Since Padmaja ji invited me to participate in the discussion of this thread, I thought of taking the opportunity to revisit the Foundation Vedanta concepts that I had learned earlier. Hope it is okay with you all.
My thoughts on Padmaja ji's questions on Lesson 1 -
1. Freedom is in knowing when and having ability to START and STOP
Currently our understanding about freedom is ‘having the ability of doing whatever we want to do’. We often mistake licentious behavior for freedom.
For example: Maybe I am driving one of the fastest cars in the world on a road that allows me to drive at a very high speed. However, while driving if I see road construction signs or road barriers, I should lower my driving speed even if I don’t see any signs to reduce the speed. It is in my and society’s best interest to reduce the speed just in case people are working on the road or road is damaged to avoid any kind of accident. Thus freedom is in not only following the traffic rules but if a situation requires, apply my knowledge to control my vehicle speed as appropriate. Although I am using the best car and the fastest road to travel, it is my responsibility to exercise an informed choice.
2. May my critic be my next door neighbor!
Usually, it is hard to find some of our faults by ourselves. We don’t even realize that certain traits of our personality could be seen as faults by others. We can fix those aspects of our personality only when they are brought to our notice by others. Criticism is always unpleasant to deal with; however, constructive criticism provides opportunity to improve upon our faults (it is like participating in a competition – your work will be critically analyzed. And any feedback given by the judges will provide you an opportunity to improve). Rather than getting emotional, we can give a thought to what our critics say. In case of valid arguments, we can try to improve our personality and bring about positive changes within ourselves or in case of invalid (idle) criticism, we will be forced to investigate into the points the critics made – that will not only help us know validity of their points but in the process we will learn some more things that we would not have learned otherwise. One additional thing we will be learning in this process is not to make the mistakes that our critics have made.
It is only when a student knows that his knowledge will be tested, he will do his best to learn a subject and not just focus on the areas that he likes. He will be forced to understand and study the areas of the subject that he is weak at. This way, he will not only gain full knowledge of the subject but will also learn that he has capacity to understand even the difficult concepts which seemed intimidating at first. Similarly when we know that our critics are going to challenge us, we will be more alert and forced to do right things – which will sharpen our personality.
3. We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have!
An example: “It was hard to pedal a bike, so I bought a motorcycle. It was not convenient to ride on the motorcycle, so I bought a car. Now I have gained too much of weight, hence, doctor advised me to join a gym. When I joined the gym, my instructor asked me to use an exercise bike!”
Earlier I was sweating on road, now I am sweating in an air-conditioned gym. Suffering comfortably!
As mentioned in the Lesson 1 Happiness is a state of mind – agitated mind creates unhappiness, whereas tranquil mind gives happiness. In the example above, I had a desire of making my life comfortable by using a motorcycle and then car – that created agitations in the mind which gave me unhappiness – to become happy I worked hard to buy motorcycle and then car. Owning vehicles gave me temporary happiness; but soon I lost my good health. Material objects cannot bring us happiness; in fact they can make us more miserable. Each desire fulfilled has the capacity to create more desires (or needs as mentioned in the example – going to gym/reducing the weight is a need now…). However, being grateful for what we have can give us permanent happiness.