Animals choose how to fulfill their bodily drives; we humans can choose whether to fulfill our bodily drives
A cow, after eating all the grass in a row on a uniformly green pasture, can choose whether to eat the grass on the left or the right.
Animals are driven largely by their bodily drives. Yet, within the scope of those drives, they do have the free will to choose how to fulfill those drives. But they can’t choose whether to fulfill their bodily drives or not. For example, a cat can’t, on seeing a rat, restrain itself by thinking, “Today is a sacred day meant for fasting.”
We humans are also impelled by our bodily drives. But we can choose not just how to fulfill those drives but also whether to fulfill them. For example, we can choose to fast on sacred days.
Of course, we can’t entirely reject all our bodily drives; the body needs sustenance. Still, our capacity to subordinate bodily drives for a higher purpose points to an aspect of our being that transcends the body. That aspect is the soul. All living beings are essentially souls, but we humans alone have the developed consciousness to realize this.
The soul is by nature blissful. When it misidentifies with the body, it seeks pleasure by gratifying the body instead of by realizing its blissful nature.
To correct this misdirection in our search for pleasure, we humans don’t need to reject our bodily drives but we do need to regulate them. Regulation decreases our obsession with bodily pleasures, thereby enabling us to focus on higher spiritual reality, without being disturbed by bodily pleasures and pains. Such equanimity characterizes the spiritually realized, as the Bhagavad-gita (05.20) states. By steady spiritual absorption, we can relish unlimited spiritual happiness (05.21).
Attaining such happiness is the purpose and perfection of our free will.
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