(This article was posted in the ?Meditations? column of the Hindustan Times on 23 November 2002.)
THERE IS no entirely ?free act.? Everything we do is conditioned by circumstances before and after birth: culture, education, genetic make-up and karmic laws. True or false?
The term baddha or ?bound-up? echoes throughout Vedic literature. It?s often seen in conjunction with nitya, and frequently refers to eternally illusioned or ?conditioned? souls.
But what is this ?conditioning? and what is a ?conditioned soul?? Something enables us to enjoy many things, including life itself. But perhaps there is something unusual or wrong with this enjoyment. If so, what is it? Is there something so subtle, so undetectable, so invisibly below the ping of consciousness, that we cannot perceive its existence? Let?s call it conditioning.
For example, if we look at hair conditioning and air conditioning carefully we see that no matter how hair or air is treated, the molecules and atoms- remain unchanged. Altered like this, however, the substances become un-fresh, abnormal and unnatural.
They seem quite different. Here?s the rub. The soul is by nature pure, blissful, unchangeable, and eternal, or so the Gita would have it (2.20). So how can the pure soul be affected by impure material nature? If the soul is essentially untainted, how can a worldly atmosphere recast it?
As soon as a soul is ?embodied,? it becomes attached to its surroundings, particularly the body it inhabits. For this reason, dogs bark, cats meow, and cows moo. Human beings crave fighting, loving, the arts, eating, sex, drugs, children, wealth, and intellectual prowess. But mostly we work hard to gratify our senses. In today?s world where wants are defined as needs, and needs become ?rights,? the right to have what you want can be addictive. So only accepting what we really need requires discrimination and steady awareness of another dimension.
Shastras and great sages posit that ?happier? universes become more real, more enjoyable as we become more abstemious. Though not inversely proportional to material enjoyment, spiritual bliss embraces a certain degree of renunciation. So, how can we be ?in the world? but not ?of it??
Voluntary austerity is not as horrendous as it sounds. We practice it every day by avoiding gluttony, drunkenness, sexual surfeit, and every other kind of excess. Meditation fine-tunes us beyond passion, beyond peace, to joyous association with the soul. Meditation can become our lifework.
The writer is emeritus member of the ISKCON Governing Body Commission