Question: Sir, how can we differentiate between individuality and choice?
Acharya Prashant: Usually, we say that our choices are an expression of our individuality. We want to choose. We say that the freedom of choice (the right to choose) is a very important part of our freedom. That is what we say, right? If today the right to choose, the freedom to make decisions is taken away from you, you will not feel good. You will say, “This is authoritarian.” You will say, “This is dictatorship! I am mature, I am an adult, and I need to make my own choices.” You will call it an attack on your freewill. Right?
So we have taken it for granted that our choices are an expression of our individuality. Let us examine this. Let us examine the choices. Let’s examine: Where do choices come from? Are they an expression of individuality or is it something else that is happening? Why are choices different in different people?
Let us assume that a lot of books are kept here, hundreds of books, and you have to choose one out of them. Surely, there would be very diverse choices. Same with clothes, food, and any aspect of life. Why are choices different at all? Why do different people choose differently?
Listener: Because everyone has a different kind of mind and has come from a different kind of environment.
AP: Good. Our friend says that it is because there are different minds and they have come from different environments. Do we see this?
So, where do we reach? Choice comes from mind and mind is a product of?
AP: So, choice is coming from?
AP: Now, did you decide the environment? Did you decide the family in which you will be born? Did you decide your country? Did you decide your year of birth? But all your choices are coming from the environment. Now do not just accept it. Look at the factual nature of it. Is that really happening? Find it out for yourself. Is that really happening? Our choices are a result of our environment. That is the reason why the choices are so radically different. One person in one part of the world chooses one thing, and another person in another part of the world chooses something else.
The Brazilian loves football, and the Indian loves cricket. The Jain likes vegetarian food, and the Muslim or the Christian loves non-vegetarian food. The North Indian has one kind of taste bud, and the South Indian loves something totally different. But if you ask them, they will say, “My choices are coming from my individuality.” Now you tell me, are the choices coming from the individuality or are they coming from the environment?
AP: But we attach great importance to choices. We had begun by saying that if somebody says that our choices are bogus, we will not feel good, is that not so? We say, “I will choose my representatives, I will choose my dress, I will choose my profession, I will choose my girlfriend, I will choose everything that happens in life. The more are the choices available to me, the freer I am.” That is what we say? Right?
AP: It is turning out to be quite strange. On one hand we are saying that our choices are an indication of our freedom, on the other hand we are seeing that our choices are all coming from the environment. Then how can there be freedom in choices? That is the game. When you are making a choice, it appears to you . . . mind you the word appear . . . it appears to you . . . it is an illusion . . . that you are making a free choice. That is why we all like making choices, because choices give us the illusion of power. We feel that we are in control of our lives. While making a choice, it appears to us that our life is moving according to our will. Right? That is why we love choices. Because choices give us the feeling of being something. The ego likes it: “I have power.” But it is only a feeling, it is only an illusion. In fact, we do not choose anything. The conditioning operates by itself like a machine, so there is no choice really.
Let us say that there is a computer program. It has been programmed to return a ‘smiley’ when a positive value is entered, and it has been programmed to return a ‘weeping face’ when a negative value is entered. So, when you enter ‘5,’ what do you get?
L1: A smiley.
AP: When I insert ‘-2,’ what do I get?
L1: A weeping face.
AP: But what is the program thinking? “I am making a choice. You see, when ‘-10’ came, I felt like weeping.” Did the program feel like weeping, or has it been told to weep?
AP: Now let me ask you, when something positive happens, what do you have to do?
AP: When something negative happens, what do you do?
AP: Do you have a choice? We never have a choice, because a conditioned machine never has a choice. It will only do what its master has instructed it to do. And who is our master? The environment.
If the environment has told us that good boys behave in such and such way, we behave in that way. “Nice girls act in these manners,” and they will act in that manner. “To be a good son is to do this, this, and this,” and you want to do all that, and when you cannot do all that, you feel guilty. “A good life is this, this, and this,” so you choose this, this, and this.
The environment has already told all this to you. The environment has told you that when 1st January comes, make a New Year resolution, so you will make a New Year resolution. The environment has also told you that when 5th of January comes, forget the resolution, so you will forget the resolution. The environment has told you that when 14th of February comes, roam here and there, you will do that, and you will feel very mushy on that day. You have already been told. Now, I am asking you: You will see a lot of people around who would be dealing in love very soon. When do we have that day?
AP: So, we will have a lot of ‘dealings’ in love tomorrow. The prices of roses will go up by fifty times. Now, if a thousand people are dealing in love on the 14th of February, would they still have dealt in love on 14th of February if they had not been told that ‘14th of February’ is special? Would they still have done all that?
L1: No, Sir.
AP: So, is it love or is it environment?
AP: See how deeply our environment controls us even in the most intimate matters of our life. But we say: “It’s my choice.”
So, one thing is certain that choices are environment driven. You said ‘Choices and Individuality’. We do not know about individuality, but one thing is certain, that choices are hardly mine and it is a great sense of relief to see that my choices are actually not my choices. When you hear this, you feel a little bad, but when you actually come to the fact of this, you will feel a relief that “Now I see that all these choices are anyway not mine.”
“Engineering is in the environment, so I entered engineering. Love is in the air, so I also became lovey-dovey.”
And when you find out: “Aah! Relief.”
“I cannot take myself seriously then. All this is just the effect of environment. There is something in the sky which is affecting me and which is affecting everybody.”
What then is individuality? If choices do not come from individuality then what comes from individuality?
What does the environment do to your mind? A child is born more or less like a clean slate – clean slate, a little bit of conditioning is already there, but let us ignore it for the while.
The child’s mind is quite innocent and then layers and layers of influences keep settling upon the mind. Where do these influences come from?
AP: Environment. So, one layer, second layer, third layer, fourth layer, and all this keeps happening, right? All these layers taken together become your personality.
The child is born with a clean and pure mind – pure like a crystal, untouched, and uncorrupted. Upon this crystal have accumulated layers and layers of dust. Of course, the dust is worthless, but the environment is giving all this dust to you.
The crystal – the purity of the mind – that is valuable, and that is there with the child even at the time of birth.
Individuality is to regain that innocent mind. Individuality is to be able to clean the mind to such an extent that the crystal shines again. Pure, no dust, no stains – that is individuality: a very, very innocent mind, that is the individual.
Lots of actions take place in individuality, but those actions are not driven by the environment, they are driven by the crystal itself; by the cleanliness of mind, by the pure understanding of that mind. When you act from there, then you deserve to be called ‘an individual’. When you do not act from there then you are just a slave of influences and environment, and then you are not an individual.
Now, it is good news because individuality is not something that you have to get from somewhere. That pure crystal, the shining diamond is already available to you. It’s been given to you, it is always yours. So, you don’t have to get it from somewhere, you only have to clean it a little; that is all, simple.
Just clean the rubbish, too much rubbish has accumulated, wipe it off.
Alright. Tell me then: what are the sources form where the rubbish comes? Because unless we know the sources, how will we clear the rubbish? I would require a few of you to just speak in one word each. From where does the rubbish come?
AP: More, because if you don’t recognize it, how will you guard yourself against it.
AP: Good, and some more. Keep speaking. It comes from hundred other sources.
AP: Good! More.
L7: All objects that we see around.
L3: Social networking sites.
AP: So, it is coming from everywhere. Listen! A fundamental law: The more pure something is, the easier it is to stain it. If there is a wall that is already dirty and full of stains, it will be very difficult for you to put another stain on it, because there are already so many stains on it. If you have a very nice, washed face, then if I put some dirt on your face, it is very clear that your face has been spoiled.
Holi is coming.
Let’s say your face already has colors and paint, and little bit of cow dung also, and then, if I put a little bit of soil on your face, then nothing has happened really.
The more pure something is, the easier it is to corrupt it.
Your inner crystal is so pure that it can be very easily corrupted; but the story doesn’t end here. It is so pure that in spite of all the corruption, it will never lose its fundamental quality. So that is good news. It can be corrupted easily, yes! Conditioning happens all the time, influences are there all the time, and environment is acting upon you all the time. So, you are continuously gathering dust. There is no doubt about it, but that dust cannot really harm you. It can be cleaned anytime, and when it will be cleaned, you will find that the crystal is shining as brightly as ever, nothing has changed.
That crystal is you.
That is what is called individuality.
Is that becoming clear?
So we talked of two things. One, choices; and we said that choices come from environment, they come from all the influences that you have had. So, choices are not really an expression of individuality. We also said that individuality is something very simple, already available to you. Just clear the dirt and individuality is there.
~ Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session. Edited for clarity.
Watch the session: Acharya Prashant: Individuality and choices