueness remains. Often humans become optimistic about liberation – with the aim of losing their identity: “I will become one with everything – the earth, the air, the universe. Liberation will free me at last from the painful dualities of the world – fame and infamy, wealth and poverty, happiness and distress, life and death.” But such aspirants stumble on a contentious issue. The form of deliverance they imagine is devoid an important human characteristic: love. Freedom to possess options, the liberty to pursue unique desires, the independence required to choose partners, hobbies and clothing, is all part of self-rule. Having choices is based on the principle of love. Everybody loves something or someone, manly things or many people. We all depend on the ability to choose, and we don’t want to be told how to do personal things. We don’t like to reveal everything about ourselves. How often do we hear, “Sorry, that’s personal,” when someone doesn’t want to answer a probing question? According to wisdom of yore – as evidenced in the teachings of Ramanuja, Badarayani, Madhvacharya, Krishna (Bhagavad Gita 12.5), and many others – Dvaita Vedanta, or personalism, is essential for those desiring permanent liberation. The principle of maintaining individual freedom, even in the spiritual world, is established in many kernel treatises, including the Vedanta Sutra and Brahma Samhita. The need to preserve love and our individual freedoms, even in the spiritual realm, is so deep-rooted that we can’t shed it, even in the name of liberation. Whatever exists here is but an imperfect reflection of the ever-flawless spiritual world. Entrance into that realm requires independent thought, love, and the right to choose. (The writer is emeritus member of the ISKCON Governing body commission)