Freedom And Indulgence

Freedom and Indulgence

Janki Chopra, Vedanta Institute Delhi.


Any growth occurs in a spirit of freedom. Binding things up causes stunted growth. The same rule holds good for spiritual growth. Infact, more so. Spiritual growth only happens in a spirit of freedom. Make rigid rules and regulations, stern ‘thou shalts’ and ‘thou shalt nots’ and growth is stunted. The human spirit has to be given an open arena to express and evolve. Else it gets suppressed and repressed. It grows convoluted. It turns into a caricature.

The Bhagavad Gita warns: He who, restraining the organs of action sits mentally indulging in the sense objects, he, of deluded understanding, is called a hypocrite. (Chapter III verse 6)

On the other hand, if one gives free rein to ones desires they multiply and mutilate the personality. They lead to a person’s material and spiritual downfall. Indulgence in anything not only causes disease but also the loss of enjoyment. Indiscriminate, excessive indulgence in alcohol or gambling or smoking is easily understood to cause disease or loss. However we don’t understand that this law holds good for all things. Be they clothes or relationships. Work or rest. Feasting or fasting. Excessive contact with any will cause trouble. We have designated some things as ‘good’ and some as ‘bad’. But things are not inherently good or bad. What makes them so is how we contact them. When we contact anything without any restraints and checks that will turn out to be detrimental to us. Not only is it detrimental we will also lose the enjoyment we so crave for from the object. Thus women with cupboards full of clothes complain that they have nothing to wear. Men making millions feel no enjoyment from their wealth. Excessive contact takes the joy away. An alcoholic not only ruins his liver, he also loses the joy of the glass.

Besides this, indiscriminate indulgence also takes way from ones spiritual growth. Indulgence causes an increase in desires. Spiritual growth is a decrease in desires.

So while one must be free to contact the objects and beings of this world, if one does so indiscriminately, it will be counter-productive. Freedom not punctuated with discipline becomes licentiousness. There is a world of difference between the two. Freedom gives spiritual growth, licentiousness makes one devolve.

William Cowper has expressed this great paradox beautifully in his poem ‘The pineapple and the Bee’, “Our dear delights are often such, Exposed to view but not to touch. The sight our foolish heart inflames, We long for pineapples in frames. With hopeless wish one looks and lingers, One breaks the glass and cuts his fingers. But they who truth and wisdom lead, can gather honey from a weed.”

So what is leading a life of truth and wisdom? It is educating ourselves on the eternal laws of life. Vedanta has laid them down systematically. We need to study these laws and reflect upon them. Our reflection brings about an understanding. No amount of external information can bring about an internal understanding. Only reflection, contemplation brings wisdom. As we think about the laws, true knowledge dawns. This enables us to be more withdrawn, more disciplined. This further enables more study and reflection. Through these two pedals, a person advances to his spiritual goal. The eradication of desires and the merger with the Self.

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