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Decisions, Choices and Hardships

Decisions, Choices and Hardships

 

At different stages of our lives we are confronted with different choices and options. In making important decisions for ourselves and for the people we love, we try our best to take these decisions based on as much information as we can possibly get. Each decision we take involves making a choice and for every choice we make, there are roads or options not taken.

 

Some of the decisions we take in the course of our lives are routine and minor. Should I spend my time at play or study? Chat with friends or read a book? Listen to a boring lecture or bunk it? Study hard or have a good time? Spend my pocket money on another new dress or buy another book? What films to see or not see, what to cook for dinner, and so on are marginal and mundane decisions that we take on a daily basis. Other decisions are major and can have long term ramifications or effects. What subject to study, what career to choose, where to study, where to work, whether to live in my own country or abroad, and most important of all whether to be kind and helpful to others or uncaring and self centred.

 

The decisions we take depend on

● Our aims or objectives,

● The knowledge set or information available to us and

● The time horizon over which we plan, in other words are we planning for long run or the short run.

 

If any of these change, very often the decisions we take will change as well. So if a person's time horizon is one year sow a seed, if ten years plant a tree and if a hundred years, educate the people. For the returns or harvest that will accrue be different and will depend on the investment or decision or actions that we take.

 

Courses on optimal decision making use techniques such as static, linear, non linear, recursive and dynamic modeling and are taught over several semesters in the University. However the logic on which these models are based is simple and given below and has been extended to apply to the choices we make in our lives.

 

Suppose there is a farmer who has a few acres of land and he has to decide what crop to grow on it. Assume that his sole objective is to maximize his profits or income from the crop he grows. His decision regarding his optimal crop mix or best combination of crops to grow or optimal crop mix decision will be based on information available to him regarding:

● Prices and yields of different crops,

● The amount of inputs such as irrigation, pesticides, labour, tractor time, etc. required by each crop

● The prices of each of these inputs.

In addition he will also take into consideration constraints such as suitability of climate, soil conditions and his own preferences.

 

If the farmer has one year time horizon, he will only be concerned with maximizing profits this year and so will choose the crop mix that will give him the highest possible income this year. If his time of horizon extends over several years, he will be concerned with the long term effects of growing different crops on his farm. For instance different crops have different varying effects on soil erosion and soil productivity. He may find that growing wheat in the rabi season followed by rice in the kharif season is extremely profitable for the first few years but may need high pesticide usage and reduce soil productivity and therefore income in the long run. Planning for the long haul or thinking about returns that will accrue to his children and grandchildren from the same farm or even to himself in his old age could change his crop mix decisions completely. Therefore as the time over which we plan changes and as new information is made available to us, the choices we make changes as well.

 

Let us examine how our Sadguru Baba looked at these issues. In Sai Satcharitra, Shri Hemadpant relates an incident in this regard. A friend of Damu Anna wrote to him from Mumbai about the possibility of a profitable partnership in cotton trading/speculation. Damu Anna was vacillating and wrote to his friend Shama at Shirdi requesting him to ask Sai Baba for His advice in the matter. Damu Anna's objective was to get rich but he wanted to hedge his risks by checking with Baba whether the business would be profitable. He wanted his life to chart a certain course. But Baba's objective was to help him evolve spiritually, and Baba's reaction was “it seems Damu Anna wants to reach the sky and is not content with what God has given him.” And further that the "sheth has gone mad; write to him in reply that nothing is wanting in his house, let him be content with the half loaf that he has now, and let him not bother himself about lakhs." (Hemadpant, Shri Sai Satcharitra, Shri SaiBaba Sansthan, Shirdi, 1999, P. 131)

 

The cotton business failed and Damu Anna was saved from suffering losses by listening to Baba's advice. But even if the business had been profitable, Baba's objective function was different from Damu Anna's. Damu Anna was concerned with maximizing his material prosperity (a harvest that you reap just once), while Baba was concerned with the spiritual evolution of His disciples (a harvest that you reap over many lifetimes).

 

Suppose I assume that I have only one life to live and in this life my objective is get rich as quickly as possible and live as comfortably as possible regardless of how corrupt I am and what unfair means I use to accumulate my wealth. Change the picture and assume I now know that:

● I will be born again and again and the only possessions that I can take with me from one life to the next are the consequences of my actions, both good and bad.

● Each decision or choice involves certain actions and every action has a reaction that determines the suffering or happiness that accrues to me in this or some other life.

● Each hardship that I face can be traced back to a mistake that I made in this or some other life.

This information set changes the rules of the game completely.

 

Looked at in this light, suddenly money or property or name or fame that is acquired unethically becomes a serious and long term liability. Prosperity based on corruption or theft or acquired by grabbing what was not my just share, becomes a source of suffering that will affect me and and/or those I love in this or in future lives. Every unethical action, every harsh word, every selfish act, every dowry demand, every exploitative transaction, every seeming success based on treading on other people's toes acquires the ability to damage not just the intended adversary but myself at some or many points of time in the near or distant future. The inequalities between and within countries created by unfair exchange, diversion of funds that should have been used to alleviate hunger and suffering, senseless hurt inflicted on people in the name of religion, aggression, exploitation and subjugation, are actions with potential monstrous ramifications. Thus empires have fell.

 

The connection remains blurred for most of us for the damage to me from such actions may occur years later or lifetimes later. But once the veil is lifted and my knowledge set expands to include the reality that the connection between the action as a cause and the suffering as its consequence or effect is an essential "law of nature" my world view changes. And with the perception of this reality should come an automatic change in every decision that we take. The entire teaching and experiences of the Sadguru is this.

 

Baba's life provides in numerable instances of His efforts at promoting unity between Hindus and Muslims, of Sabka Malik Ek, of love for all of God's creatures, of caring for and loving those who are vulnerable or deprived and of even begging to collect food to feed the hungry. We have a wealth of knowledge available to us in Baba's teachings in the Shri Sai Satcharitra. Using or not using that knowledge in our daily lives are options available to us. The choice decision and the reactions or debits and credits of our choices and actions are ours. For in the final 'analysis, the responsibility for our karma is ours.