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24 March, 2012

The Dilemma of Choice

(Oliver Goldsmith 1728-1774)

       The world is constituted of three types of living beings – plant, animal and human.

       The plant kingdom ranges from banyan trees to creepers, flower-beds to weeds. They have a distinct character. They merely exist in the world at large exhibiting their nature. With no voluntary reaction to the world. No eyes to gaze at the environment around.

       Animals have a built-in programme to live their lives. They cannot tamper with their natural constitution. A tiger cannot become a vegetarian nor a cow a flesh-eater. Eating habits apart, the behavioural pattern of each species of animals is clearly defined by their basic nature, vasanas. The creatures of each species are constituted of the same vasanas. They possess a collective nature. All lions are ferocious. There can be no lion meek and mild. So are all deer soft and tender. And there can be no deer ferocious.

       The human species stands out distinct and different from all other creatures. The nature of each human being is singular. Each one is constituted of his individualistic nature, vasanas. No two humans possess the same vasanas. Consequently, each one expresses his or her own behavioural pattern. Hence human beings have to be treated individually, not collectively as in the case of other creatures.

       The behavioural pattern of animals follows their own nature. They have no choice to live apart from it. But humans are free to choose their course of life. All through life you are faced with the dilemma of choice. To get into business or profession, to marry or not to marry, to be a vegetarian or non-vegetarian etc. The problem lies not so much in making a choice but on what basis you make it. That requires a study of the forces that propel human action.

       Human actions emanate from either the mind or the intellect or a combination of both. The body executes action. But the body cannot act on its own. The actions of the body are driven by either:

1. Likes and dislikes, feelings, emotions, impulses of the mind.
2. Reason, discretion, judgement of the intellect.
3. A combination of the above two.

       Here is an example of the above three possibilities arising from an action. Offer a sweet to a diabetic person who is fond of sweets. His mind wants to take it. His intellect decides against it knowing that he is diabetic. If his intellect is more powerful than his mind he will refuse it. If otherwise, his mind is strong and intellect weak, he would accept it. In a third possibility, if the person is not diabetic, his mind and intellect may concur and consume it.

       People the world over operate more on feeling and emotion rather than by reason and judgement. Sometimes even the reasoning of the intellect is overpowered by the mind’s emotion.

       In The Village Preacher, the poet Oliver Goldsmith shows how the human intellect should reign over the mind’s feeling and emotion. He describes the village preacher with a heart full of chaste emotions for his fellow-beings. But never does he let his emotions disturb his intellectual poise and judgement. His head rules over his heart. The poem concludes with this metaphor:

To them his heart, his love, his griefs were given,
But all his serious thoughts had rest in Heaven.
As some tall cliff that lifts its awful form,
Swells from the vale, and midway leaves the storm,
Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread,
Eternal sunshine settles on its head.
       To have emotions is a virtue. But it would be a grievous error to let them interfere with your intellectual judgement. That would tantamount to human weakness. History reveals this intellectual weakness of human beings in letting their emotions overthrow discretion and judgement.
Source: Abstract from 'The Fall of the Human Intellect' By Swami Parthasarathy

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