You are What you Choose to Become

By Sri Swami Chidananda Maharaj

From “Ponder these Truths” by Swami Chidananda
Published by The Divine Life Society, 2001

The great Upanishadic seers of realisation have declared that life and the outcome of life for each and every individual is a matter of constant, continuous, moment by moment, choice. It s a matter of choice. What do you choose? What is your wish?

This, the great wisdom teachings of Vedanta very clearly and unambiguously state in the Kathopanishad. It is also very clearly brought home to us in the Srimad Bhagavad Gita which contains the quintessence of the Upanishadic teachings.

You are what you choose to become. Nothing is forced upon you. Nothing is imposed. You are not compelled. There is no external force in this universe that does it or can do it. All force, all power is within you. You are the source of all force, all power. It is for you to choose how you will express it.

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The Kathopanishad, through Lord Yama’s teachings to Nachiketas says: “O Nachiketas, at every step, at each moment, before every human individual there are two paths, the path of wisdom and the path that is merely pleasant, the sreyo marga and the preyo marga.”

In another context, the Upanishads say that constantly within the human psyche there is a flow of thoughts – constantly. They either take the channel of the auspicious or the channel of the inauspicious. It is for the wise, awake and alert individual to keep watch and to be immediately aware of which direction the thought flow is taking. If it is the right direction, it should be encouraged. If it is in the wrong direction, it should be immediately checked, withdrawn, and the thoughts made to flow in the right direction, the direction that is conducive to one’s highest welfare.

Gurudev Swami Sivanandaji reiterated this same truth, this same fact of human life in his own unique manner, summing it up briefly by saying: “Detach, attach.” It is for you to say, “No”, break the connection, and then attach to where you want the connection.

Disconnect yourself. It is for you to do so. Constantly you must use this power of choice and detach your mind from the petty pursuits and fleeting perishable objects of this world and attach to the lotus feet of the Supreme. Detach and attach. He constantly said that this is what sadhana is. Herein lies the secret, the key to a progressive spiritual life and the surety of attaining the Goal. Detach and attach!

And, as though to clinch the issue – that you are a creature of choice, that what life ultimately means to you depends on what you choose, that as you think so you become – at the conclusion of the Gita, Lord Krishna declares to Arjuna: “yathecchasi tatha kuru (Act as thou wishest). Now, it is up to you what you will choose, whether to follow, obey and do as I say or whether to follow your own mind, your own desire, and do as it propels you. It is up to you.”

Therefore, the individual soul has freedom of choice. He can weigh pros and cons. Through his uniqueness and wisdom, he can anticipate consequences by reflection, by thought. Upon the basis of his own experience and what he sees happening in the world to others, through logic, rationality and intelligence he can anticipate what will happen if this or that course is taken, what will be favourable or unfavourable for him, what will be conducive to his highest welfare, what will be adverse to him. Then he can make a choice.

Thus we create for ourselves our experience, our future. Long ago in ancient puranic India they expressed the selfsame law “As a man thinketh, so he becometh” in an allegorical way. They said that upon both the right and left shoulder of each individual two deities preside, and they keep saying: “Be it so, be it so.” So what ever arises within the hidden depth of your own inwardness, which you think is not known to anyone and sometimes may not even be known to oneself, these celestials say: “Be it so,” and so it comes to prevail.

For we live in the presence of God, and He is one who immediately grants to us whatever we wish. Therefore, we have the concept of the celestial wish-yielding tree or the celestial gem, holding which whatever you wish instantaneously manifests. Therefore, be careful what you ask for when you are in His presence.

He is a Being who can give us the highest, the sublimest, greater than which there is no other gift. So, when we are in the presence of a Being capable of such munificence, such abundance, why will we deprive ourselves of the highest and greatest of all gifts and attainments by asking for something very petty, small, puerile, or worse still, in our folly asking for something that is not good. For what you ask, that is given you.

Therefore, we have to guard ourselves not only from external inimical or adverse forces, but more than anything else, we have to guard ourselves against our own folly, our own ignorance. The jivatman suffers more through ignorance and folly than through any wickedness or evil. Wickedness and evil have a limited ability to injure you, make you suffer, but ignorance and folly can heap upon the individual soul endless suffering.

This reminds one of a subtly humorous statement, which nevertheless conceals great wisdom: “It is a great pity that ignorance is not painful.” If it were painful, people would try to get rid of it immediately. That all of you know; one does not want to allow any painful condition to prevail or continue. But unfortunately, ignorance not being painful, one allows t to be, and this leads to endless suffering later on.

The entire Vedanta siddhanta (doctrine) says that the great problem of man is avidya, ajnana. All suffering, all tapa-traya, all problems, all the complications that the human individual soul – which is part and parcel of the supreme, all-perfect Divinity – undergoes are due to ignorance. It is that which causes the individual to make the wrong choice and to later regret.

Through knowledge alone can ultimate liberation be attained. The Kathopanishad characterises the state of ignorance as little understanding like that of children. Due to this smallness of understanding, beings take the visible alone to be real and refuse to believe in and recognise the invisible which is real. Therefore they come to grief and are caught in the ever-recurring wheel of birth and death.

One, therefore, has to guard oneself against one’s own folly through awareness, through reflection, through always being in the company of wise people. That is why satsanga has been lauded so much as one of the gates to liberation. The company of elevating, inspiring books is also very helpful in the process of gradually progressing towards wisdom. One needs to be simple of heart, humble and prepared to learn.

Our situation is very much indeed a situation of choice. This choice is that which ultimately decides what you become, what your life ultimately culminates in. This indeed is to be pondered deeply, known very clearly and constantly borne in mind. With this awareness live wisely, choose rightly, act spiritually and crown yourself with blessedness.

May the choicest blessings of Gurudev be with you at every step taking you in the right direction, making you choose the correct alternatives. Thus may you with wisdom, alert awareness and an active discrimination steadily move towards the Goal!

Articles By Swami Chidananda:

  1. Swami Chidananda — The Peace Within
  2. Swami Chidananda — The Necessity Of Introspection
  3. Swami Chidananda — You Are What You Choose To Become
  4. Swami Chidananda — Make This A Perfect Day