Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Freedom of Thought

After a long time, I lead this study circle with the topic 'Freedom of Thought'. I chose this topic as I was struggling to decide what was right according to me vs society and family. I was actually wondering how much freedom I have with my thoughts and actions. Can I really do anything I want or am I a social animal and bound to the social regulations? These thoughts provoked me to pursue this topic.

The first question of the study circle is: How much of your life is driven by 'others'? Sometimes you hear the phrases like 'I bought this car because it is popular', 'I am doing this to make my parents happy', 'I weat this expensive shirt because all my colleagues wear such kind of shirts', etc. Did you ever think how much of your life is influenced by others opinions and how much of it is driven by the 'actual you'?

There were varied answers to this questions. Some said they do the actions because they could not say no to others, so they do them to please them. Some said man is a social animal and he cannot exist without society. They referred to David Reisman in 1950 who in his classic book 'The Lonely Crowd' talks about three social characters: tradition-directed, inner-directed, and other-directed. Tradition-directed people rely on past experience and resistant to change. Inner-directed people are controlled by personal values. Other-directed people are dependent on other's values. Some said their day-to-day activities are dependent on others but their moral values are driven by themselves. Others said they would first ask themselves two questions: 'Is it gonna hurt you?', 'Is it gonna hurt somebody else?'. If the answer to both the questions is 'no', then they would go ahead and do the action, not caring whether the thought has come up within themselves or inspired by someone else. I guess everyone agreed that one has to realize that he will be happy only when everyone around him is happy and has to act accordingly.

The second question is: Did you ever notice how much are your thoughts constrained by others? Forget about the actions you take; sometimes you cannot even think freely. For example, things like 'What will society th ink of me if I do this action?', 'Will people desert me?', have strong influence on your thought process and consequently on the actions you take.

Though there was sort of a consensus to this question that there is nothing like freedom of thought, there were very interesting answers to this question. As a human being, one has limitations (both pertaining to physical and society) and thoughts are restrained by these limitations. Constraining thoughts should be done on a Godly basis but not a social basis, i.e., the thoughts should be restrained by one's self-discipline and due to God, but they should not be restrained by society. Some came up with an interesting analogy that the society should be viewed as a marketplace of ideas and thoughts. And with such a wide consensus of ideas, the ultimate ideas that come out of society is in the best interest of most people. i.e., even though some bad ideas and thoughts creep in the beginning, they will finally be suppressed because many people will be against them. At the same time, good ideas and thoughts will be hailed ultimately. Some said if the thoughts cannot be vocalized openly and freely because of society, then those thoughts are pertaining to evil side and should be suppressed. For example thoughts about lust,racism, etc. cannot be vocalized freely in the public and thus they pertain to the evil side and should be suppressed accordingly. Swami always says whatch your thoughts, words and actions. Thought is the preliminary form of virtually anything. Eveyrthing starts with a thought. Nisargadatta Maharaj, a spiritual leader from Mumbai says that the purest form of spirituality is without any thoughts at all. So one should strive to be free of thoughts but not be bound with this circle of thoughts.

The third question is: Is it 'okay' to lead a life, most of which is predictable? i.e., you always do what most people do. For example, you are always afraid to take risks in life because nobody you knew had tried it before, whenever a conflict arises, you take the most obvious (common) decisions that many people take to resolve them, etc.

There was actually not much time left for this question, as much time is spent in the first two questions. But we did a quick poll asking if they would prefer to lead a predictable life and almost all people answered 'no'. All of us agreed that it is good to take feedback from other people, but ultimately it is upto oneself to decide what action is good for him.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading the study circle summary.

I hope you are going to keep this up and post the summary of "every" study circle and not fizz out midway.

Gowri
Bangalore

Shivakumar said...

Shree....whats up with this no blog in long time...where is ur enthu dude....just becos shiva is no more around to nag you...u take things lightly???!!! Grrrr...